8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side

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By Sarah Chappell
Traditional architecture is something that can and should be preserved whenever possible. However, modern living demands change, and sometimes preserving the past means making way for something entirely new.

Adding a contrasting modern wing to a historical structure seems to be all the rage, proving that something old, something new, and something modern can live in harmony. These renovations not only serve aesthetic purposes, but they also act as practical additions to these older homes that were built with a different kind of daily life in mind. Many of these additions come from a need to expand the floor plan, invite more natural light in, or find unique solutions for day-to-day energy use.

Be ready to do a double take at these eight traditional homes with modern additions that are vastly different from their original facades.

Selected homes were submitted by members of the Dwell community through our new feature, Add a Home. Add your home to Dwell.com/homes today.


1. Wynant House

Architect: Dirk Wynants

Location: Poperinge, Flanders

In the Flanders region of Belgium, there are very specific building codes related to residential architecture. Architect and homeowner Dirk Wynants worked for seven years to get the details right on his 1850s farmhouse, preserving its historical integrity to hold the weight of its robust modern additions. According to Wynants, "If you want to respect the old, the contrast should be brutal. I want to be very clear what is old and what is new."

8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 1 of 16 - The house features one master bedroom upstairs, two guest bedrooms, and two separate guest apartments downstairs that Wynants rents out. "Farming has become a very difficult trade. Prices are historically low and agritourism is something invented to give farmers the possibility to have an extra income," says Wynants, who grows hops on his land. "The formula has had huge success; in the last years the tourism capacity of this area has multiplied many times."

The house features one master bedroom upstairs, two guest bedrooms, and two separate guest apartments downstairs that Wynants rents out. "Farming has become a very difficult trade. Prices are historically low and agritourism is something invented to give farmers the possibility to have an extra income," says Wynants, who grows hops on his land. "The formula has had huge success; in the last years the tourism capacity of this area has multiplied many times."

8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 2 of 16 - "To be able to respect the ‘massiveness’ of the roof, making bigger windows would be wrong, because we would lose the character of the farm," Wynants explains. "Therefore, I was looking for other ways to collect light. At this spot you had the big barn doors at both sides: This is the economical axis of the farm. This I kept, as my own design office is right under this volume. It keeps the sun out, so I have a splendid view when I’m working—I never need sun shades."

"To be able to respect the ‘massiveness’ of the roof, making bigger windows would be wrong, because we would lose the character of the farm," Wynants explains. "Therefore, I was looking for other ways to collect light. At this spot you had the big barn doors at both sides: This is the economical axis of the farm. This I kept, as my own design office is right under this volume. It keeps the sun out, so I have a splendid view when I’m working—I never need sun shades."

2. Vandam Street Townhouse

Architect: Matthew Baird Architects

Location: New York, New York

From the street view, it is hard to believe that this 1823 Federalist Era home in Soho conceals a fully modern interior and posterior facade. The glass and steel addition in the backyard stands in contrast to the historical details out front, allowing the style and theme of the interior to freely flow to the backyard and private living space. 

8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 3 of 16 -
8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 4 of 16 -

3. 35HP

Architect: Joeb Moore & Partners, Doug Patt

Location: Rye, New York

This Tudor-style home looks to be transported right out of a history book, making its minimalistic addition even more striking at first glance. The two sections of the house are intensely opposite, so the architects took great care to reference the materials and color scheme of the post-and-beam gable structure in the modern half, helping to ease the transition between tradition and modernism.

8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 5 of 16 -
8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 6 of 16 -

4. 35 Liberty

Architect: Todd Davis Architecture

Location: San Francisco, CA

This 1885 Victorian two-unit home is a classic picture of San Francisco architecture, while the backyard facade embodies the shift to modern conveniences and living. Though the front facade has the quintessential 19th century details fully intact, the back shies away from such ornamentation, opting for a cleaner look punctuated with wide windows to let more light into the home.

8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 7 of 16 -
8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 8 of 16 -

5. Duchess Mansion

Architect: Stuart Silk Architects

Interior Design: Garret Cord Werner 

Location: Seattle, WA

Built in 1906 in the Harvard-Belmont Historical District of Seattle, this stately residence underwent quite a change to accommodate the needs of its new residents. As much as the interior was changed, it is the rooftop transformation that is the most striking, communicating a more open and social atmosphere than the imposing facade of the original concrete structure.

8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 9 of 16 - Duchess Mansion, Exterior

Duchess Mansion, Exterior

8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 10 of 16 - Duchess Mansion, patio space

Duchess Mansion, patio space

6. Modern Victorian

Architect: Arch11

Location: Granville, Ohio

Built in 1905, Arch11 and Hale Construction reimagined the interior and exterior of this three-story Victorian farmhouse with a purely modern spirit in mind. The full renovation "respects the historic integrity while creating a modern space ideal for 21st century living and entertaining." Facing the back property, a modern "glass dining cube" was added to blend the indoors with the outdoors.

8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 11 of 16 - Add a caption

Add a caption

8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 12 of 16 -

7. Ogden Street

Architect: Arch11

Location: Denver, CO

History and modernity live in close quarters with this renovation, displaying a unique architectural solution that was used to expand this 1890 home. The modern addition actually mirrors the shape of the home's original gambrel roof, peering slightly over the back of the home to pique just enough interest for passersby. According to the architects at Arch11, "Ninety percent of the home still stands," and only about 500 square feet was added in the end!

8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 13 of 16 -
8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 14 of 16 -

8. Cosgriff House

Architect: Christopher Polly

Location: Sydney, Australia

Nestled in the Annandale suburb of Sydney, this quaint home has a surprising modern addition only visible in the backyard. This was done by architect Christopher Polly in order to expand the living space for the residents, and in the end the space was effectively doubled, making plenty of room for the owners and their children.

8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 15 of 16 - The façade of the interwar dwelling was painted bright white and left largely unchanged, with a sole burst of color coming from a yellow DesignByThem "tomtom" letterbox. Though the extension is invisible from the street, architect Christopher Polly says it provides "significant additional freedom for the owners and their three young children to grow into."

The façade of the interwar dwelling was painted bright white and left largely unchanged, with a sole burst of color coming from a yellow DesignByThem "tomtom" letterbox. Though the extension is invisible from the street, architect Christopher Polly says it provides "significant additional freedom for the owners and their three young children to grow into."

8 Times Historical Architecture Took a Walk on the Modern Side - Photo 16 of 16 - The addition’s two stories of cedar-framed sliding doors and window provide generous views of the house’s prized jacaranda tree. The addition’s polished concrete floor and white cladding extend into the garden, drawing occupants to the serene rear porch. There, they can relax on stools designed by Alvar Aalto and Charles Wilson while admiring the luscious greenery.

The addition’s two stories of cedar-framed sliding doors and window provide generous views of the house’s prized jacaranda tree. The addition’s polished concrete floor and white cladding extend into the garden, drawing occupants to the serene rear porch. There, they can relax on stools designed by Alvar Aalto and Charles Wilson while admiring the luscious greenery.


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