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Perhaps You've Seen This Idea Before

Architecture: Seek out details of buildings and 'echo' them in additions to create a seamless effect.

September 26, 1998|ARROL GELLNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Echoing" is a simple and highly effective design trick architects use to visually tie an addition to the existing building. It involves searching out the small details that are unique to the original building and echoing them (reproducing them in their original or a slightly modified form) in the new work.

Judiciously chosen, these echoed details help create a seamless addition without costing a fortune.

Often, when I suggest echoing the style of the existing house in their addition, my clients respond, "But our house doesn't have any style!"

In fact, regardless of how humble you think your home is, it probably has plenty of style once you're alert to it. It's just that living in a home for any length of time tends to make one immune to its charms.

Try to look at your home with fresh eyes. What details make it different from the neighbor's house? Perhaps the porch railings or the gable vents? How about the trim around the front windows? Homes from particular stylistic eras have lots of characteristic details that can be effectively echoed. Here are some common ones:

* In Victorian homes, echoing elements such as fish-scale shingle, cornices and finials will go a long way toward integrating an addition. However, while Victorians have a wealth of detail that can be echoed, they also demand scrupulous reproduction in order to be successful. Two-dimensional renditions of highly modeled details will look papery and cheap.

Also, the overall scale of the addition--window size and proportion, ceiling height and massing--should be in keeping with the original building as well (it's a rule that applies to any addition meant to blend in).

* Colonials are much simpler to echo. Their characteristic details, such as columned porches, boxed cornices and divided-lite windows with shutters can all be easily and inexpensively reproduced with modern materials.

* Mediterranean, Provincial and other Romance Revival styles present the most specialized cases. Their builders took considerable pains to create highly original details for each, and hence, no two are quite alike. Look for details such as wrought-iron grills, round chimneys, or ones made of brick interspersed with stone, attic vents made from clay pipe or barrel tiles, and unusual stone or brick decoration around entrances. Echo these details in the addition where appropriate.

* California ranchers have a whole slew of neat details that have grown more charming with the passage of time. Many ranchers featured countrified crossbuck X-motifs on porch railings and door panels, as well as diagonal knee braces or "kickers" near the top of porch posts. The more elaborate among them had projecting beams supporting the bargeboards and shamelessly phony "birdhouses" on the garage gable or astride the roof ridge. All of these details are relatively simple and inexpensive to reproduce in the addition.

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