Saturday, July 13, 2024

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All Park and No Bite: How a SCREENED PORCH is a timeless solution to an age-old problem

For designer Ritch Holben, a screened porch is the most-requested feature in nearly every home he designs.

Spring is on the way. The leaves are popping, flowers bursting and outdoor living is on our minds. But, along with the enticement to get outside and breath in that freshly perfumed air come some unwanted guests too…daytime flies and evening mosquitoes are the worst, and pop-up showers can put a damper on your plans to enjoy the best nature has to offer. The answer to solve all these problems for many a Berkshire homeowner is simple…the screened porch.

This new home in Monterey puts the screen porch front and center, taking in a stunning mountain view of three states. Its subtly curved face evokes the craftsmanship in this shingle-style home, and connects the kitchen to a raised terrace that features a 24’ pergola for true al fresco living. Photo: Except where noted, all photos are by Ritch Holben


The interior of this shingle-style porch was kept simple and rustic. The dark colors force the eye out to the amazing views.  This porch provides the perfect repose for an afternoon nap.

Over my past 20+ years as an architectural designer in the Berkshires, I’ve found a screened porch is probably the most-requested feature in nearly every home I design. Whether an independent addition, a broader renovation or new construction, the importance of providing a space that’s both open and airy while avoiding the undesirable elements is always a good investment.

Relatively speaking, a screened porch is a cost-effective way to gain the additional space we seem to need throughout the good-weather seasons. Since they don’t need a full foundation, insulation, pricey windows and doors, or heated like the rest of the house, the per-square foot cost can be significantly lower and the construction schedule shorter. That said, a porch can range in size and level of finish almost more than any other element of a house, so your imagination need have no limits except budget. I’ve seen every scale of porch from an enclosed second floor balcony off a bedroom to a full two-story porch replete with fireplaces on both levels.

This multi-phase renovation added a rather massive three-season room off the existing dining room and is perched on what was an extremely large roof deck. I used a combination of fixed screen doors for the lower fenestration with fixed glass above, and followed the existing roof lines of the house to help integrate it into the architecture.


This is a BEFORE shot of the previous porch, showing the house with the extensive south-facing deck that was simply too hot to use in the summer months.


This sketch shows the importance of integrating the porch into the existing roof lines of the house and works out the structure of the beams which tend to be visible in the final design.


This project was particularly challenging for Roman Montano, the contractor, because of its sheer height from the ground and its position atop an existing roof deck above occupied space. Waterproofing and structural tie-downs become essential details to work out beforehand.


This porch required a guard rail around the entire perimeter since it is an entire floor above grade. We used steel cable rails to minimize the impact on the views to the pool and forest. A propane stove was added on the gable end to make this room useful for all but the worst of winter days.

Three-season porches are a next-level option, too, with screened panels that interchange with glass or Plexiglas to effectively extend the seasonal use.   I designed my own porch by creating the walls with Combi-view screened doors fixed in place, and have since used this technique on a dozen other porch solutions. The pre-fab doors come with simple hardware that allows panel change-out with tempered glass or screens as the weather warms and vice versa. We’ve had Thanksgiving dinners on ours with the addition of a space heater and get a full nine months or more of use out of it.

Because of the unusual mountainside setting of this new home built by Creative Building Solutions, I located the screened porch as the first element that greets visitors as they arrive. Wide overhangs and dark, earthy colors tie the house into the landscape.


The porch, about 16’ square, has a hip roof and connects to a deck that spans the entire width of the house, connecting the porch directly from living room to master bedroom. Board and batten siding and custom floor-to-ceiling screens complete the look.


Heart Pine floors were finished in a natural tone to compliment the ground around it. Painted bead board ceilings conceal the trussed construction and allow for overhead lighting and a ceiling fan.



Location. Typically, a screened porch should have easy access to the kitchen, is usually on the back of the house for privacy, placed so as to capture any views without blocking those from your main living spaces, and near your grilling area. Think about where you will catch good cross breezes, and whether the location is sunny or shady. If you have a pool, the porch can double as a pool house, or it can be a guest crash pad when the kids bring home their college friends.

This festive screened porch doubles as a pool house and picnic area for this renovated ranch in New Marlborough. Tucked beneath an upper floor deck, it’s details were kept simple and low-key. One issue with this solution can be waterproofing under a deck. Although systems exist to try to alleviate this issue, they’ve proven to be less than perfect, so expect a little rain on your parade.


Industrial-style light fixtures glisten off the pool’s surface while lighting the main walking path to the house.

Scale and Rooflines. How does the porch relate to the look and style of your house, and how will the water drain off in those summer downpours? Generous overhangs go a long way in keeping rain out, but sometimes gutters are required.

This grander screened porch is part of a new lake home in Monterey, Mass. The house itself is tucked into the hillside, so the main living level is an entire floor above the ground on the view side. In this situation, the porch is supported on bluestone piers and fully finished for all your outdoor ping pong-playing needs. Again, guardrails were required around the whole perimeter where decks did not connect.


The interior of this porch was finished with the same Thermory decking used throughout the project. Custom galvanized rails add to the character and refinement to match the high-end teak furnishings. Cove LED lighting was installed around the entire ceiling edge so it glows at night.


This porch connects directly to the kitchen and dining areas of the house. As major grilling enthusiasts, the clients wanted to include this combination gas and wood-fired unit, which is so powerful that it required a professional exhaust hood. Copper cabinetry and a bluestone backsplash complete the entertainment experience without the threat of a mosquito ruining the party.

Size and Functions. Will your porch be mostly a dining space, or would you like to have a large seating area for entertaining and napping? Plan it with real furniture in mind, as the options in outdoor furnishings have greatly expanded.

In a reverse scenario that some of the previous projects mentioned, this Lenox cottage had a rather large jutting deck beneath an enclosed sleeping porch on the second floor. We decided to lop off the projecting bits, added a generous wedding cake stair as a stage to the lawn, and enclosed the spans between columns with 8’ tall Combi-view doors. These glass panels pop out and are replaced with full height screens in summer.


The BEFORE shot of the above project shows the awkward deck shape that didn’t seem to relate to the rest of the house. Another benefit of screening off this room is that the existing window screens and French doors of the house can be removed, improving the look of the living room inside.


The evening glow during a Berkshire dinner party.

Level of finish. The options are limitless. Do you prefer rustic, modern, minimalism, or a fully trimmed-out and painted interior?   Decking options vary, too, from stone and tile to mahogany, cedar, synthetics, or my current favorite, Thermory (a steamed ash wood chemical-free product). As you typically don’t have walls to focus on, don’t skimp on your flooring, both from a durability and an aesthetic perspective. And ceilings really set the tone. Exposed structure adds to that “porchy” feel; low-maintenance materials, like painted bead-board with shiplap paired with cedar shake walls, lend a more finished look.

Pets love screened porches, too! Since the screens typically go to or near the floor, our furry friends can be entertained endlessly by the other wild and furry ones outside, but without the worry. Oliver can enjoy his squirrel friends and our baby-sitting bills are way down! Boldly patterned outdoor carpets, sheers and twinkle lighting can add to the magic.


Dinner in the garden…without the citronella.


Material choices are broad for this type of project. In this renovation, we removed the ceiling to expose the honey-tones of the aged roof structure, installed the Combi-view doors again, painted white and installed flagstones on the existing concrete slab. Electrical devices are conveniently located at vertical posts and cove lighting was installed to emphasize the beautiful old framing.


This project extended an existing screened porch by about 14’ out toward the mountain view and now provides ample space for both a dining table for ten and a full C-shaped seating area around the outer edge. A “carpet” of Portuguese tile was inlaid with a neutral grey border to make a carefree cozy feel that is immune to that occasional cloudburst. Because we were planning for sofas around the walls, we opted to install single-pane double hung windows instead of full height screens, sacrificing some of the breeze, but making for a very easy transition between seasons.

Electrical. Don’t forget electrical needs, like waterproof floor outlets, cove lighting or chandeliers and sconces that add to the ambiance you want to create. A damp-location ceiling fan can help out on those occasional hot August nights. Some of my more romantic clients use real candle fixtures (protected by glass hurricanes) for that warm evening glow, but, in any case, veer toward the warmer 2,700 k. bulbs. Fixed rod chandeliers do better than ones on chains — there will be wind. There’s nothing quite like the look of a screened porch, filled with loved ones enjoying a worry-free evening and glowing like a lantern in your back yard or garden.

The magic of a screened porch can happen at any scale, and at any budget. Some of my best dinner moments have been on this vintage and nearly original porch in Southfield, Mass., complete with a creaking old metal porch swing, painted wicker furnishings and a view to a waterfall, surrounded by bird feeders and filled with randy tales of yore.


Maria transitions her porch settings as quickly as she changes her garden and every setting is inviting, charmed and surrounded by lush beauty. Photo by Maria Nation


Reclaimed Brick floors, skylights and racks filled with succulents become the setting for 24 of your closest friends and will create a memory not soon forgotten. Wine and dine in nature and live beautifully. Photo by Maria Nation

So go ahead, get bit by the porch bug, not the mosquito!


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