A big addition stays under the radar, and welcomes the neighbors

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Photo: Stephen Barling Photo: Stephen Barling

It’s not easy to nearly double the square footage of a house without bulking up its street profile. But that’s just what happened at Mike and Karen Ball’s North Downtown home. Not only did the couple, and their three young children, gain a lot of living space with the renovation/addition designed by Bushman Dreyfus Architects, their house now looks perhaps less imposing from the street.

A powder room upstairs got a new life as a reading nook, with built-in shelves and a window seat. Photo: Stephen Barling
A powder room upstairs got a new life as a reading nook, with built-in shelves and a window seat. Photo: Stephen Barling

On this pie-shaped lot, which gets wider at the back, the temptation might have been to expand laterally. But, says Karen, “We wanted to stay with the basic shape of the original house.” Built in 1925, the house had an awkward, small addition on one side and was sided with white vinyl. The Balls made a decision to replace the vinyl with Tennessee fieldstone—a move that adds both aesthetic gravitas and a physical sense of weight to the central, original portion of the house.

“It feels solid and heavy,” says Mike, president of Element Construction. “The additions look low-profile,” clad in white clapboard and set back from the front plane of the house. (The old addition now has a porch facing the street, balanced by a new mudroom on the opposite side.)

Tim Tessier, architect with Bushman Dreyfus, says the use of fieldstone, along with keeping the original windows, helps the house seem older. “It feels more integrated,” he says, with the surrounding houses.

Make no mistake, though: With this renovation, the Ball home has been thoroughly modernized. Not only did the family gain certain new-construction luxuries—upstairs laundry, a mudroom replete with cubbies, a butler’s pantry—the house is significantly more spacious, with a contemporary sense of flow.

One of Tessier’s main goals was to improve the way traffic would move through the first floor. Previously, a long, narrow living room stretched from front to back, doubling as a highway to the only first-floor bathroom. Tessier shortened that space, creating a cozy den/office, and reorganized the rest of the first floor so that there are multiple ways to get from point A to point B. “You never feel like you’re stuck,” says Karen.

The back of the house was totally transformed: A new kitchen/living area spans its length, which opens onto a screened porch and deck.
The back of the house was totally transformed: A new kitchen/living area spans its length, which opens onto a screened porch and deck.

There are lots of places to go: a new kitchen/living area that spans the back of the house, a new rear screened porch and deck and a new guest suite perched on the footprint of the previous addition. There are spaces that feel very roomy and open, but there are also lots of appealing nooks—like the banquette, surrounded by windows, that provides a multipurpose family gathering space right off the expansive kitchen.

(Before)
(Before)

The team created a look that balances historical accuracy with current trends. The kitchen, with its white subway tile, white cabinets and soapstone countertops, is right in line with contemporary preferences. The proportions of the large island, and the wide floorspace between that island and the cooktop, are also clearly of the moment. “You can have four or five people working in here and it’s still comfortable,” says Mike—a far cry from the tiny kitchens that were standard when the house was originally built.

But some details—like the window and door trim that the Balls copied from other 1920s-vintage houses around Charlottesville—ground the space in a historical fabric. Built-in cabinets and shelves add timeless practicality. An upstairs powder room has been turned into a pleasant reading nook, with bookshelves and a window seat.

The Balls’ master suite, on the second floor of the rear addition, feels like a separate world because of a single step up (which also makes possible a higher ceiling in the living area below). The bedroom features a peaked ceiling and opens onto a small private deck, while the bathroom centerpiece is a tub in an arched nook, lined with marble tile. Tessier and the Balls realized that the bathroom, not the bedroom, should face east. “You go into the bathroom in the morning, and that’s when the light starts hitting you,” says Mike.

For all the private family space that’s been gained here, a relationship with the neighborhood is still a priority. The side porch, which faces the street, is what the Balls call “the social porch,” where they like to play music or just make themselves available to the many walkers and runners who come down the sidewalk. “Often in the summer,” says Karen, “we’ll sit out there and wave to folks and friends who pass by will pop over for a drink.”

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