Connecting to Your Backyard: Rear Home Additions

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For most living spaces and residencies in Chicago, history is everywhere. Even if you love the history and character found in your living space, as we evolve with the times, so do our preferences and desires. Many (if not most) Chicago residencies have a lackluster (at best) or precarious (at worst) back porch, back stair, or general back situation that connects the house to the back area or yard. Not only can these situations back there act as clunky or chaotic eye sores, they typically lack in helping serve the overall function of the structure and the ideals of its inhabitants. If you’re wanting to either build an addition on to an existing structure or find a way to better connect to the back yard (or both), take a look at a few of our rear home addition projects to see how our spacial design solutions make for a structural harmony that’s pleasing and engaging.

BACKYARD CONVERGENCE

When considering a backyard space or rear addition, whether you’re updating or adding on, we like to think of the project as more of a convergence, a fusion of the backyard space and the principle structure vs. an add-on. Many or most additions are often constructed without taking into account the complete vision for the house as a whole. In our approach, we want to think of the property and its interior space as a comprehensive, cohesive project, utilizing the space so as to merge, flow, and connect with all the combined elements. As we’ve noted in previous posts, it’s more than just a shiny new layout — it’s about the integration and adaptation coalescing into one holistic, consistent concept. We focus on connecting the house to the backyard — really connecting to the backyard — often using floor-to-ceiling windows to let in lots of light and direct access to the backyard space for a melding of two spaces and a more connected feeling to nature.

The landscaped courtyard connects the main living space to an outdoor oasis at our Logan Certified adaptive reuse project

PRAGMATISM + IDEALISM

In line with how a space can architecturally function to serve its inhabitants is how design influences feel and flow. Light, space, geometry, and even materials affect our feelings and mood (as many studies have shown), not only psychologically, but physiologically. A rear design of a structure that’s mostly enclosed and elevated and cut off from the yard with a sad excuse for a window can result in feelings of isolation, dare we say coldness? Fragility? If you’re feeling a bit skeptical, think of a police examiner’s room in any TV show or movie: the dark, hovering walls, the deadening buzz of an overhead fluorescent light in lieu of anything natural — you get the idea. Our most closely coveted spacial design allows residents to feel more alive, more awake, more ready, creating a space to not only live, but thrive and feel inspired. Moreover, residents will feel comforted in practical ways, too, like being able to keep a solid eye on kids or mischievous puppies playing in the backyard or calling out to a patio party if anyone would like more beer — you know, pragmatism.

In addition, our projects always utilize the site conditions as they connect with the outdoors while taking into account the usage of materials and the conservation of energy. When working with backyard additions and structures, we harness our ethos of adaptive reuse, or saving the “good bones” of the building while recycling as many existing materials as possible to build the new. It’s giving an existing space a new purpose by preserving, rebuilding, or enhancing while staying true to its individual identity. We also work to incorporate other elements like taking advantage of the solar orientation by considering how massing can best optimize free energy sources from light, wind, and heat. We also often incorporate radiant flooring as a heating source. It’s not only more efficient than forced-air central heat that generally doesn’t effectively help insulate an entire space, it proves to be less costly — both financially for a forced-air heating bill and also for the environment, using less energy to heat up the space.

The master bedroom balcony addition on the Corten house opens to the backyard bringing in natural light and providing a respite for the adults

REAR ADDITION SOLUTIONS: FEATURED PROJECTS

CARMEN HOUSE ADDITION

We have several projects where additions have applied these ideals, providing clients with an appealing, highly functional addition and interior renovations that stay harmonious with the old while spicing up with the new. One completed project, the energy-efficient renovation on Carmen Avenue, expanded its space with the demolition of an awkward back porch and a top-to-bottom expansion with a new master suite and balcony overhang with the living room connecting to the backyard.

Massing sketch

Building section sketch

The addition granted its inhabitants some modern updates and harnessed our sustainable ethos with radiant flooring and taking advantage of the house’s south-facing backyard for free heat and natural light sources.

Before and after photos of rear addition and balcony

WINCHESTER HOUSE ADDITION

Additional projects ranging from the nascent to in-progress stage also take these sustainable and aesthetic ideals into account. Our Winchester project that just started construction is working to replace an existing unattractive stair taking up too much space and not engaging with the backyard space with removing the “basement” tenant space (technically the ground floor) and renovating the inside to create a whole, single-family structure.

Schematic designs and sections pictured above and below

The first floor will work to merge with the backyard with balconies coming off the second floor living space and upstairs master suite. For this project we installed aluminum composite panels which allow for a good adaptive reuse performance of the building to provide a protective cladding that blends the older aspects of the building with the contemporary.

Existing conditions of the two story residence

RICHMOND HOUSE ADDITION

Our Richmond project (very close to being permitted) will remove a maladroit addition and re-imagine the two-story with dropping the addition down to grade and merging the connection with the backyard to create one level, flowing space.

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This project incorporates sustainable materials like reclaimed millwork and efficient plumbing fixtures while applying passive design, having the second floor balcony create an overhang to strategically naturally shade the ground floor during those heat wave months and prevent the need for excessive AC-blasting all summer. On the contrary, during the Chiberia months, radiant flooring on the ground floor helps to heat the space literally from the ground up, preventing excessive forced air heating, and thus reducing energy use.

Basement rendering capturing the grade level addition connecting to backyard house section

NORWOOD HOUSE ADDITION

Our last featured project is the Norwood house whose back stair and space is currently underwhelming in both its aesthetic appeal and functionality. The existing design renders a cold, stagnant back space and kitchen that will be transformed with a new back porch and stair, master suite balcony, renovated kitchen, and complete basement re-work. We insulated the building envelope to keep in heat and reduce energy use and installed a beautiful wood stove in the kitchen to not only be used as an efficient heat source (as re-directing duct work and heating elements is, in short, a real pain), but also as an aesthetic feature, employing the hygge ambience to the nth degree. The owners can now appreciate the snowy winters looking out their floor-to-ceiling windows while hearing the cozy crackle of a wood-burning stove over a cup of hot cocoa. Perhaps that particular vision for our ideal addition lifestyle is a bit too on the nose, but here at Moss, we’re all about manifesting the ideals of elegant and practical design.

North exterior view of existing house with an underwhelming porch lacking connection to the yard

We insulated the building envelope to keep in heat and reduce energy use and installed a beautiful wood stove in the kitchen to not only be used as an efficient heat source (as re-directing duct work and heating elements is, in short, a real pain), but also as an aesthetic feature, employing the hygge ambience to the nth degree. The owners can now appreciate the snowy winters looking out their floor-to-ceiling windows while hearing the cozy crackle of a wood-burning stove over a cup of hot cocoa. Perhaps that particular vision for our ideal addition lifestyle is a bit too on the nose, but here at Moss, we’re all about manifesting the ideals of elegant and practical design.

Picutured above and below are sketches created during the schematic design phase

Final project posts and photos will be available shortly, once construction is complete. Check back often!