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A Sunny Room for All Seasons

Homeowners are rescued from cramped and badly designed spaces.

Sometimes even an ill-conceived, badly executed, and virtually abandoned room addition deserves a second chance to fulfill its potential. At least that's what the folks at Sun Design Remodeling Specialists in Burke believed when they walked through the forlorn Florida room casually connected to a suburban Virginia split-level. Surrounded by trees and with a large adjacent patio, the room had all the makings of a suburban oasis, said Sun Design president Craig Durosko — except for the low ceiling, general dampness, and the absence of heat or air conditioning. And then, too, the space lacked direct access to the home's primary living areas — a traffic problem that has eventually rendered the room little more than a storage shed.

" I suppose you could say it was more an add-on than an addition," Durosko observes. " In any case, it was one of the more egregious examples of circa 1970s remodeling I've run across ... little concern for the architecture of the existing home and even less spatial integration. The only way to enter, in fact, was through an old basement door."

Durosko's mission to restore the Florida room has paid off in unexpected ways: Not only was the project awarded the coveted Chrysalis Award for design excellence but Qualified Remodeler Magazine has named it the Nation's Best Room Addition under $10,000."

"Foremost, we wanted to design the project to enhance, not compete with the existing house," says Durosko. "We started with a mid-century-style, split-level rambler, then developed a look that complements the existing architecture while featuring a more contemporary openness." The first order of business, however, was staying dry — which meant raising a new (pitched) roof and, while they were at it, raising the walls from 8 feet to 10 feet high. Appropriate to any Florida room, the windows would reach floor-to-ceiling, but this time under a cathedral ceiling supported by collar ties. The airy expansiveness achieved by these measures also fulfilled two larger goals: highlighting the effect of bringing outdoors in and (since the room is south-facing) introducing a measure of solar heating.

The second priority was to provide direct access from the main structure to the addition. Unaccountably, the original layout forced either a detour through the basement or entry from the outside via the patio. (With inconvenience as the organizing principle, there's little wonder the room fell into disuse.) By reconfiguring the guest bedroom and eliminating a closet upstairs, a doorway and steps could now lead directly from the main hallway to the ground-level Florida room. Graceful entrances were at last possible.

THESE MAJOR STRUCTURAL ISSUES taken care of, a refining of the design began in earnest, with an eye toward enhancing the indoor/outdoor continuum. To soften the transition from the unshaded patio to the addition, the design team introduced a new open-air porch-area, covered, in this case, with a Lindal sun canopy supported by four white columns. The sun canopy's 1/4-inch tempered glass panels allow sunlight to pass through the porch roof and into the room, which is bathed in light by mid-morning. The porch, meanwhile, is an ideal place to watch the sun shower.

Other well-chosen materials enhance the seamless in/out transition: Windows and glass doors are trimmed in oak reflecting the sylvan setting; the interior slate flooring continues out to the porch and onto the stone landscaping and brick patio.

But just a minute, what about the fireplace? In a Florida room? Indeed, because Virginia is not the Sunshine State, Durosko decided to anchor the east side of the addition with a stone fireplace and chimney straight out of a settler's cabin. Seen from the surrounding woods and amid the stone landscaping , it fits perfectly but is also consistent with 1960s split-level architecture. The real pay-off , however, is within the stunning new space that used to be called the "storage room." It will now be in full use year-round.

WITH TWO GROWING CHILDREN pointing the way, Tim and Marie O'Rourke realized that their 1960s Fairfax County split level no longer fitted emerging needs. Both the kitchen and dining room were too small. The family room had become the children's retreat. A Florida room on the back of the house actually obstructed incoming light and made the rear rooms seem dated.

The solution: an L-shaped footprint on the rear elevation, and a careful floor-plan reconfiguration

Removing the Florida room, local remodeling pros Wentworth-Levine Architect Builder added 6 feet to the

dining room plus catty-corner access to the enlarged kitchen and adjacent sun room.

The redesigned kitchen features a lunch counter with stools dividing an open floor plan The 22-foot-by-17-foot sun room addition — complete with vaulted ceiling and stone hearth — gives Mom and Dad a television-free zone visually linked to the kitchen.

Large-scale porcelain tiles unify the kitchen/sun room continuum. Double French doors exit the sun room to a set of rounded flagstone and brick steps, and a walk into the summer morning air.

The result, peace and quiet for the parents, space for the children.