Several years ago, a good client and friend of mine built a new home in Highland Park. He desired a specific style of home, so he hired an architect who specialized in that regional style. The idea was that the core of the home was intended to look like the original home, and the additional movement in the foundation of the house was designed to look as though the home had been added onto over the years. The result was a fabulous estate home that far exceeded my concept of what a “high end” home was. The architect playfully reimagined an old southern home on a ravine lot in Highland Park to great and undebatable success.
Imagine now if you will what might happen if you took a house in Lake Geneva and decided that you needed more space. You need a larger garage and two more bedrooms and a sewing room and a wrapping room and also a gym. You need space. Your home is a classic bungalow, or cape cod, or victorian, but none of that matters now. What you need is space and you have a budget, or maybe you just need space and you haven’t a budget. So you hire an architect, or you don’t, and your contractor builds to your needs. This has played out at Lake Geneva for generations, but the building boom of the last two decades has accelerated this specific type of need-based architecture. The result? You have your old house, and a new house crammed next to it, with some sort of roof angled to connect the two. Tada! Here’s that space you needed. Great success.
But there’s just one problem, and that problem is that the house you’re left with is absolutely hideous. It’s disgusting, really. You don’t really know it because you get to live in the house and you have your sewing room and your huge garage, but I know it because I have to drive by it every day. Your house is gross. It’s an amalgamation of old and new, of good and bad, or bad and worse. It might have the square footage you needed, but everything else is wrong. The roof line is wrecked when you take a dramatic 12:12 pitch from the 1930s and smash a 2021 built 5:12 onto it. What did you think was going to happen? Did you think that your cute house with its perfect dimensions and scale could abide a 2500 square foot addition? Did you think your 23′ roof height would look charming next to the 33′ roof height of your new garage? Did you think the charming front porch with its 8′ bead-board ceilings could feel cozy when compared to the 22′ drywalled great room ceiling that you slapped next to it? Were you thinking at all?
The Lake Geneva market is blessed with an abundance of cottages. Some big, some small. Some so big that they’re called mansions by gawking tourists and some so small that they span two rooms, maybe three. Kitchen and bath, optional. What most of these cottages have in common is that they were built to be what they are. If you own an 1800 square foot home built in Cedar Point Park in 1933, your home was built to be what it was intended to be. Three bedrooms, maybe four, a porch across the front and a galley kitchen in the back. If you wish to expand the kitchen and add a bath, this is something I understand. But that charming home was never intended to be 3400 square feet with a two car garage that you not-so-cleverly tucked under the added master bedroom in what was a quaint cobbled side-yard.
When I’m crowned king of Lake Geneva (real king, not just real estate king), I intend to slap an architectural approval rule on the entire area. Until then, I have but one wish. If you’re contemplating an addition, the first thing you need to do is stand in your front yard and look at your home. I mean really look at it. Then imagine a cladding it all in cement board and constructing a looming structure that in no way resembles the original house. Then imagine that your classic home and the new home are glued together. Then recognize what a terrible idea that is and walk away. Renovate your kitchen and paint the clapboard. Don’t destroy your 1933 home so that it might somehow suit your 2021 needs. If you’d like a larger house, here’s the novel idea for today: Just buy a bigger house.
Pictured above, a beautiful lakefront cottage that some terrific clients of mine renovated to an exceptionally tasteful end a few years ago. This home isn’t for sale.