The Lexington Ranch
Architect Graham Gund designed a second floor addition and a great room for this radical transformation of a 1950s home.
In 1992, we were looking for a tired ranch-style house and for homeowners taxed for space and fed up with the ranch layout and look. Brian and Jan Igoe—and their house—fit the bill. Wood-framed, built in 1958, it sat on a sloping one-third acre in quiet, leafy Lexington, Massachusetts. The Igoes, with their two young children, couldn't afford a larger house nearby and, attached to their neighborhood, schools and Little League, they balked at the idea of moving out of town.
Renovation was the logical answer, but this would not be your standard rehab. The Igoes shared with us the good fortune of working with noted Cambridge-based architect Graham Gund, winner of more than 30 local and national architecture awards. Cited for his facility with post-Modern style and a certain playfulness with forms and details, Gund was intrigued with the idea of transforming a building built in one of the most common, and maligned, American house styles.
Neither Jan nor Brian was especially fond of the ranch style, so they were open to suggestion regarding the expansion—as long as they fit their $150,000 budget. Thankfully, the house was structurally sound and well-maintained; no extensive budget-busting repairs were necessary.
The ranch's biggest problem could be summed up in one word—space. To tour the house was to invite claustrophobia. The kitchen/dining area could euphemistically be called "cozy." Cramming the four Igoes at the table for a meal was tight; the living room and bedrooms were similarly cramped—and sharing the bath was an ordeal. "We kept squeezing by each other in the hall," said Jan.
The ranch's space crisis continued in the two "everything rooms" in the basement. One served as Jan's office—her desk, books and files competing for floor space with the family computer, washer and dryer, oil burner and stored winter clothes. In the other, Brian's desk was hard by a bed for guests and the board games and toys that marked this corner as the kids' de facto playroom.
Then there was the garage: holding a flea-market's worth of odds and ends, it was quite literally filled to the ceiling. "I think we had a car in there once," said Brian, "during a hurricane."
The need for the makeover well established, the Igoes brought their wish list to Gund. "We told him what we wanted in bold strokes; that we wanted to add a second floor with two rooms and have a great room with a cathedral ceiling on the first floor." Gund helped the Igoes refine their list—master bed and bath suite, guest room, kids' entrance, family room.
"I wanted to give the house focus, bring light into it—to liberate it, in a way, and make it proud," said Gund.
Gund saw the Igoes' ranch, like many others, as lacking a center. "That's because ranches have no stairs," he said. "The front door is no more important than a window; it isn't a center. And inside, the spaces are all the same. The dining room blends with the kitchen. There's no family room. It's all amorphous." As for the exterior, Gund noted, "This house had absolutely no character. Even the color is brown—the same as the trunks of the trees in the yard. It was like it was designed to disappear!"
Gund believed the house, and all houses, needed hierarchies: "an interplay of different-sized spaces to give them excitement." His new design for the house was full of excitement. Adding stairs and a second story would focus the home. The great room would soar to a timber-framed ceiling two stories above. The new kitchen would open to the same ceiling, overlooked by a second-floor walkway linking the master suite to a new library. Outside, dormers, new window groupings, a dramatic entryway and a new two-toned skin of clapboards and shingles assured that the new building would not disappear into the landscape.
And so we got to work. The Silva Brothers lost no time in removing the entire roof, preparing the way for the second-floor framing and new ridge line. We formed up the great room's foundation walls with a stay-in-place form system of expanded-foam. In their New Hampshire workshop, timber-frame expert Tedd Benson and his crew fashioned dramatic scissor trusses to support the great room's roof. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) were craned in to form the new work's skin.
The finish work took a long time, with Tom and the crew staying later as the autumn nights arrived earlier. But the details mattered. Columns for the new entry. Panelling for the library. A custom volute for the grand staircase. An entertainment center built in the New Yankee Workshop. Granite stairs leading up from the driveway.
But when we were done, the old ranch was no more. The Igoes moved into a home that gave them everything they hadn't before: space, flow and light; rooms that didn't have to do double- and triple-duty; and a garage with room for a car. "We weren't restricted by historical styles on this project," remarked host Steve Thomas. "That's why it was wonderful to have Graham Gund involved. He wasn't referencing the past. He was inventing the present."
For her part, Jan Igoe had this to say after a few months in her new place: "I felt myself coming out of some kind of shell. I never knew how constricted I felt in the old house until I began to stretch myself out in the new one."