When area zoning bylaws limit the footprint of a house, Cape builders need to be creative.By Lou Sullivan | Photography by Dan Cutrona
If money were no object and zoning restrictions did not apply, it would be easy to create additional living space when building a new home after a teardown. Construct a magnificent great room? No problem.
Throw in a wonderful billiards room, an entertainment center with a bar or maybe a sweet-looking man cave? Absolutely.
That spacious second-story master that you’ve always dreamed of having, with his and hers walk-in closets and a hot tub? Consider it done.
Unfortunately, in the real world it’s not always that simple. There are times when builders must stick to the original footprint during a rebuild, which means resourcefulness becomes an essential ingredient in order to expand upon the previous living space.
But don’t fret. It can be done, regardless of town zoning laws or your budget.
Building up: Open up
“You can always create more space by adding a second floor, which is obvious, but there are other ways,” says Chris Childs of Patriot Builders in Harwich Port. “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of reorganizing the space you previously had so that it flows better. Or instead of adding a second floor, you might add a dormer under an existing roof and thus expand the space while remaining within the footprint.”
Many older homes have obsolete layouts, with small, closed-off rooms. “By redesigning the existing space it becomes more functional and better suited for modern living,” says Matt Teague of REEF Builders in West Dennis. “We often combine living spaces in kitchens and other areas that share the same room because of traffic and usage patterns. We only close off rooms that require privacy.”
Raising the roofline and adding a second story to a ranch is the most common method of expanding living space, assuming it passes height restrictions in the town. Lot coverage and the floor area ratio might preclude a second story. When a second floor isn’t possible, homeowners can turn a screened porch into a living area to add more space. Teague has seen a recent trend of homeowners electing to forego a garage and transform it into a family room. Another common method is building a room over the garage that can be used as a bunk room for children, a TV room or an in-law apartment.
“One thing we’ve also done is create a stairwell to the side of the house so it’s not using up living space,” he said.
Rethinking a room’s purpose
Improvements in materials through the years have provided builders with more flexibility, according to Teague.
“One of the advantages we have nowadays is the engineered lumber and other materials available to us, especially in the case of a smaller footprint, to create a home that doesn‘t need interior partitions,” he said. “We’re able to design a much more open feel.”
Transforming a three-season porch into a year-round living space is another innovative way to expand. REEF recently used the footprint of a porch in a rebuild to add a stone fireplace, windows and built-in units to design a usable room for entertaining and relaxing.
“Any time you have a screened porch or sunroom you can utilize that space to make a heated living area,” he said.
A close proximity to conservation areas can often lead to restrictions and force builders to stick to the original footprint. Childs’ ingenious solution to a footprint that would not accommodate a garage and a first-floor master bedroom was to build the house and garage at grade level and the master bedroom four feet above the first floor, essentially fashioning a split-level home.
“They went from the first floor up to a half-second floor master, and then on up to the second floor,” he said. “I’ve also seen people combine two first-floor bedrooms into a master, and put the two bedrooms that were lost on a new second floor.”
Finding use in previously ignored areas is a superb way of maximizing space. The area under a staircase might become a laundry room or even a half-bath. “We opened up a wall in one house where the stairs didn’t have basement access and put in a washer and dryer,” Childs said. “If you have the right height you can even set up a little powder room.”
Refinished basements, out of vogue in recent years, are slowly making a comeback. “We’ve done three in the past two years, after not doing any for a long time, so it’s something people are thinking about again,” Childs said.
The bottom line, insist local builders, is that footprint restrictions need not restrict imagination. “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of changing the layout,” Childs says.