New Rooms for Old Houses

Photo courtesy of Taunton Press

We love the charm and character of old houses. We can imagine Rockwell-style celebrations at the hearth and licking ice cream cones while sitting on sturdy front porches. It’s not just that these houses have unique designs or were built in a time when the best materials were used by builders who took great care in their creations, historical houses have a presence and a story to tell. What these great historical homes don’t have is… space to put all of the stuff that modern families find so essential. For me, I like a little house or cottage, something storybook or grandmotherly but I can understand larger families needing more room to spread out.

Enter the wonderful New Rooms for Old Houses: Beautiful Additions for the Traditional Home by Frank Shirley, a book that guides homeowners through the often treacherous waters of seamlessly expanding their historical homes. The photos in this book are outstanding and the first thing that I knew I had to mention. So many times you pick up a coffee-table size book like this and are disappointed by the uninspiring photography, putting it down with the thought that you would never want to live in any of those homes. This book is quite the opposite.

Shirley offers insight into the difference between historical (old) and historic (significant historically) houses, including interesting facts about the various styles: Victorian, Bungalow, Tudor, Prairie, etc. Mostly the book outlines general rules and ideas for carrying the integrity of your original home into the new addition – following the flow of the house structure and using new pieces (like doors and hardware) that are well-crafted and compliment the older parts of the home.

According to Shirley, there are four cornestone design guidelines to expanding an old house: “the maintenance of balance, respect for the distinction between public and private areas, the careful use of transitions, and the choice of appropriate materials.” The author also includes some pretty horrifying photos of additions that didn’t follow these guidelines in his “Train Wreck” sidebars.

I’ve wanted this book since I saw photos from it in Romantic Homes magazine (Nov. 2007 issue). A big thank you to Taunton Press for sending me a copy.

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