Elements of a great porch

by lbanyay@solagroup.com

Great remodeling projects often exemplify the adage: ‘the sum is greater than its parts’. Sometimes, however, a single aspect or element is as good or greater than the overall finished product. The sum is great, but so too are the individual elements. That is the case with a subtle and superlative porch, part of a $1.3 million 10-month renovation of a 7,000-sq.-ft., Westchester County, N.Y., colonial. 

The overall project, built for a couple in their 30s with three school-age children, was deferred five years by the recession. The architect, Dan Contelmo of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., felt lucky they called him again when they were ready to proceed. It was a complete renovation encompassing nearly every room, yet very few walls were moved with the exception of the porch addition.

It is somewhat surprising to note the home was built in the 1980s. The browns and the cream colors on the windows and doors harken back to a much earlier era, as do the correct proportions of the building and the design details that were very important to Contelmo, the owners and the contractor, Legacy Construction. 

Harmonious integration

Seamlessly adding the porch to this house was not as easy as one would guess. The main issue was how best to integrate the porch with the house. Bedroom windows line the rear of the house. It was important to not be forced to remove or shrink the size of the openings.  And it was important that the new roof below the windows was not so high as to create a water intrusion situation in heavy rain or snowfall situations. 

At the same time, simply extending a low-pitch roof out from the side of the house would have been equally unsatisfactory. Left to stand alone, that low pitch would bear no resemblance to the roof pitch of the main house, as well as leaving the interior space less dramatic without a high ceiling as the family or the architect wished.

That is why the low-pitched roof moves out from the house about 12 ft. before connecting perpendicularly with a much steeper pitched roof that evokes the feeling of the main structure. 

“We knew that the roof, in order for it to look like it belonged to this house, was going to have a ridge that would rise high enough to go into view of that of that window from the bedroom,” Contelmo explains. “But we were concerned about keeping the snow lower than the windowsill, and to ensure that from the bedroom window you were not looking directly into the roof. The rooflines are usually the biggest challenge we have on any successful job. It is easy to draw whatever you want and not care about how it looks. It is not easy to make the roof work – shed snow – and look good at the same time. And that was the biggest challenge – getting the rooflines to work here.”

Scope of porch

The sensitive work of the roofline above was carefully orchestrated to match the goals of the room, or rooms, below. (One can argue this porch comprises of two rooms.) The design for the entire project, not just the porch, took seven months. But a good chunk of that time was spent on the porch, says Contelmo. The client’s goals, he says, were to create a room that was, when the doors were opened, a natural extension of the adjacent family room. In addition, the room must offer dining for 10 and a large sitting area with a fireplace. 

Called by a number of names – screen porches, sunrooms, or three-season rooms – these spaces represent the best of traditional outdoor living in the Northeast and Midwest. Screens offer a respite out of doors, without pestering bugs. Walking into this porch is dramatic and different. One notices the bluestone floors, the floor-to-ceiling screens on both sides, and the dramatic brick and stone fireplace at the far end. Less noticeable at first is the low-ceilinged dining area, which is very much its own space. Past that space, the room opens dramatically under the vaulted pitched roof above. This sitting area is indeed its own space too.

Putting the fireplace at the far end might be a bit of a head-scratcher initially. After all, don’t you want to gaze out into the distance? There is, however, no distance behind the fireplace. It is just a knoll. Also had the fireplace been located along the sides of the room, it would have been 100 percent in line with the interior fireplace, creating an unusual visual echo from the family room perspective.

To Contelmo, creating this successful porch was very satisfying. It met all of the requirements of the owner and added a lot of comfortable living space for the family, which is able to enjoy the space and look out at either side of their yard and stay connected with family members whether they are on the first floor or outside the home. And, contrary to what most people assume, a successful porch project can be as costly to create as any other living space. Contelmo says that this porch came in at $300 per square foot. 

“We have done a lot more porches in the past 10 years. I think porches are sort of making a comeback,” says Contelmo. “The problem is tying it into the building and having it look appropriate in scale. But it is also that to construct a porch of this quality and detail costs a lot of money. When I meet new clients and they say I want to build a new porch and they say I have $20,000 to spend, I say that is going to be a really small porch. That porch would be 4-by-4 pressure treated posts and no chimney and no foundation. It would be really inexpensive and it would look inexpensive.”

Fortunately, for Contelmo, budget was not a primary consideration with this project. 

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