Modernizing a Colonial Home is a Delicate Process

Modernizing a Colonial Home is a Delicate Process

Sponsored by: Integrity Windows and Doors

Remodeling an older home to fit your client’s specific vision can be challenging, especially when the owners want you to take a traditional, dark building and turn it into a light-filled contemporary masterpiece. It’s a situation that contractors face regularly, wherein every challenge is unique and requires an equally unique solution.

Addressing architectural issues and blending the finished project into its surroundings, while bringing the owner’s vision to life isn’t always easy. Add in the requirements of a neighborhood association and the challenges can seem imposing. But when the right balance is achieved, it can be very satisfying to all concerned.

Cultivating the client’s initial vision of their home into an image that will hit that balance is key. Just how much do you give in to the homeowner’s wishes when you know the house they’re imagining will fall short of the neighborhood association’s standards? At what point do you stop them and suggest a different direction?

The owners of the home that would come to be known as Blue House presented Ann Lathrop and her firm, Sellars Lathrop Architects (SLA), of Fairfield, Connecticut, with this very situation during their initial interview.

Modernizing a Colonial Home is a Delicate Process

Blue House, the Backstory

Blue House sits just two miles from Jennings Beach, but the older tree-filled neighborhood doesn’t portray the bright colors and spirited vibe of many beach-adjacent neighborhoods. Instead, the homes surrounding Blue House are painted in richer hues that echo the nearby ocean. For Blue House, the more traditional deep blues, whites and grays belie the contemporary vision found inside the remodeled home.

“The house was an original 1940’s Colonial with very few upgrades done over the years. The new owners, from New York City, bought it for its location, size and potential,” Lathrop explained.

“At first the request was for a very modern exterior expression,” she continued. “But we knew the neighborhood and surroundings. It is better to keep the exterior more classic to blend with the New England aesthetic. This is better for house value and neighborhood value — people around here really love traditional exteriors. We also knew they had to have an association approval and review process, and it would have taken too long if the exterior was in question.”

Once Lathrop got final approval of the home’s construction plans from the neighborhood association and the municipality, general contractor Signature Builders of Fairfield helped them break ground on the project. After a total of 17 months, nine of which were spent actively remaking Blue House into the owners’ vision, it was ready for move-in.

Modernizing a Colonial Home is a Delicate Process

Marrying Old and New Architecture

The physical labor that was required to transform Blue House from a dark ’40s era home into a bright, contemporary space made up a lot of the wait time for the new owners, but those eight months before breaking ground were among the most intense for their contractors. During this period, SLA had a lot of homework to do to ensure that Blue House wouldn’t become an albatross for its owners and the neighborhood as a whole. Overcoming the effects of the dark woodwork and limited natural lighting, to give the interior a brighter, more expansive appearance, were key aspects of this project.

That meant researching the expectation that the neighborhood association was likely to have while still maintaining some aspect of the home’s history. Lathrop offered some insight into how to best balance these various elements.

“Always research what the association is about, who the people are, what their values are,” she said. “Look into how much change the neighborhood can take and if it’s worth it to pursue specific elements of the remodeling. Also, in this case, the new owners of the house made sure to make friends with everyone first before they presented their plans. That always, always helps.”

Of course, with or without an association, it’s vital that the old and the new are married in such a way that the transition is seamless if you want to design a truly impactive space. That flow can be created with architectural elements, decorative elements or a mix of the two. The harmony of Blue House was created, in great part, with windows. Knowing what to add or take away is a skill that’s vital to working with older homes or in historical districts.

Modernizing a Colonial Home is a Delicate Process

“It was somewhat of a challenge to bring a unique twist to the exterior without being overtly traditional,” Lathrop said. “Since the front of the house was not being renovated in this phase, we had to choose windows and grille patterns that blended with the proportion and size of existing double hung windows. We suggested the blue and black with white trim elements as a nod to the owner’s graphic design background and sensibility. We also introduced the commercial grade black metal awnings as part of that graphic expression.”

There’s always a solution, as Lathrop’s team proved again and again in the planning stage of Blue House. The end result was nothing less than awe-inspiring (you can see photos of it here). Her clients’ vision of a wide open, loft-inspired space came to life, marrying the old with the new, and the indoors with the beautiful park-like space outside.

Modernizing a Colonial Home is a Delicate Process

Choosing the Best Windows for the Job

When part of your objective is to increase the light and connection to the landscape, the windows you choose matter. Not only should you look for windows that make sense for the environment in which you’re working, they need to be windows that will be easy to maintain and last for the long term.

Older homes add another challenge – their window openings aren’t always all the same size. The idea of ordering custom windows might feel like throwing a lot of money away when you might just otherwise build the existing opening out enough to snug a standard sized window in. The truth is that your end result will be better achieved with custom-sized windows, even if the difference from one window to the next is less than an inch in any direction, as it will help preserve the desired external appearance.

Some brands may make it difficult to order exactly what you need for your historic renovation, so it’s important to choose the right manufacturer who can adjust to your unique needs. SLA’s Blue House project benefited from such a careful choice.

Modernizing a Colonial Home is a Delicate Process

“We choose Integrity from Marvin Windows and Doors time and time again because of its durability. Fiberglass, as opposed to roll-form aluminum, is one of best materials to use in saltwater locations like ours, they have a good price point, ease of specifying, quick delivery time and the ability to paint the exterior fiberglass.” Lathrop said. “Our supplier, Woodbury Supply, provides exemplary support and quick turnaround on pricing and answering questions.”

Renovating any older house, whether or not it’s located in a protected historic district, takes a lot of forethought, careful planning, and suppliers that can help you get the exact right product (not the almost right product) for the job. Unlike a new home that benefits from more standard window and door sizes, for example, older homes will need extra care that only custom solutions can offer. On the Blue House project, Lathrop found that custom solutions helped achieve the balance necessary to satisfy the homeowners’ desires and the requirements of the neighborhood

Sponsored by: Integrity Windows and Doors
Integrity leads the industry with a commitment to a product that is tough, smart, long-lasting and worry-free.