Ask an architect why people love screened porches, and you're likely to hear a design treatise that goes something like this: "Porches are in-between spaces, part nature and part architecture, a space that's wonderful both for dining or as a quiet place for reverie." Ask homeowners who have one, and they generally cut right to the chase: "It's all about the bugs." The truth is, both parties have a point.
Screened porches may conjure visions of lazy summer afternoons and mint juleps on graceful, sun-dappled verandas, but in many parts of the country it's impossible to sit outside in the evening without a screen between you and hungry insects. We've collected three distinctive screen porches, each of which solved the pest problem and provided the homeowners with additional living space as well.
Double the Pleasure
John Hopke, an architect in Williamsburg, Virginia, says almost every new home built in his area includes an outdoor deck, but because of the insects, they're rarely used. "People know the mosquitoes are bad, and that they won't be using the deck until it's screened in," says Hopke. In fact, he laughs, "Around here, another word for 'deck' is 'future screened porch.'"
Hopke decided to skip the deck stage when he designed a 2,350-sq.-ft. home for his own family. Drawing inspiration from the area's many Victorian houses, Hopke created what he calls a "transitional" style, "traditional enough for the market but contemporary enough to suit me." Tradition is evident in the four 22-ft. columns on the south side of the home. The columns provide the framework for a two-story screen enclosure that protects porches on both the ground and second floors. The enclosure is an integral part of the design, not an afterthought.
The porches, off the master bedroom on the upper level and the family room/living room on the ground floor, catch the sun that falls on the south side of the home. "They provide effective shading when it's hot," says Hopke, "and during the winter months, when the sun is lower in the sky, you still get good sunlight through them. They cast nice shadows in the wintertime."
Because the upper porch is used almost exclusively by Hopke and his wife, it's smaller and more intimate, occupying only the center third of the space above the
300-sq.-ft. lower porch. On either side is open space that stretches 17 ft. from the lower floor to the ceiling. That meant the furniture for the upper porch didn't have to be carried through the house; instead, it was hoisted up through the openings. The partial porch upstairs also eases communication between floors. "We can yell at the kids if we need to," Hopke laughs.
Richard and Darcy Lettieri have two small decks on their 40-year-old contemporary home in Weston, Massachusetts, but neither is particularly convenient to the kitchen. Besides, says Darcy, "The bugs are bad enough that it's more comfortable to eat in an enclosed area." Last year, as part of a major kitchen remodel, the Lettieris added the screened porch they had always wanted but couldn't manage in the three previous additions they made to their house.
Because their kitchen is on the second floor of their home, they built a carport first on which to mount the porch. "It's a very square-shaped house," says Darcy, "and one of the things I asked for was something without a 90-degree angle in it." Their architect, Gary Wolf of Boston, obliged by designing an angled bay on the front of the porch; it's 9 ft. long and protrudes 2 ft. beyond the house. Not only does the bay "give the porch some identity from the outside," as Wolf puts it, but it also provides enough extra space in the 200-sq.-ft. porch to add a seating area. And space was an issue with the Lettieri porch because of zoning setback requirements and the compact size of the remodeled kitchen, which a large porch would have overpowered.
Besides the kitchen door that opens onto the porch, Wolf added a pair of casement windows looking out from the kitchen—"a nice way of connecting the interior and exterior space," he says. The windows are also convenient for passing food and dishes back and forth during alfresco family gatherings.
Gary Wolf designed a wraparound screened porch for another suburban Boston family, part of a major modernization of their century-old stucco home. The porch replaced a too small family room and a deck that had been destroyed by insects. In their place, Wolf designed a family room more than double the size of the old one and, outside that, a 450-sq.-ft. screened porch recalling the one the family had loved at their former vacation home in Maine.
The porch runs behind the family room and the kitchen, along the entire northern edge of the house, turning the corner on the back of the house where a stairway leads down to a garden. Because of dense trees outside the porch and the diminished light from a northern exposure, getting enough natural light was a problem. Wolf solved it by installing four skylights along the run of the porch and, in what the owners call one of "Gary's Matisse moments," by designing free-form cutouts in marine-grade mahogany plywood panels fitted under and over the four-square fiberglass screens. "I was trying to find a way to give a sense of enclosure while capturing some of the quality of being in a tree house, where you have light filtering in through the trees and creating interesting shadows," says Wolf.
Homeowners have an array of options to choose from when deciding on screen for enclosing a porch.
Fiberglass screen is by far the cheapest (15 cents per square foot). It won't rust and it looks good as long as it's handled with care. But because strength is not one of its assets, a bump with a cigarette or an overeager dog can send you to the hardware store for replacement screening.
Aluminum, which costs about 25 cents per square foot, is considerably stronger, and is the most popular for screened porches. With proper care, says Charlie Brakefield, of Phifer Wire Products in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, "Aluminum can last 30 to 40 percent longer than fiberglass." Aluminum screen tends to show glare in bright sun, however, so charcoal and the new black aluminum (30 cents per square foot) have gained in popularity, the latter because it's almost invisible when you look from the inside out.
Bronze and copper screens aren't affected by salt spray as aluminum is but they are more expensive (90 cents per square foot). Unlike bronze, which is stronger, copper loses its color over time, taking on a bluish cast that eventually blackens. "Considering esthetics and longevity, bronze is the best," says Alan Dorn, of Screen Technology Group in Washougal, Washington.
Stainless steel ($1 per square foot) is the most expensive of all. A special stainless grade (Type 316, about 10 percent more) won't rust and is virtually maintenance-free, though because it's bright and shiny, it will cause glare in bright sunlight.
You'll also find specialty screens, such as superstrong vinyl-coated polyester. Designed to resist pets, it will outlast aluminum but is twice the price. And a variety of vinyl-coated polyester and fiberglass sun-control screens (50 to 65 cents per square foot) are good for hot climates. These dissipate heat to the framing system and have a slight effect on visibility.
Where to find it:
Hopke & Associates
1156 Jamestown Rd.
Williamsburg, VA 23185;
Screen Technology Group
33008 NE Washougal River Rd.
Washougal, WA 98671
1 Better Way
Georgetown, SC 29440
Gary Wolf Architects
7 Marshall St.,
Boston, MA 02108