Life in the Berkshires holds many promises – from Tanglewood to Jacob’s Pillow and the farmer’s markets to local CSAs. It also promises four seasons of evolving footwear needs and the warm weather onslaught of mosquitos. When working with clients on a home renovation or new construction project, to make the most of indoor/outdoor living we recommend including a mudroom and screen porch attached to the house.
When we purchased our 1955 ranch home, we had neither. At the time of our renovation, we included a 16’ x 25’ mahogany deck in the back yard to replace an existing pressure-treated one that was in disrepair. Our budget did not allow for a screen porch at the time, but we wanted to plan ahead for the day we could afford to build one. We planned the roof configuration of our house renovation to accept a future porch roof and poured adequate piers to support both the deck and its future roof when the time came for its construction. We also installed insect screen under the decking boards to keep future intruders away.
After living in the house for a few years and looking longingly at the deck that we were unable to use – it was too sunny in the daytime with too many bugs in the evening — we realized the time had come to design and build the screen enclosure and roof. In the “pre-screened” years, we had gotten used to the open view from the back of the house and were concerned about blocking the light and the visual connection from inside to outside. We also wanted a modern interpretation of a screen porch to tie into the contemporary architecture of the renovated house.
The four key design components included using materials that coordinate with the house’s cedar shingles, devising a form that complements the house’s simple “a-line” forms, finding a solution to capture light through the roof and developing a screening solution that maximizes transparency and view.
The structure and finishes of the porch are a combination of cedar trim and laminated structural fir beams & posts. The structural members (which are typically installed in houses behind wall board and siding) are laminated fir material with a tinted sealer finish. Using these structural members both to hold up the roof as well as exposing them allowed us to minimize the obstructions that you see. Both the fir beams and cedar trim blend with the existing shingles to create a seamless whole.
Skylights seemed like an obvious solution to capturing light but conventional skylights are both costly and limited in size. After discovering polycarbonate bubble skylights that are typically used in commercial buildings, we realized they were the perfect solution – being lightweight, inexpensive and customizable in almost infinite sizes. We settled on 9’ x 9’ squares to balance openness and coverage. The result is a light-filled space that does not darken the adjacent interior of the house.
The existing ranch house is made up of simple gable forms that we mirrored in the screen porch. With the fir beams visible and all fasteners hidden, the design emphasized the “Monopoly house” shape. Keeping trims to a minimum we allowed the largest uninterrupted screen area possible; using a high-transparency screen makes it almost invisible.
Summers now are lived almost entirely on the screen porch, rain or shine. Defeating the bugs has allowed us to enjoy the promise of indoor/outdoor living that makes the Berkshires so special.
Now, about that mud room………
All photos by Michael Alper