Wednesday 22 May 2019

Will a contemporary extension look odd with my period house?

A Dublin extension to a period home completed by Brennan Furlong Architects and Urban Planners: “Design the extension in a manner that complements, but doesn’t mimic, the original fabric.”
A Dublin extension to a period home completed by Brennan Furlong Architects and Urban Planners: “Design the extension in a manner that complements, but doesn’t mimic, the original fabric.”

Gareth Brennan

Architect's Clinic

Q: I have a period house and would like to extend, but am unsure whether the extension should be a contemporary design or should match the original - what should I do?

A Dublin extension to a period home completed by Brennan Furlong Architects and Urban Planners: “Design the extension in a manner that complements, but doesn’t mimic, the original fabric.”
A Dublin extension to a period home completed by Brennan Furlong Architects and Urban Planners: “Design the extension in a manner that complements, but doesn’t mimic, the original fabric.”

A: You're one of the lucky ones - to borrow Mark Twain's advice about buying land and apply it to period houses; they aren't making them anymore! Period houses, like contemporary houses, are a product of their time. Their design and construction reflected the time in which they were built. The design of a period home (let's say mid-1800s for the sake of argument) could be expected to reflect the aspirational Victorian lifestyle - grand rooms at entry level for entertaining guests - large windows overlooking the street to emphasise the status of the owner to the passer-by, smaller rooms to the rear for "back-of-house" activities, often carried out by staff.

Likewise, the construction of the house reflected the best of building materials and skills available at the time, high-quality brickwork to the front (often with stock brick to the rear), ornate plasterwork internally and decorative joinery - skirtings, architraves, panelled doors, wainscoting - often used to camouflage difficult junctions between different building elements between the floor and the walls or the walls and the windows, for example.

Accordingly, the presentation of the house reflects the period in time it was built for; and in that way, it is true to itself. Best practice national and international conservation guidelines - when dealing with works to older buildings - stress that the legibility of the original fabric should not be diluted by modern additions constructed in the same aesthetic.

As such, when considering an extension to a period dwelling, my advice would be to design the extension in a manner that complements, but doesn't mimic, the original fabric. Like the original house, the new extension should be of its time, true to the era in which it is designed and built.

That is not to say that an extension to a period dwelling should be a minimalist glass box. For example, the same materials used in the original house (brick, timber, plaster) can be used in a contemporary extension so that it has its own identity but marries with that of the main house.

Subtle references can be taken from the original house and applied to the new areas - picture rails can be re-imagined as shadow-gaps which break up the scale of tall internal walls, contemporary wainscoting can help create homely and comfortable backs for seating benches, flush-panel shutters can be used to screen window openings in the new extension in the same manner as the original panelled shutters in the main house.

Where possible the junction between the old and new should be as seamless as possible internally, to unify the spaces within the house. Tall ceiling heights in the original house could be replicated in areas of the extension to relate both spaces to the other.

Floor finishes might reach from the new into the old, or vice versa, aiding the integration of both.

In any event, you are working from a very exciting starting-point and hopefully the combination of period and contemporary spaces, details and finishes will create a beautiful and unified home for you and your family for many years to come.

  • If you are considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect. Look on riai.ie, the registration body for architects in Ireland.
  • Gareth Brennan is a partner in Brennan Furlong Architects & Urban Planners, brennanfurlong.ie

Do you have a design dilemma we can help you with? Email designclinic@independent.ie. Advice provided is for guidance only and readers are advised to seek professional assistance for any proposed project.

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