Think before remodeling old homes

It's human nature to crave the fresh, the new and the fashionable -- and that goes for remodeling as much as anything else.

The quest for the mythical updated look of magazine lore has long tempted both owners and architects to graft trendy additions onto older homes just to make them ever-so-briefly fashionable again.

Alas, you need only to leaf through a 20-year-old copy of Better Homes and Gardens to see how such updates have stood the test of time. Most would elicit groans, if not laughter. The lesson is simple: Given the ever-shifting sands of architectural taste, the only kind of addition that'll be permanently in fashion is one that respects the original architecture.

But how to do this? It goes without saying that the overall proportions of any new addition -- wall heights, window styles and sizes, and the roof style and finish -- should keep with the original building.

Beyond these basics, however, the real trick is to identify and repeat the designer's signature details. By going through these characteristic traits -- every house, new or old, has a whole raft of them -- you can pretty much make any addition look spot-on original.

Typical candidates include:

-- Porch railings and columns -- Window muntins -- Roof edges -- Attic vents

Last, if you have trouble coming up with a detail that has no direct precedent on the existing building, ask yourself: What would the original designer have done? Would he have used paired French doors or a sleek aluminum slider? Would he make the chimney skinny, stout or asymmetrical?

In short, what would his own signature detail have been? With the original designer guiding you, your addition can't help but fit.

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