project addition: week seven

Thanks for your patience during Flu Week + Spring Break Week! Now it’s time to get back to work. I have some upcoming goals for this project, and one of them is for M and I to set up a meeting with someone in the building department to get an idea of the process in front of us. We know we’ll be applying for a variance since we have such a narrow lot to start with it, and the current building setback lines make constructing an addition or a garage impossible without encroaching upon them. Because we’re in an historic district, we’ll also have to get additional approvals for our project. Once we’ve had this preliminary meeting I’ll write a post on the details of the process ahead of us.

In my last post I mentioned a few of the “problems” with our existing house that we need to address with our new addition. These are different than the objectives we have for the new space; these are real issues that are going to need to be addressed at some point no matter how big or small this project ends up being.

Basement Access
Rear Wall Issues
Alley Retaining Wall Failure

Perimeter Fence Disrepair

In this post I’m going to tackle the first one.

Basement Access: There is no interior stair to the basement of our house. We had the option to install one when we inserted the interior stair between the floors of our house the first time (remember, there was just an exterior stair when the house was a two-family), but we opted not to because it would have eaten up most of the floor space in the middle room of our house. The outdoor access isn’t the end of the world – although it’s not a lot of fun during rainy tornado warnings in the middle of the night. We don’t need to access anything in our basement on a daily basis, and the separation is sort of nice because it’s really not “living” space.

But… the exterior stair is in really rough condition and we haven’t made any real changes to it since we moved in. The reason we haven’t is that a new areaway for the stair would need to be almost twice as large to meet current codes, not to mention the required guardrails and handrails we’d need to install. We considered installing a basement hatch similar to this, especially when the girls were younger and we worried about them playing outside and falling down into the death trap, but they are expensive and we put it off because it’s hard to sink money into something that you will likely eventually get rid of.

Any addition we add will need to accommodate a new stair to access the existing basement since we’ll be building right over the old one. That means either building a new exterior one (option 1) that will eat up most of our remaining courtyard space, or incorporating a new interior stair (option 2) between the first floor of the addition and the addition’s basement. (I suppose a third option could be installing an interior stair under our existing one in the current dining room, but that would require major structural work to the existing house, and so that is off the table.)

There are several positive gains from incorporating an interior stair into the addition:
  • Safe, dry access to a storm shelter – a definite plus living in the twister prone Midwest.
  • An opportunity for a new basement room with decent head height and a direct connection to the dining room / gathering space above. We plan to host more things at our house with real space to accommodate more than a few people at a time. It would be great to have a place to gather for dinner, with an adjacent breakout space for kids just below. Their current rooms are really far away from the first floor action!
  • A clean connection to the outdoors at ground level, gaining one of our objectives – a mud room!

You might remember this early sketch I did that showed a new interior stair to the basement in the addition.


Here’s a really simple diagram of the first floor with that idea. You can see the original rooms of the house, what I’m calling the “link” which is just the connection piece between the old house and the addition which will be mostly glass, and the addition. The red area represents the zone along the west side of the house that is right on our property line. It would house the main galley kitchen and the new stair. The existing first floor side porch would become a pantry and would have a new side entry that could act as a new mudroom.


And here’s the basement diagram for that idea – the addition would have a full basement, and there would be a connection to the existing basement from it. (Again, the stair area shown in red.)

This idea seemed really neat and clean and the only way to work a stair into a limited space – stairs take up a lot of room! But it always bothered me a little bit in that location. The side entry into a mudroom area was nice, but it was still a long walk from the garage and I could see us shortcutting on cold and messy days directly into the dining room. Do we try to accommodate some storage at that rear entry? Then it seems like we’re just moving the current issues we have in the living room – we have no buffer zone in our house between the outside and the inside. I really want the addition to be clean and open and clutter free. Even if we did use that new mudroom and side entry, it’s still tiny, and spills into the most pinched part of our downstairs plan.

M threw out the idea of inserting a stair in the opposite direction – in the link between the old and the new. We don’t have the room to have a single run stair there, but if we had a stair with an intermediate landing we could enter at ground level and incorporate a more generous mudroom off to the side – not a lot bigger than in the previous idea, but here it’s tucked away and not also serving as a corridor with two doorways.


The mudroom would be at that new intermediate level, and you’d come up five stairs to the addition. This “link” would be mostly glass, and the stair here could be a really beautiful thing with glass above letting in a ton of light to the house. Even though everything will still be very open, there’s a visual separation between the entry space and the house space above. I think I love it.

The new basement in the addition will have a taller ceiling height than our current basement, and the link will allow us to connect the new to the old without undermining the existing foundation – we’re staying far away from that wall with any excavation.


Here are some quick views of how that stair might look in the model. Right now everything in the model is very schematic in nature, so just look at it as a massing model right now without a lot of detail. In the image below, the addition is on the left. Entryway is mostly glass and the roof will be glass along this link as well. The whole west wall that was going to be kitchen and stair will now be kitchen and something else – probably seating in the dining room – I have some ideas for that coming up, but right now it’s just shown as this blocky area.

Here’s a view looking the other direction, addition on the right.


View of that new intermediate landing with mudroom adjacent.


And basement view with the first floor peeled off – new addition would have a deeper basement. You can see the existing door to the basement straight ahead.


I’m really excited about where this idea led us. We make a good team.

Meeting adjourned.

3 Responses to project addition: week seven

  1. Fascinating solution. This Missouri weather makes me looooong for a mudroom.

    • This weather is the worst.

      More than just wanting a place to stash the indoor/outdoor clutter, I really just want a place to contain the dirt/sand/salt/water/grime of the outdoors. We all pile into the front door, and even though we have a door mat, a small stool, an adequate wardrobe for coats and shoes – it’s just not possible for four people and all their stuff – backpacks, violins, laptops, groceries, to pile in, wipe feet, remove shoes and coats and bags, get to the alarm keypad (in the next room), and not track in a ton of crap. I’m hoping this will give us a little more breathing room to get in the door and leave the dirt on the landing only. Even bringing in a few trips of groceries and having a place to put them while we go in and out with shoes on will be nice.

  2. You do make a good team- love that glass stairway and that you guys took a problem and found an opportunity for a creative and elegant solution. So excited for you!

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