The existing rear elevation of this 1907 foursquare in Minneapolis (top) proved a perfect spot for an addition that included an expanded kitchen (above) as well as a sunroom and a master suite.

The existing rear elevation of this 1907 foursquare in Minneapolis (top) proved a perfect spot for an addition that included an expanded kitchen (above) as well as a sunroom and a master suite.

best feature: distinctive boxy form

to do:

  • add kitchen/family room
  • new master suite
  • more storage

Take a look at a typical foursquare floor plan, and its practical Midwestern roots become instantly apparent. No space is wasted on hallways or superfluous storage; each room leads logically to the next. This house type's simple, almost cube-like, form and its four-room-up, four-down plan hold renewed appeal for modern-day homeowners. It tends to dwell mostly on the outer edges of cities, in desirable, well-established areas with elm trees and neighborhood watch associations. And because it was typically constructed around the turn of the century, when skilled labor was cheap and materials such as plaster walls and wood windows were standard, the foursquare has held up beautifully. “The more solidly a house is built, the easier it is to remodel,” says Minneapolis architect Robert Gerloff, AIA. “It stays truer and is easier to rework.”

A new arched opening between the dining room and sunroom mirrors an existing arch, deferring to the old house while bringing extra daylight inside.

A new arched opening between the dining room and sunroom mirrors an existing arch, deferring to the old house while bringing extra daylight inside.

That's a good thing, because this particular plan type lacks many features current homeowners won't do without. A classic foursquare has a particularly closed-off kitchen, little storage space, and no first-floor bath. “Because of the size of the house, it usually requires an addition,” says Cincinnati architect John Senhauser, FAIA. “There just isn't enough storage.” The extra space most often comes in the form of a combined kitchen and family room on the rear of the house. “Foursquares don't have big side yards in many cases, so you add onto the rear by default,” Senhauser explains. More storage, often in the form of a back-door mudroom, is a must. Expanded master suites, with walk-in closets and enlarged baths, abound—most architects place them either above the first-floor addition or in the former attic space.

The foursquare's most defining point, its blocky shape, makes adding on a tricky proposition. “It was conceived as an object, so when you add to it, it's hard to have it not look tacked on,” says Senhauser. “It doesn't lend itself to additions in the way houses with more linear plans do.” Architects diverge on the best way to tackle this situation. “My goal is to work with the historic forms so that the addition may have been there originally,” says David Wagner, AIA, of SALA Architects in Minneapolis. “I'll match the rooflines or, if it's a two-story addition, tie it into the main roof form.” Those hailing from the opposite school of thought will purposely separate the addition from the house, either stylistically or physically, to preserve the foursquare's character. The latter is a favorite strategy of Bethesda, Md., architect Paul Treseder, AIA, who often creates a pavilion linked to the main house rather than a full-on addition.

  • Architect Tim Quigley, AIA, placed the master suite atop the new kitchen and sunroom, giving the owners 21st-century closet space and bath amenities.
    Architect Tim Quigley, AIA, placed the master suite atop the new kitchen and sunroom, giving the owners 21st-century closet space and bath amenities.

project: Private residence, Minneapolis
architect: Quigley Architects, Minneapolis
general contractor: Lifespace, Stillwater, Minn.
project size before: 2,000 square feet
project size after: 2,700 square feet
construction cost: Withheld

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