Fall Home Design 2009: Take Two

By Rachel Levitt | Boston Magazine |


Living in Lexington, Mat and Carolyn Finch
probably could have doubled the size of their Victorian when its 19th-century proportions began to feel squeezed by their three teenagers. After all, their town is informally known among building professionals as one of the Hub’s most permissive when it comes to zoning. But when they contacted contractor Peter Feinmann, president of Feinmann Inc., and described their plan—a three-story addition to the back of the house—he came up with an alternative idea, one that would have far less impact on both the house and the site.

"The Finches wanted more bedrooms and more living space, but we were worried that to meet their requirements, we’d create a monstrosity back there. So we asked, ‘Do you really need to make all those spaces bigger?’" recalls Feinmann, who had done several smaller renovations for the couple over the years. "This was a case where the house told us what to do: It said, ‘Do a two-story addition instead and build out the basement.’"

Because the Finches’ house sits on a steep hill, a lower-level addition could feature large windows overlooking the backyard. It was here that Feinmann put an office, which doubles as a guest room, and a family room where the kids can spread out. He then redefined the kitchen and living room above, opening them up to each other to give a more contemporary feel.

The wraparound porch was Feinmann’s innovation, too, unifying the house’s elevations even better than the original. Once he continued the porch around the back of the house, the rest of the exterior details fell into place. "We essentially repeated what was there—the double cornice and the rhythm of the columns—but we built in more-substantial railings to fit with the scale of the house, and built a gazebo in one corner to create a unique element," he says.
In the end, and at a cost of about $760,000, Feinmann added nearly 50 percent more square footage and the Finches finally had room for everyone. What’s more, for the first time the house looks welcoming and engaged with the landscape from every angle.

Ironically, Feinmann’s solution would have met the more restrictive codes of a place like Concord, which requires that additions be kept at less than 50 percent of the original square footage. In the case of this Lexington house, an architect seasoned in the Bay State’s byzantine building statutes had plenty of tricks up his sleeve for opening up a space without overbuilding—even when he could.