Our Portfolio

Reset filters
  • Addition 1
  • Addition-2
  • Addition-4
  • Bob Ellen Addition-4
  • Bob Ellen-Addition 5
  • Bob Ellen Addition 6

University City Smaller is Better Addition

Location: West Philadelphia

Building type: Rowhome

Renovation style: Traditional

How a Small Home Addition is Developed with Design-Build

Small additions are one of our favorite types of challenges. Maybe it's because they can be so cute. Designing with restrictions gets surprisingly easy when compared to a blank slate with plenty of square footage, leading to so many options. Options are essential and we do love presenting our ideas, but small home additions require so much more of a designer's instinct. Natural light, working space, door swings and the appropriate aesthetics of good architectural geometry are some of the immediate concerns of a seasoned approach to designing small additions that work.

Design-Build is a great approach for developing small addition projects. As opposed to new construction homes that can be designed without ever seeing the site, good remodeling practice demands understanding how the unique existing conditions will affect the design and the cost. Adequate research and preparation during the early stages of design make for dramatically better options when presented to the homeowner for their small addition. This is because the options always narrow once construction begins and although you will save design time by not planning ahead, the project will take longer and cost more than it should.

How Much does a Small Home Addition Cost?

The most important cost premise of small additions (and construction costs in general) that the more work you complete within the same project, the more cost effective the efforts are. This means that although a smaller addition will always cost less, the 'cost per square foot' is higher due to a very small scope of work for each person working on the project. This project was under $80,000 including all selections (windows, doors, siding, patio bricks, decking, flooring, roofing, etc) and labor. Even though it seems less complex, it was the same price as a simple kitchen project.

To determine the cost drivers for any addition is to identify how many related components there are. This is particularly true for the older Philadelphia and Main Line homes that we work on. You wouldn't immediately realize that the cracked concrete walkway on the side of the house needed replacement or that the basement windows were rotted and needed repair, but it would usually be foolish to delay those improvements.

How to Maximize a Small Home Addition using Exposed Brick

We had fun with this design as it turned out to be a great study on small additions and efficient use of space. In keeping with some of the best intentions of the Small House Movement, we began with conversations about how we could explore multiple uses for this space. Because it was the last room of the flow through the first floor, our design team decided to treat it as a foyer to the outdoor space.

The off-kitchen laundry room and reading nook was part of our client’s dream for years. Original to the house, the addition had been an open porch until the 1970s when a portion of the space was enclosed for a cramped laundry room. We tore down the entire structure to show the brick and as we found the brick wall to be in good shape, decided to keep the brick exposed. Leaving the brick exposed allowed us to keep every bit of extra space that was available to us and also reduced the cost, since the exposed brick finish needed only minor re-pointing mortar repairs.

We found the original porch floor structure to be intact and built a new floor above the old so that the floor of the small addition would be nearly flush to the kitchen floor. In the end we built the addition as all new starting from the original porch footprint. We added plenty of windows to the new structure in order to satisfy their desire for a light filled space. The clients worked with our design team to develop a connection to an outdoor area of the yard that was itself in need of a renovation and to accomplish this we had to remove plenty of dirt. We installed a glass door to maintain the visual connection and to help with some of the likely heat loss in the small addition (due to the large amount of window area). 

Bringing More Natural Light into a Small Addition

Without the hassle of a zoning application, our clients were limited to the same footprint as their original, open old porch - but we wanted to maximize natural light and to allow or views to their rear yard. After exploration of the dropped ceiling structure, we realized that we could raise the ceiling which would allow us to raise and enlarge the window openings we had planned to add. We were able to add three large casement windows and a full-lite door. Our design team also decided to raise the shed’s roof line for a more attractive connection to the main structure.

Designing an Addition with Lofted Ceilings and Cottage Style Detailing

The interior finish material selection of pine beadboard and a simple farmhouse style casing helped us create the relaxed, cottage style appearance that our clients were looking for. The cathedral ceiling provided a beautiful sense of vertical direction and the added height felt important in the small space We included a ceiling fan to circulate some of the warm air that would be otherwise trapped near the ceiling. Although the rest of the house was early Victorian Style, the intention of this space as a lower finish for utility use felt right and fit right in with the historic themes.

Entering the home by walking down the side yard to enter the small addition from the rear yard creates a pleasant sense of build up. The Cottage Style service entry acts as an informal foyer (an ideal mudroom space) large enough to sit down and remove your boots, before putting on your house shoes and entering the more formal Victorian Style kitchen. The selection of historic finishes and period trim moldings helped to make the new work appear timeless and it works wonderfully.

New Tiny Deck Combined with Brick Patio

The clients had originally wanted a small deck landing to transition to the outside. As soon as we were completing the structural framing work, they asked us to design an additional project. Our designer discussed a combined Deck and Patio design that would beautify the approach to the rear yard. The original intention was to enter the door of the rear addition directly from the walkway on the side, but this stair design proved to be too compressed and we turned it 180 degrees to be more comfortable. We arrived at a simple railing design to keep the open view from the glass door.

Brick patio and small deck for Small Addition in University City Philadephia

They considered the option to install a larger deck but through the design discussion process, we arrived at the brick patio solution because it allowed more direct sunlight on the walking surface. This would improve the moisture condition in the yard so that mosquitos activity could be controlled. The patio now hosts a table and chairs to attract the cooks from the kitchen to enjoy the outdoor dining option. Although the addition is more complex than it's small size would have you believe, this addition remodel project turned out to be a natural for the house and it feels like it was always there.


  • New casement and awning windows
  • Exposed brick
  • Beadboard panels
  • New patio with recycled brick pavers