Porches: Catching the Breeze

More homeowners want screened porches. Whether to keep bugs at bay or add extra space, the porches hark back to simpler times—though today's versions, with stylish furniture and fireplaces, are often anything but simple.

By: Cynthia Hacinli

It's everyone's favorite room," says Jodi Macklin of her screened porch, located off the kitchen of her home in Chevy Chase's Somerset. "It's actually the most used room in the spring, summer, and early fall. My kids will go out first thing in the morning and read, and at night they love to do their homework there."

On cool nights, the family brings out blankets. Even if it's too chilly to sit outside, the doors are open to the sounds of nature for as much of the year as possible. Though the original idea was mostly to be able to sit outside and not be bothered by mosquitoes, Macklin, an interior designer, now says she'd never live in another house without a screened porch, and she suggests them to her clients.

DC architect David Jones, who worked on the project, says that the Macklins' screened porch was part of a larger addition that includes a new family room and eat-in kitchen along the back of the house. Two sets of French doors from the kitchen open onto the porch. There's a ceiling fan on the porch for hot days.

Local architects, builders, and interior designers are seeing more interest in elaborate screened porches. Most often they're part of a larger endeavor, such as morphing a kitchen into a multipurpose family room that spills onto such a porch. They're also popping up in new-house blueprints or as a lone renovation project to transform an open-air porch into another living space.

The approach can be as simple as outfitting an existing porch with screens (in the $4,000-to-$20,000 range depending on size, materials, and quality of the work) or creating a more high-end from-scratch structure, comparable to a family room, costing $75,000 to $200,000.

Though avoiding bugs is often an impetus, there's also the nostalgia factor. "A screened porch is a charming nod to the past," says Bethesda interior designer Elizabeth Kannan.

But these new spaces are a far cry from the simple sleeping porches that offered respite from humid summer nights and were popular in the early 20th century before electric fans and air conditioning. Today's high-end porches are often outfitted as lavishly as indoor spaces.

Now you may see Carrara marble tile, Paul Ferrante lanterns, and Janus et Cie teak furniture. Purists also go with copper screens that tarnish from a golden hue to a bronzy verdigris for a vintage look.

For homes with a more modern sensibility, high-tech synthetic screens work well. These ultrathin options feel more like fabric, are practically invisible, and allow for more light--though skylights in the roof of a screened porch can achieve that effect as well.

Less pricey than copper and synthetic are aluminum screens. All three options offer various sizes of mesh and thicknesses depending on your goals--keeping insects out, minimizing sunlight, or protecting the porch from the elements.

Screened panels can be constructed to pop out when it gets cooler and be replaced with glass panels, which means being able to use the porch a few months longer. This option requires storage for the screens and glass panels, and it often takes more than one person to lift the glass panels. A fireplace, wood stove, or central heating can make the room cozy year-round.

Screened porches do double duty--feeding a renewed interest in bringing the outdoors in and expanding family living spaces.

Daryl Landis of Potomac Valley Builders in Bethesda says that his clients view the screened porch as a place not just to relax but also to entertain and even cook. His renovation of a historic home in Purcellville included a screened-porch addition off the family and dining rooms, with three sets of French doors connecting the spaces. Rich mahogany flooring as well as paneling on the ceiling give it the look and feel of a room more than a porch, and it has become a favorite spot for morning coffee.

In the past few years, the designers at Gilday Renovations of Silver Spring have noted interest in more substantial porches, often with a TV, that can be used as a family gathering or party space.

One of the firm's more dramatic recent projects was the transformation of a deck on a house in DC into a screened porch with dense hardwood flooring, soaring beamed pine ceilings, and a fieldstone fireplace, which meant it could be used on all but the chilliest of days. "It was similar to building a family room," says company president Kevin Gilday. "We enlarged the space by two or three times."

The project was finished just in time for the owners' annual holiday bash, which had been one of the reasons for converting the deck into a year-round space. Done up with potted plants strung with twinkling white lights, evergreen arrangements on the mantle, a roaring fire, and soft lantern lighting, the indoor/outdoor ambience of the porch turned a fun annual event into an evening to remember.