With nowhere to go but up, this home's addition gets high marks

Melding old architecture and new can be a recipe for disaster. But in the case of a home in Arlington Heights, it was a recipe for celebration.

Last year Jereme Smith of Design Insight Inc. Architecture, or DII, in Prospect Heights designed an addition with Frank Lloyd Wright overtones for a split-level home. The project broke the mold and opened a whole new world of possibilities for homeowners seeking to update their houses without alarming their neighbors.

In May 2015, Katie and Chris Karsten purchased a three-bedroom, split-level home with Tudor detailing on East Mayfair Road, which had been constructed in 1972 to fit in with the older homes around it. They loved the location but knew that they would need to do an addition in order to make the home work for their family of five.

So, the Karstens didn't move right in. They searched for a forward-thinking architect first.

An internet search eventually put them in contact with Smith, who offered the family a variety of options, despite the home's narrow lot.

“We had two requirements,” Chris Karsten said. “We needed four bedrooms and we wanted unique architectural features.”

Smith said he wanted to do something original and fresh that played into the long, narrow site — but wouldn't add to the footprint of the home.

“The only viable option was to design/build over the garage to the rear of the site,” Smith said.

This still presented a challenge to add the circulation, storage, extra bedrooms and baths. Thus, two cantilevers to the north and west were proposed, as well as a ‘destination' balcony.

“We wanted people to be drawn to that balcony at the end of the hall,” Smith said. “In addition, the cantilever to the rear not only added extra space within the home, but it created a covering for the patio below. The cantilever over the entrance to the two-car garage created a top piece for the garage so that the door is no longer so obvious.”

The Karstens were thrilled with the plan and construction began in October 2015 after consultation with the immediate neighbors and a exhausting review by the village. In total, 500 square feet of new space was added and another 500 square feet of existing space was remodeled by Construction People Corp. under Smith's watchful eye.

Two of the three existing bedrooms were altered to create private nooks within for each child. The third original bedroom was transformed into a 5-foot wide promenade-style hallway with stairs, which created access to the new third bedroom (with study nook), the new master suite and a cozy balcony. The balcony, supported by a tension cable and steel beam, is located at the end of the hallway and next to the entrance to the master bedroom.

“The master bedroom is privately tucked around the corner with its own overhang and band of windows that offer ambient light and birch/backyard views. Hand-scraped bamboo flooring connects all the spaces and the two new bedrooms utilize the vaulted ceiling for uplifting volume,” Smith said.

“Early on, we realized, due to budget constraints, that the master bathroom would be a Phase II project, which allowed immediate use of that space as a temporary office or storage space,” he continued.

It is entirely built within a cantilever with a band of clerestory windows that extends out over the entrance to the garage below.

“I love the way that Jereme took the original narrow third bedroom and transformed it into a grand hallway. He literally stacked all of the bedrooms on one side of the home in order to give us access to the addition,” Katie said. “We really appreciated his creativity.”

They also thoroughly enjoy the new balcony, where they often enjoy breakfast in the morning or a glass of wine at the end of the day.

“Inside, our home now has the natural light, clean lines and open feel that we love, while outside it looks like a chalet,” Katie said.

Smith holds a master's degree in architecture from the University of Illinois at Champaign. Prior to founding DII in 2002, he worked for a variety of prominent firms and won awards, including the Chicago Key to the Future housing competition.

DII ( is a design/build architecture firm specializing in custom residential and commercial architecture, plus high-end remodels and renovations.

“DII strives for a honed, mature and warm modern feel in the execution of our work,” Smith said. “Given the luxury of time, we relish the opportunity to experiment with as many design ideas as possible, ultimately to reach the best solution.”

“I enjoy solving challenges,” he continued, “and feel that the design is not complete until the occupancy permit is issued. That is why I enjoy the design/build process — because needed changes can be made as the construction progresses so that the final product will be inventive, highly functional and will hopefully inspire.”

The second floor addition added a balcony and a new master bedroom onto the rear of the Tudor-style home. Courtesy of Jereme Smith/Design Insight Inc.
The Karsten home before and after renovations. Courtesy of Jereme Smith/Design Insight Inc.
The new master bedroom opens out onto the balcony. Courtesy of Jereme Smith/Design Insight Inc.
This architect's drawing shows how the Tudor-style home was expanded. Courtesy of Jereme Smith/Design Insight Inc.
The Karstens are enjoying the balcony, which they say is a private retreat where they can get away. Courtesy of Jereme Smith/Design Insight Inc.
The hallway up to the new addition used to be part of a bedroom in the reconfigured home. Courtesy of Jereme Smith/Design Insight Inc.
Courtesy of Jereme Smith/Design Insight Inc. (DII)
The remodeling replaced and relocated the home's third bedroom. Courtesy of Jereme Smith/Design Insight Inc.
Courtesy of Jereme Smith/Design Insight Inc.
Jereme Smith
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