Punctuation mark: Hyphen connects new to old in Dexter 1890s Italianate
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It would have been easy for Tom and Cheryl Hall to ruin the classic good looks of their 1869 brick Italianate house that sits on a hill above the rushing waters of the Huron River in Dexter.
After all, they wanted to add a two-car garage to a house that was built 45 years before Henry Ford began promoting the idea of the auto assembly line. A garage built on to a house designed in the horse and buggy era would seem incongruous.
The Halls wanted to respect the history of this grand house, and didn’t want to become known as the family that defaced a community gem.
Photos courtesy of Architectural Resource
And the slanted roof of an old but non-functioning carport attached to the house was in shambles. There was no garage. And they wanted a guest suite for out-of-town guests.
The answer: A hyphen.
Architect Michael Klement, of Ann Arbor-based Architectural Resource, designed what he calls a hyphen, a room that became a light-filled and multi-functional breezeway, connecting the original house with a carriage house addition. The addition serves double duty with a two-car garage and a guest suite above it that has a Cinderella balcony with grand views of the grounds from the top floor
It keeps the heritage of the house intact, Klement said. “It joins a new form to an old form, but does it in a historically sensitive manner.”
Yet it is functional. It’s a cheerful place to sit, read or relax, with a travertine tile floor and abundant sunshine. But it also serves as the entrance/exit and mudroom, with two large closets with storage for shoes and coats.
At the same time, the carriage house addition created a balance. Klement had designed a conservatory addition to the other side the house a few years before, and the carriage house is similar in scale, with the same detailing in the brackets, cornices, and dentil molding.
The carriage house is visually connected to the original house with the terra cotta colored brick, tumbled to look worn, along with arched windows and classic Italianate brackets. There’s also the theme of three: Like the original that house has three window openings on the second floor, the carriage house also have three openings on the top floor.
The twin doors of the carriage house balcony open to the grounds with the river in the distance. The design for the balcony railing was borrowed from a balcony the couple saw in Savannah, Ga.
“We didn’t want it overly done, heavy and ornamental. But we also didn’t want it too simple,” Cheryl said.
One of Klement’s proudest points is a tripartite window for the stairwell on the street side of the carriage house that pays homage to -- but does not copy -- the cupola that sits on top of the original house. The pattern of the arched windows ties the cupola in with the addition.
The Halls knew their historic house needed work when they purchased it in 1995. It had been built by a Dexter businessman and hotel owner and was purchased by an associate of Henry Ford in the 1920s. But the Great Depression brought hard times and the house was used as a nursing home. When the Halls purchased, it hadn’t been updated in more than 30 years.
The plaster walls were crumbling, There was an abundant number of dropped ceilings, “But structurally, it had good bones,” Cheryl said. And it had a striking view of the Huron River.
There were practical issues. The first floor has only one closet and it measured three-feet-by-three-feet.
“Our living room became our closet,” Cheryl said. “Shoes were everywhere. Everything was hidden behind the couches.”
The kitchen was small, dark and landlocked. Also, they converted the steam heat to radiant floor heat, renovated the tiny land-locked kitchen, opening it up by adding the conservatory.
Also on the grounds is a historic barn that has been renovated for use as a portrait photo studio for Cheryl’s business.
The contractor for the project was Don Huff of Home Renewal Inc. in Manchester.