Your Mid-Century Home was Built for an Addition

21 min read Mid-century homes were built for additions. Their sturdy construction, simple roof lines and single story setup make adding on easy.

Do you just need a little more room? Or maybe just another little room?  

Mid-century homes are often the right size for modern living. Until they aren’t. 

An addition may be just what you need to fit your modern life into you mid-century home! 

And I have great news! Mid-century homes were designed with expansion in mind. Back then, homeowners started with simple, snug spaces expecting to add on as their families and incomes expanded.  If you’ve been considering an addition, you’re in good company…and it might be easier than you think.

Now, I’m not for adding square footage willy nilly. Your home may have underused spaces and upgrading those may be easier (and cheaper!) than an addition. 

Here are the top considerations for anyone planning to add on to their mid-century home:

Do you really need an addition?

Before you start dreaming of extra space, take a moment to evaluate whether you genuinely need an addition. Repurposing existing spaces in your home, like your basement, can provide extra square footage without the need for a costly addition. 

Consider other unenclosed spaces, like breezeways. Converting a breezeway into finished space can be a relatively simple project compared to a full-blown addition. You may have the space you need in other unconditioned areas like covered porches or three-season rooms. 

If you do decide an addition is necessary, start with the smallest one that meets your needs. Sometimes a tiny addition can have a big impact on your home’s functionality and aesthetics. 

Research the rules. 

You need to understand what you can build before you start planning. Find out your homes zoning and any limitations on your lot. Zoning regulations dictate factors like setbacks, lot lines, and square footage allowances. Your home’s zoning designation will determine what you can and cannot do. Make a visit to your local planning department or call them to gather this critical information.

Get real about your home’s structure. 

Your home’s structure may determine the complexity of your addition. The type of foundation, framing, and roof structure will influence how seamless and cost-effective your addition can be.

For homes with post-and-beam structures, consulting a structural engineer may be necessary to ensure that the existing structure can support the addition’s load. 

Decide how low to go. 

The decision to add a basement, crawlspace, or slab foundation beneath your addition depends on your specific needs and circumstances. A basement can provide both storage and living space, effectively doubling your square footage without expanding the footprint. However, it may require more excavation and expense.

On the other hand, a crawlspace or a slab foundation can be simpler and less costly. Additionally, a slab-on-grade construction allows for a lower ceiling height, creating a unique aesthetic and connection to outdoor spaces. You can play with the elevation to create distinct living experiences within your addition.

Keep it simple, sweetheart!

Apply the KISS principle to your addition. Minimize the complexity of your addition to save time and money. Avoid unnecessary plumbing if possible and keep plumbing in the existing footprint to reduce costs. Simple, rectangular additions with well-placed windows and thoughtful design will not only be more cost-effective but also easier to maintain.

Consider connections. 

Consider how an addition will connect with the existing house. Rooflines should match or complement the original design. For example, if your house has gable ends, consider a gable-end addition to allow for a vaulted ceiling. If the existing house features a hip gable roof, mimic it for a harmonious look.

Focus on function. 

Think beyond square footage when planning your addition. How can it serve multiple purposes? Can it enhance your outdoor spaces and create privacy or microclimates? Consider how your addition can connect to the indoor-outdoor living areas, making the most of your space. This is also an opportunity to rethink your home’s layout, including relocating stairs or improving the kitchen. Bundling multiple improvements may save you time and money.

Grab the checklist right here.

In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:

  • How to decide if an addition is the right solution for your home. 
  • What you need to know BEFORE you start planning. 
  • Tricks to simplify construction and save you money on an addition. 

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Resources to help you plan your perfect addition!

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Read the Full Episode Transcript

Look, you don’t need to put an addition on your house, although actually, that’s probably because someone else already did. But the fact remains that mid-century homes were meant for an addition. They all were. They were built intentionally snug and small way back when first time homebuyers were excited mostly about four walls and a roof. They weren’t trying to buy a mansion.

But they still wanted possibility and promise, and they got it. You’ve got it too. So if you’ve been wondering if you might want to add on a little space to your mid-century home, yeah, you might, and it’s easier than you might think. So let’s discuss. Hey there. Welcome back to mid mod remodel. This is the show about updating MCM homes helping you match a mid-century home to your modern life. I’m your host Della Hansmann architect and mid-century ranch enthusiast, you’re listening to Episode 1405.

So today, I get to talk about a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Not every mid-century master plan that we take on here. I’ve been mobbed Midwest needs or wants additional space. But we’ve run through two great small addition projects in a row recently. And then last week, I got to talk to three more mid-century homeowner and couples that are thinking about the pros and cons of adding onto their homes. It’s basically always on my mind. And there are some really fun possibilities to consider when you think about extending the footprint of a mid-century home.

So if you’re excited to hear me get into some design ideas and anecdotes about adding on demand century homes, oh and share a handy checklist of things you could consider before you add on. I’ve got some great news for you. This episode is just the tip of the iceberg.

And I’m going to be going quite a lot deeper on that iceberg at a special topic clinic a week from Saturday, the mid-century editions clinic is going to explore everything you might want to consider when planning a small or large bump out for your mid mod home. How to make the most of your budget how to figure out what’s allowed us to find for a timeless design that will make the housework better, but kind of feel like it’s always been there. In this two hour live workshop I will take you through the addition thought process from start to finish. We’ll figure out if your plans your dreams, your wishes are feasible.

Plus, you can ask me your questions about the addition. I always set aside as much time as needed for q&a After these design clinics. So you can ask me about your side yard setbacks, your roof overhangs or your foundation. And I’ll give you this architect’s expert opinion.

The class is going to be live on zoom on Saturday, October 14 at 11am. And I highly recommend you do show up live. But if you can’t enroll anyway, the recording will be available for your viewing or reviewing pleasure once the live event is done. And even better. If you sign up before the end of this weekend, you can get your ticket for just $37 a steal.

Plus, I may do a handy free resource to get you going by asking yourself some necessary pre addition questions using this episode and the matching free PDF of my brand new. Do I want an addition checklist? Grab it at the link in the show notes. That’s mid mod dash midwest.com/ 1405 or go straight to mid mod dash midwest.com/addition to download your checklist.

Here’s the thing, I’m not always the first to act recommend adding onto a home to make it work better. Bigger isn’t always better, after all. And sometimes you can do a lot enough to improve your livable area by reconfiguring what you already have. Perhaps too small isn’t your problem. Perhaps your problem is awkward layout or not enough storage. But even though it’s much cheaper to reconfigure what you’ve got going on, then create a new roof and a new foundation system. There are sometimes needs to move outside the house. Like I said at the top, your mid-century home was meant for In addition, the earliest all really the most affordable homes of the mid-century era were extremely small.

And that was by design. Homes were much more affordable as a percentage of income in that era, because people weren’t really set up to borrow very much in order to acquire one. The modern 30 year mortgage, pretty much the default these days didn’t exist until it was created by act of Congress in the 50s. That was, not coincidentally, the year that homes here in Madison and I’m sure around the country really jumped up in default size and possibility and amenities.

You can see it very clearly in the literature for the Parade of Homes that we had here in Madison from 1952 on that first Parade of Homes in 52 showcased 18 intensely modest ranch homes, they were priced between $11,000 and $17,000 (just let that blow your mind for a minute) over in the DeVos Park area outside the Beltline here in Madison, if you want to go check them out.

Only a few of these houses had attached garages even though they were show houses. Many had just two bedrooms. There’s some fantastic text in the advertising pamphlet. One of these houses is breaking up the quote large handsome mirror above the base and in the bathroom as a key feature. That’s what they wanted to tell you about. There’s a mirror in the bathroom. That’s an amenity in 1952.

Each year of the parade, there’s a new pamphlet that you can still go check out. I have some of them photographed and documented I can put this in my Instagram story if anyone’s curious. But you can see the houses the amenities growing. And 1954 was the watershed year because that was the first year that two year two car garages were introduced in Madison. And at that point, just a few of the houses had a luxurious second bathroom.

These expansions then accelerated in 1954, with the new housing law aimed to make buying more affordable. So the 1955 parade of homes had a couple of split levels, some four bedroom houses or home of the master suite, they had a separate den and living room and a number of the houses and a powder bath for guests rather than everyone using the family bathroom.

But even though those show houses had increased in size and value, not every house was so grand, the majority of early and even later mid-century houses were just two bedrooms, or two beds, three beds, but one bathroom, extremely small all of them. So over the years, it’s very common for people to push out at the front or the back of the house to make space for an additional bedroom or to make a little extra space for one of the bedrooms to become more private to create an owner suite separate from the family bathroom and used by everyone else.

My own neighborhood is a perfect example. By the way, mid-century homes started out modest and then grew. Now this isn’t a tract neighborhood. Each of the houses was purchased by an individual contractor developer built and sold and then another one another lot was purchased. But it did start out all at the same time as a field in 1950 farmland. And then the streets were planted the lots divided, and the series of small time developers rushed in to create an array of modest two and three bedroom ranch homes without garages.

When it was built, each home was a slight variation on the same sort of 28 foot wide by 40 foot long rectangle of a house with an additional 24 by 12 single car garage that popped up not at the same time the house was built but within a couple of years, sometimes attached but usually attached without the without a walkthrough from the garage to the house itself, you had to go around.

And they all had roughly the same interior layout kitchen, dining L, living room in one side and then family bathroom and two or three bedrooms. On the other side of the house, only a very few of the earliest ones, or the earliest ones had a garage later they had a little bit more garage likelihood my own home didn’t have a garage when it was built. You can see from the original paint color that exists only on the wall above the breezeway. But you can see how the garage was added on very early and then the second paint color of the house which was put on at the time of the addition of the garage went in. Over the years though, you can see the plethora of addition options that happened by looking at the Google Maps fly over the area.

There’s not a series of tiny rectangles anymore, but a host of different letters, and l pushing a bedroom or living space backwards, another l pushing the kitchen forward and C or Z. As I record this, the neighbor of three houses down has thrown a new addition into their backyard. I’m guessing it’s an owner suite, but it could be an increased den. I’ll have to introduce myself to find out – extroverting.

But the bottom line is that the sturdy construction the simple roofline and a single story setup with basement here in the Midwest, make it really easy to add on in multiple directions to a mid-century house. The best effect can be achieved by pushing out to the back in my opinion, because you often have front setbacks to deal with and you can create a more generous master suite or a backyard connecting family space, you can also tune the way the house feels private in the backyard by creating a nook of interior privacy, cutting off your least slightly neighbor or a view line you don’t like or the hot Western sun. A number of things can come up.

So if you’re thinking about is an addition right from my home, let’s talk about some of the considerations you might want to go through before you get there. First off, you should confirm, do you really need one? I know the topic of the episode is additions. But before committing yourself to expand your house. Think about repurposing the other spaces in your home.

You want to take stock of what you already have, how you are or are not using it. You may well need an addition, but you might be able to control how large that addition is to by looking for other space the low hanging fruit around your area. Here’s a handful of things you might think about before actually adding on new roof and foundation new footprint to your house.

In the Midwest, think about your basement. Most Midwestern houses have a basement is a good idea to leave some portion of the basement unfinished. People like to have storage there and there’s some utilities but typical basements have an equal amount of space to the floor above so finishing the basement of a one story house could literally double your square footage with no extra additional space. You could create another bedroom, a project room a guest space computer room. We spent a lot of time this I’m talking about the possibilities of finishing basements and making them really pleasant.

You could also think about, if your house like mine had a breezeway separation between the home and the garage, filling in that space. Filling in any space that has roofline and possibly foundation, but not finished walls can be a very easy way to create added space without a major construction project. For those of us who are DIY errs, it’s much easier to DIY and infill space under an existing roof than it is to build a footing of foundation new walls and a roof onto a house that’s more of a general contractor project. So you can give yourself more personal flexibility by thinking small.

You can also think about converting unconditioned areas. So if you have a covered porch, a three season porch, any kind of semi indoor outdoor space, turning that into insulated finished space takes some work but can again be much simpler to do.

And then finally, the halfway step to an addition is rather than creating a new roofline, think about expanding out if you have an overhanging a deep eaves roof house, think about expanding just to the edge of the existing roof line. Now, the walls won’t be as protected there from rain drip as they are in the parts of the house that are more tucked in under the roof. But you might be able to get away without a change to your roofline, which will save you time, money and expense.

The second factor once you’ve considered that, yes, you do need to remodel, you need to know what you’re allowed. Check for your house’s rules, check for your zoning district, in your home zoning, how much square footage you’re allowed to have. What are your lot lines? And what are the setbacks created in your area for your house, you may often find that your house is right up against its front setback, for example, particularly if you walk down the sidewalk in your neighborhood and all of the houses seem to be the exact same distance from the street, they’re probably all up against their front setback line. But in a mid-century neighborhood, you typically have some room at the sides of the house to push out and quite a bit of space to push out towards your backyard.

So you have the ability to expand but only up against the boundaries of the buildable area on your lot. Now variances exist. But you may be surprised how complex they are to get your hands on one. So what you definitely want to think about in this case is know your rules before you start figure out right away. And you can do this by calling your local planning desk. What is the zoning designation for your home? And what are the setbacks? And what is your lot so you can kind of map out? What are the areas you could color in if you’re going to color within the lines for an addition?

And when we’re thinking about what’s possible, what’s legal, what’s doable for your house, you want to think about it structural realities as well. How complicated is your house? Does it have a basement a crawlspace? Or a slab underneath the living area? What’s that foundation made out of? Is it blocks are poured foundation? Is your house stick frame made out of two by fours that support the roof? Or does it have a post and beam structure. Knowing the major structure considerations of your house and what kind of shape it’s in will give you an idea of how complex or simple it might be to put an addition on the house.

And particularly for those people who have a post and beam structure. Your posts and beams are designed to carry the load of your existing roof. So you may need to think about bringing in a structural engineer to help you ensure that you can push out and you can connect to existing beam lines or pick up additional weight on existing edge of house columns without reengineering the entire house.

This kind of research isn’t exactly fun, but it’s necessary to check off and you can do more or less of it by having a few simple conversations. And again, start by just calling your local planning department and asking. Maybe it’s even better to go in and meet someone at the desk asking what seems possible to them.

Now the third thing I want you to think about as you’re considering, do you want to have an addition is how many birds can you feed with one stone. You might also have heard this phrase kill two birds with one stone. But that’s a horrible thing to do and also sounds hard. Let’s feed birds with a scone instead.

Basically what I’m talking about here is how can you get the effort, the trouble the expense of in addition to do as many different things for you as possible. For example, when you’re pushing out an addition into part of your yard if you’re changing your house from a rectangle into an L or from an L to a C or an s or z, what are you going to get not just from the finished interior space, but what are you also going to get around the edge of the house by creating those new shapes.

You might be able to create a much better patio deck or covered porch by enclosing part of your backyard with an L shaped edition. One of my favorite things about my backyard even though my house has never had an addition is that both of my neighbors have backyard projecting additions, which kind of create for them a private courtyard and their yards and create for me a courtyard out of my entire yard. Because they didn’t put a lot of windows facing into my yard on their additions.

You want to think about how many different types of use you can get out of the space, new square footage is always going to be somewhat expensive and your time, energy and attention. So what can you do to make the most of that as you go through the process? How multifunctional can that space be, you’re building this from scratch, how much can enhance the beauty of your home? How much can it enhance your daily lived experience?

Now, when you’re thinking about an addition, you want to ask yourself, how much is enough? You don’t want to go to the trouble and expense of an addition only to find out that it wasn’t big enough to do the things you wanted. But this is where I always want to sing a song about how bigger isn’t always better.

I often see people contemplating additions, where they’re nearly doubling the size of their home or they’re adding on a lot relative to their existing square footage. New additions, especially tacked on to a room with relatively small spaces can end up feeling kind of cavernous and cold. So you want to think about how you’re adding on in proportion to the spaces you have right now.

And make sure that you are getting the tiniest addition that works. Sometimes that is like we said, pushing out under the additional roofline. In some cases, you could try an oriel window which is a little bit bigger than a projecting picture window. It doesn’t have a footing underneath it; it simply projects out from the existing structure of the house. In some cases, you can use this to get away with being up against a lot line. building into a setback may be prevented if you wanted to add a foundation that goes down to the ground.

But in one case, I was able to help a client who was up against their front setback but had such a tight kitchen and eating space, we were able to free up just a little bit of room by pushing the seating area for the dining table into an oriel window. So just the bench stuck out with headroom and enough space to sit which gave more room for the table to be shunted off to one side by a crucial 18 inches, which gave enough space to walk past it and have enough room to have a real dining table next to the snug but better kitchen. The tiniest addition is still in addition, and it has a transformative power to make the space better.

Or maybe you need an addition the size of a room or several rooms. The point is always workshop yourself to figure out how you can Goldilocks into the exact right size of space.

One more thing to think about is how low will you go. Now this depends on where you are and what you have.

If you live in the Midwest and you have a basement under your house, you have options, you could choose to create a new addition, which is more basement space digging out just as far as you have, then you might create basement space as well as main floor space in your additional square footage.

On the other hand, it might be simpler, cheaper, less excavation. Rather than excavating an entire basement meaning to remove all of that fill perhaps you don’t need space in the basement. As much as you need space upstairs. You could think about just putting a crawlspace under addition.

Another thing to consider is perhaps your addition doesn’t need that type of foundation at all but could be a slab on grade construction. And that might give you an important ability to step down, you’re usually going to find you might have some more exaggerated terrain, but in flat areas, you’re going to find that the main floor of the House is a foot to 18 inches higher than the ground plane outside of the house.

Now that’s great because it keeps dirt and debris out. But it also gives you the opportunity to have a higher ceiling in your addition space without having a higher roofline. If you stepped down from an eight foot ceiling kitchen, stepped out 18 inches into your den which is built out at grade level and walk straight out onto a beautiful patio. Not only do you have a better connection to the patio beyond, but you also have a nine foot six ceiling space in there without vaulting a roof.

So there can be a bunch of different fun things to consider in terms of how deeply you dig out your addition. One more thing to consider. And we just pitch this to a client that I am very excited to hear their response to, but you can also think about, in certain terrains, thinking about a half level addition. Perhaps your addition isn’t at the grade of the main floor, the backyard or the basement, but it splits the difference, particularly if you have some comfortable living space in your basement already.

What if a small addition just allowed you to connect that basement space better to the house? Do one or two things on its own. In the case of this client they really wanted not quite a sunroom and faces the North but a garden room that connected them better their backyard.

Now there are several additions we see suggested that are simply rooms off the main floor that give them a little bit more green space plan space dining space. But my favorite solution is the one set halfway between the main height of the house and its basement that lets them flow smoothly down into their existing basement den, and really connect that space to the rest of the house. This can be a magical shoot for the moon example when it’s possible. So keep an eye out for where that might be the right solution for you.

And the final thing I want you to make sure you’re considering when you’re thinking about addition is the KISS principle. Keep it simple sweetheart. When you’re making an addition, you want that addition to be the most minimalist box, it can be. Windows sure, placed where they should be. And it’ll need a heating system and air conditioning system. But if you can possibly keep plumbing out of the new area and in your existing footprint, you will keep your remodel much simpler.

In cases where you have a bedroom, and you’re planning to add on and create an owners suite out of that bedroom, I always recommend you push the new bedroom out into the addition and keep the bathroom in the footprint of the existing house. In the spot where the former bedroom was. So that the two bathrooms I’m assuming an existing shared bathroom at the center of the space that can share plumbing, shorter runs, and you can keep the new owners suite bathroom over the existing basement or crawlspace. Whatever is going on in the existing foundation of the house, such that your new space is the most simple, cheap to construct as possible. So you can spend your money on beautiful windows and built ins rather than on extra complex plumbing basics.

All right. So those are some of the things I want you to think about to wonder, should you have an addition at all and how can you make it cool. Let’s think about a few more. Add on factors to make a really cool addition. How will it connect to the shape of the existing house Think about how your roofline will match or contrast with the roofline of the existing house. If you have Gable ends, you might want a gable end addition and that gives you the opportunity to think about a vaulted ceiling. But if the whole rest of the house has a hip Gable design, you might want to choose a hip Gable for the addition roof so that it feels tied in with the rest of it.

You might want to connect by matching or by modifying the materiality of the house. If your existing house is Brick, you’ll have a hard time matching the quality and color of original mid-century brick. So you’ll probably think about your addition being finished in siding or stucco or some other exterior material. If your house has its original mid-century siding, you might be able to closely match the shape and then paint it all a matching color. Or you might choose to re-side not just the addition, but some amount of the existing house as well keeping some of the existing siding intact, but creating a purposeful transition from old to new, trying to marrying the two together.

As I said in the point about how you can make the most how you can feed more than one bird with one with one scone. Think about how you can get bonus functionality out of your space. If you’re thinking about a full basement under addition, will there be more storage space or more living space? If you’re thinking about an addition that pushes out towards your backyard? How will it be not just its own enclosed space, but how will it connect to the indoor outdoor living spaces around? And do they have the opportunity to create more privacy by cutting off a view you don’t love or even create a microclimate by creating a sunny south facing wall or blocking out how Western sun?

How can you connect the spaces better? As I said before, is this the time to move the stairs in your house while you’re doing a fairly major change? Is this the time to, while you’re getting in contractor level construction, make changes to the kitchen, add other plumbing that’s not related the addition itself? This might be the chance to bundle all the things together into a complex process that’s going to make the whole house better, not just bigger.

So to recap, if you’re thinking of an addition, I want you to make sure that you consider: one that you really do need in addition.  Two know what are the rules of your house? What are the regulations for your property, zoning and lot and what’s going on with the house itself? How simple with this structure to add on be?

I want you to feed as many birds with one stone as you can. How can you use design thinking to make more space go further and to get more benefits than just the added square footage?

And do ask yourself how much is enough? What’s the smallest possible addition you can create that still creates benefit in your life?

Make sure you’ve asked yourself how low you want to and need to go. Are you including a basement a crawlspace a slab? Are you splitting the levels?

And keep your whole addition as simple as possible, sweetheart. By keeping plumbing out of the space and keeping the most simple construction you can. Rather than a Tetris nest of different levels stepping out, try to create a simple rectangle attached to your simple rectangle for a simple L C or Z shape.

You can have fun with your outdoor spaces and think about your patio and connections. But a simple roofline in particular is going to stand you in good stead.

You can grab the free PDF recap of just those things I’ve mentioned at the show notes page 1405 or go directly to mid mod dash midwest.com/additions. Do not pass go and collect $200.

By signing up to join me for the mid-century additions clinic happening a week from Saturday, grab your seat for the early bird price before the end of this weekend at midmod-midwest.com/clinic.

Honestly, you don’t want to miss it. I’m going to talk about how to pick the perfect spot for your extra space. How to use my mid-century edition dreaming exercise to clarify what you’re trying to get out of this What a dream home means for you and your family. The tools, you’ll need to grab those Keystone measurements and key factors like zoning, setback and structure so you can get real about what’s possible and inexpensive for you. strategies that I always share for sifting your Instagram and Pinterest saves for maximum effect. So you can create a style guide to keep the look of your addition, timeless, not trendy and simplify every planning decision you make.

Plus, I’ll walk you through the principles of a great mid-century addition with real world examples from mid-century homes that I have remodeled and planned additions for three of each, of course, and finally what it means to take a master plan approach to your addition so that you can lead your remodel with confidence whether you’re doing just this one thing, or whether this is phase one, of a longer and more drawn out masterplan process.

Of course, you can stick around till the end, and I will answer all your pressing addition questions and everyone else’s live. It’s going to be gas. Will I see you there?

All right. Next time on the podcast. Let me save you from remodelers’ regret, do not call a contractor until you…well, tune in next week to find out.