Brinsmere Cape Cod

1st floor family room, garage, kitchen, and laundry room addition 

Typical of late fall in the Midwest, winter made an unannounced visit with an early and heavy wet snow fall. The phone rang in the office, on the other line was a past client indicating she just found a house several blocks from their own for her son who was going to be married later in the winter. She asked if I would be willing to meet with them there to evaluate its capabilities so they might make an offer before it was listed with a realtor.

We met at the house in the evening just as it was beginning to get dark.A quick and wet walk around the outside and the property gave some perspective of the exterior and the site before it got too dark. Inside, we were introduced to the original owners of the home. Built in the mid 1940’s it was a typical Cape Cod with a few features that were pleasant surprises. In addition to the usual living room, dining room, and a too small to move around in kitchen that hosted the back entry, there were two bedrooms and a full bath on the first floor and two nicely proportioned bedrooms and a full bath on the second floor. The foundation was in great shape and it had an exterior entrance. The furnace and the electrical service were relatively new too, and good quality.


The owners were proud to point out that they splurged when they built it and had a two sided, natural fireplace between the living room and dining room built with the same stone façade that was used on the front exterior. Originally, the house had a single detached garage that was replaced by them with a two-car detached garage. At a later date, a roof was added between the rear entrance of the house and the side entrance of the garage to provide some element of overhead protection between the two buildings and to make the house maintenance free, everything was aluminized with 8” siding and trim.

Expecting to start a family soon after the wedding, the future new owners were interested in the possibility and cost of adding a family room, an attached two and a half car garage, mudroom entry, first floor laundry, large kitchen with ample pantry space, an additional bedroom/nursery on the second floor, a first floor office, and a master bathroom with a walk-in closet as well as any other details and ideas we could contribute to give the house a bit more pizzazz while still maintaining its cape cod vernacular.

After the evaluation we asked the owners if they had a survey of the property that they willingly provided. We agreed it would take a couple of days to rough some numbers together and do the leg work with the local municipality to learn what the setback restrictions were, but we had enough information at that point that we could put a ball park number together for the scope they identified.


In the office we collaborated on a basic design concept which appeared to be a “no brainer” only to find out from the village planner that our genius design would encroach on both the side and rear yard setback because of the unique nature of the lot. We adjusted our thinking to accommodate the limitations by locating the new attached garage facing the street while landing exactly on the minimum set back limits. From there, a preliminary cost was put together. The project as we envisioned it would double the total square footage of the house and incorporate every element that the future owner wished to have. The total cost estimate approached $385,000.

A design was put together that with only minor modifications was approved and formally costed out. The idea of reducing the cost by roughing in only for the master bathroom, closet and additional bedroom, and in making some other compromises on both sides they decided to make an offer on the house. Contingent upon its acceptance, they would go ahead with the project.

Due to the nature of the surrounding landscape water ran like a river over the property when it rained or when the snow melts. The design as initially conceived used the new architecture to divert and redirect that impact without contributing to the creation of a problem for the adjoining neighbors. This coupled with a grade change of almost eight feet from the existing driveway to the rear corner of the lot and its tight setback caused us to completely scrap the initial design. It created new interior space planning and traffic flow challenges as well.

The design accepted by the local design review board and the client turns the garage to be a side rather than a front entrance locating the family room to the back of the new garage, which is substantially elevated from the back corner of the yard. In lieu of being able to use the space above the garage to accommodate the additional bedroom and master suite, a full span rear dormer was added to the existing house to make room for these space requirements and the existing second floor bathroom was gutted and remodeled. The new master bath, walk-in closet, and nursery were finished on the exterior but framed in only on the inside to be finished in the future. To address the surface water issue, an engineered solution that included a full size street sized sewer grate in the lowest point of the driveway with a buried drainage pipe that exits behind the garage onto grade resolved the surface water issue to everyone’s satisfaction.

The challenge that the design presented was how to bring in as much natural day lighting to the new first floor spaces from what resulted in the loss of two exterior walls in the reconfiguration of the garage and the placement of the family room substantially closer to the heavily wooded rear lot line. To resolve this, the family room ceiling was vaulted with the principal south facing wall sporting as much glass as possible with a Palladian window above in the gabled end. To create volume in the kitchen and again taking advantage of the south facing elevation, the south wall leading to a new deck area was configured with floor to ceiling glass and sliding French doors. In the sloped planes of the ceiling two large skylights were designed in. The remaining exterior wall of the existing house, where the dining room is located, benefitted by having the window opening more than doubled in width which not only contributes to the backyard view it brings more light into the living room as well.

In the new kitchen and family room Red Oak hardwood floor was installed to match the existing style of the remainder of the house, the mudroom entry is accessible both from the outside and the garage and has ceramic tile flooring and a large walk-in-to coat/broom closet. The kitchen which is the centerpiece of the project, has over eight feet of dedicated pantry space, custom Cherry cabinetry, granite counters, a custom stone full height back splash, under cabinet lighting, and a painted and glazed center island for dining and gathering. The first floor laundry room has full sized appliances, a hanging and drying rack, a utility sink, tile flooring, a place for the pet’s food bowls, and a oversized laundry hamper chute coming down from the second floor.

To add the architectural interest the owners required to the new and existing parts of the home, columns separating the kitchen and family room define the spaces, a fireplace was incorporated into the new family room, crown mouldings were added to the formal first floor spaces, and the pride and joy of the original owners construction, the two sided fireplace, was stripped to the bones and a new floor to ceiling façade, hearth, wrap around mantle, and curio niche was designed and constructed to tie the improvements together in a sensible fashion.

Due to the extent of the additions, the decision was made to approach the remainder of the house’s exterior as part of the total project. On the existing house, the aluminum siding, trim, stone wainscot, shutters, and roofing was removed. To facilitate the original exterior appearance while minimum-izing the degree of future maintenance, all of the trim on the project is either new synthetic or composite material. The siding is fiber cement, and the roofing 40-year dimensional shingles. The new materials were all painted with an eco-friendly water based latex exterior paint coating. A special top hinged panel conceals a natural gas powered generator that is located beneath the deck while allowing accessibility for maintenance and service of the apparatus if necessary.

By using 2×6 exterior wall stud construction for the new spaces with high density insulation in the walls and ceilings and Energy Star performance glass windows, we re-zoned the existing ductwork for the house, and installed separate zone thermostats throughout resulting in the ability to use the existing heating and cooling equipment.