An Experts’ Guide to Achieving a Beautiful and Functional Addition

Photography courtesy of Aanensen’s.

Over time, homes evolve along with their inhabitants, reflecting their tastes, needs, and interests. Sometimes this can mean expanding, whether to accommodate a growing family or create space for a purpose that was previously lacking. For those who might be considering adding onto their home, we spoke with Baltimore, Maryland-based architect Everett Schram of J.E. Schram Architect and Matt Aanensen of Northern New Jersey-based home remodeling firm Aanensen’s, for advice on how to thoughtfully approach an addition to ensure that the space will be as beautiful as it is functional.

Be sensitive to the surroundings in the design. From a design standpoint, Schram, who specializes in timeless designs, recommends carefully considering the existing home and site when working on an addition. “We make a decision, based on the home, its architectural style, and its owners’ aesthetic goals and preferences, as to whether or not the addition should recreate details in exacting perfection, pay homage to them in some more restrained and secondary manner, or pull away and reflect a vernacular progression, or a house that may have naturally evolved over time with a series of additions in sympathetic, but differing styles or aspects of the language at hand,” he says. “This determination will directly inform the nature of the addition…its location, scale in relation to the rest of the house, its hierarchy, and its materials and details.”

Take clues from the current home. “A well-designed addition will look like it’s always been part of the home,” Aanensen, whose family-owned business has been creating custom spaces for clients for more than 60 years, says, noting, “Houses give us cues and clues, and our job as designers is to listen to them.” For example, when building an addition to a 100-year-old brick Tudor that was symmetrically balancing an element on the front of the house, the company had new bricks custom made and analyzed the old mortar in a lab in order to get the match. In contrast, when the company added a kitchen bump out to the rear of another 100-year-old brick home, they clad it in simple crisp white clapboard. “With the correct details, size, and scale, it looked like it was always meant to be there,” says Aanensen.

Carefully evaluate your existing spaces. Before tackling an addition, Schram suggests taking a critical eye to the current home to ensure the project will successfully suit your needs. “We recommend that a homeowner evaluate the house as it stands—what works for them, what doesn’t, and why,” he says. If you’re considering putting an addition on your current home, you already have the benefit of knowing what spaces are underutilized and what can be added or modified so that the home will be enjoyed in its entirety. “If multiple spaces seem to have similar functional needs, think about how to differentiate them so that they evoke entirely different feelings, so that each will be appreciated and used regularly,” he says.

Start the project with a strong team in place. “One of the best pieces of advice I can offer is to build a great team from the beginning,” says Schram. “Align yourself with like-minded individuals with personalities you like, aesthetics you appreciate, and ethics that you trust and respect.” He recommends that homeowners find their architect, builder, interior designer, landscape architect, and any other experts who will be involved in the overall project before getting started, and encourage them to communicate and collaborate. Aanensen agrees with the importance of building a team of people with whom you are comfortable, who align with your vision, and who can help you make the right decisions and choices to get there. “For example, early on when you are considering spatial layout, you should also be thinking about what materials you are touching and interacting with every day, light and color, artwork and seating, which a professional decorator can help bring into focus, and help inform the final spatial layout. A good landscaper will instantly see opportunities your addition might afford to make the entire property work better,” he explains. “So build a team you can trust, put yourself in their hands, and you will have made great strides toward ensuring that the entire process of building will be smooth and rewarding, and the final product will be the best version of your original vision.”

Know where your budget priorities lie. “There are all too many ways to break a budget,” Aanensen says, noting that this is where having a strong team in place can come into play, as these experts can offer helpful guidance in terms of where compromises can be made. “You can make informed decisions together to balance and weigh options,” he adds. Schram points out that one of the most common ways to blow a budget is to over-build, and therefore he typically advises clients to spend on quality materials but utilize restraint in size and capitalize on shared function. “This way, by creating beautiful, functional spaces that are efficient, one can put their money toward the little things that make it truly special and a reflection of themselves,” he says.

TSG Tip 394 from Everett Schram of J.E. Schram Architect and Matt Aanensen of Aanensen’s. J.E. Schram is featured in The Scout Guide Baltimore & Annapolis. Aanensens is featured in The Scout Guide Northern New Jersey.