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Renovation Solutions: Whether home is a Cape Cod or California ranch, remodel to capitalize on home's style

Editor's note: Portions of this article have been previously published on the authors' blog and on deseretnews.com.

Understanding the history, style and architecture of your home — and the other homes in your neighborhood — is crucial in designing an addition or renovation. Ignore this principle and you'll end up spending a lot of money to decrease the value of your home, not to mention those of your neighbors.

Last week, we discussed the Tudor revival and the craftsman bungalow. This week we will go coast to coast to introduce two more styles: the Cape Cod and the California ranch.

The Cape Cod

The exterior of a Cape Cod home is generally symmetrical — usually rectangular boxes with somewhat steeply pitched roofs, though not as steep as a Tudor style, and a simple 1½-story form. The roofs are typically gabled, in which the sides of the roof come to a triangular point, but variances include gambrel — in which the roof slope has a change in pitch part way down, similar to a traditional barn roof shape — and bowed roofs, in which the sides of the triangle are curved.

These homes are typically sided with shingles or clapboards, although they are sometimes seen with brick, stucco or stone. You'll also commonly see a brick chimney and decorative shutters. (Remember the shutter rule: Each shutter should be wide enough to cover one-half of the window it abuts, even if it is not operable.)

Inside the Cape Cod, if there is a second story, it is tucked within the roof structure. This requires knee walls (3-foot to 5-foot vertical walls constructed inside the roof plane) so the room doesn't end in an unusable triangle space along the outside edge, and dormers, which are windows with their own roof, to gain headroom on the second floor. The interior woodwork is typically painted, not stained, and the staircases are simple.

In its simplicity, the Cape Cod tends to be seen as a cozy cottage. It combines characteristic Yankee practicality with a timeless aesthetic and has become an enduring symbol of domestic comfort.

The Cape Cod challenge: If you will be renovating a Cape Cod, note that details matter on this simple style. Rake boards, which are trims under the roof on the gable ends, corner boards and window and door trim are required to give the home added character and distinction.

As with the Tudor and craftsman style discussed last week, the pitch of the roof and general massing or shape of the house is critical to a Cape Cod look. While this style’s roof is fairly steeply pitched, it is not as steep as a Tudor home. It is, however, steeper than a craftsman roof and many roofs built in the 1940s and ’50s. When adding a steeper-pitched roof to a home, the existing roof can be left and over built with the new roof. This may make the process less nerve-wracking than completely tearing off the roof and exposing your home temporarily to the elements, but it is obviously an expensive proposition.

Original Cape Cod homes were generally built without porches, but because of the simple exterior, the style lends itself to adding one to embellish the blank look of the simple roof line.

The California ranch

The ranch's exterior style is typically asymmetrical with a one-story rectangular or L shape. The ranch is long, narrow and low to the ground, with a strong horizontal emphasis. It features strip or ribbon windows, a low but visible chimney, a very visible garage, a recessed entry door with flanking sidelight, and a low-pitched roof with projecting eaves.

Harking back to its California indoor/outdoor roots, the ranch often has partially enclosed courtyards and patios.

Inside you'll find an open, free-flowing floor plan. The rambler interior typically includes a simple room arrangement, minimal trim and floor-to-ceiling views of the backyard. Because it evolved in warm-weather climates, the typical rambler home has both visual and literal connections of the major living spaces to the outdoors.

The ranch challenge: If you have one of these American originals in need of remodeling, we recommend capitalizing on its simple features and clean design.

While the essential details are typically not ornamental, they do not need to be boring either. Today, we have a variety of materials to choose from, like metals or engineered woods, to add flair — not decoration — to your rambler. We also recommend embracing the indoor/outdoor elements unique to this design. We live in an area famed for its amazing outdoors, and this home style allows you to connect to them every day.

If your desire is to modernize an older home into this more modern style, you may have the opposite problem discussed in the previous styles’ challenges: The roof of your existing home may be too steep. How can you lower the pitch of a roof? You’ve got it — take it off and replace it.

Summary

Remember your home may be a combination of several styles. Once you determine its predominant style, it is up to you to decide whether to revive it and enhance it or change it completely.

As you can see from the challenges of transforming a house from one style into another, it is best to embrace the style of your home and try to enhance it to the best of your ability. It generally takes a large investment to truly change the exterior style of your home. Adding new siding materials, new windows and doors, a new roof covering, and added trim will upgrade your existing home and increase its curb appeal.

Regardless of your home’s style, the use of good design principles in your exterior remodeling project will enhance the value of your home and the other houses in the neighborhood.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com