April 16, 2010

Rethinking the Porch

When we bought our new house I was excited to have a screened porch.  Perfect!  Jim and I even stole an evening (trespassing) before we moved in, while it was still under construction, and we had our anniversary picnic dinner on "our porch" in May of 2004:
But after we moved in, it was frustrating that the space was so small.  It's only 7 feet wide, by 14 feet long.  That's okay for an open veranda, where you put a couple rockers side by side facing out, but for a screened-in sitting area where we had a rustic sofa and loveseat, it was just too crowded.  I tried various combinations, I took out the smaller loveseat, tried a single rocker plus sofa, it all was too cramped. 

But the biggest frustration was that the windows are not full length like a summer porch would have, as you can see in this exterior photo.  They are about 3 1/2 feet off the floor, so while sitting on the porch you can't really see out to the yard and gardens.  The windows open half way, sash over sash, instead of full length screens.  Whenever I sit on the porch I feel like I'm inside a railroad car.
I toyed with the expense (aack) of replacing the windows with floor to ceiling screens, but it's still a too-narrow space, and I'd lose the benefit of having a cold room for overwintering plants, unless we did something with huge storm glass.

So rather than re-do, I decided to re-imagine this space. First, it became plant sunroom.  One year I took out the furniture and put shelves and stands in the small space, and a tiered system for holding my summer woody propagation station -- trays, plastic domes, watering cans, fertilizer, supplies.

But it started to look like the inside of the garage.  And it's right off the kitchen (you have to pass through it to access the back door to the deck); it has to be somewhat presentable.

So now I am rethinking this space as a place for both plants and me, but not large enough for people to sit around and chat --- in other words, a mini conservatory.  Just a private space, the equivalent of a potting shed / private retreat.
The sofa is comfy, the plant stand will hold cuttings and pots, the black containers under the windows will dress up the place with foliage and blooms.  I can't entertain out here, but then I never did, it was only me sitting in what is really just an unheated nook off the kitchen, not really a porch.  There's still no view of the back yard, the windows are too high, but when filled with plants and cuttings it will be lush and enclosing and private, a place to turn inward for contemplation (or a nap), not an area tied to the gardens in the back yard.  I'll go out on the deck if I want views, or to entertain.

So, is it a porch?  A veranda?  A hallway to the back deck?  A retreat?  Conservatory?

Right now it looks empty, but imagine it filled with plants, and me on the sofa reading a book.

I've been interested in Carol at May Dream's shedless garden shed.  She too is planning to use a space that is now just a plant storage area (a sunroom) to create a private retreat... in her case to look out at the garden rather than to enclose a nook.  But the idea of creating a one-person space out of an awkward passage or room is the same.

Not every part of the house has to be set up for entertaining.  Sometimes a 7 foot by 14 foot unheated enclosure can be a place where just one woman and a bunch of plants entertain themselves on a summer day.


  1. Everyone needs a room of ones own. When you have it filled with your favorite plants, books and things it will feel just right. Think of those windows as giving you a bit of privacy when you want to lounge around in your jammies yet you get the light. When your trees and shrubs are tall enough you will enjoy lying there on the sofa looking up at them.

  2. I think it's lovely. If you ever really had the need for the iconic rocker on the porch, you could always get a glider. A much smaller footprint!

  3. Dear Laurrie, I love what you have done to this room and can indeed visualise it as a quiet retreat, a cosy nook in which books can be read, ideas can be formulated and plans can be made. I can imagine your enjoying a glass of refreshing lemonade away from the summer heat or a warming cup of hot chocolate on a winter's afternoon. Perfect.

  4. "A room of one's own"! I love this idea. You are certainly right that not every common room has to geared towards entertaining. We all need a space for quiet. I think it will be beautiful. :-)

  5. Lisa, you're right, it does provide privacy from the outside, especially when I'm zonked out on the sofa.

    Lisa and Robb, actually a glider might be perfect there in my one-person spot.

    Edith, thanks for admiring my little spot. It's also a great place to do a little blogging on the laptop.

    Garden Ms. S, How we all lust after a room of one's own! The need for a private retreat says something about gardeners.

  6. Yes, I can see how a space of that size could be a challenge as to discovering its best use.

    I had a similar experience with my old screened porch. It's probably just a bit bigger than your space. I loved sitting out there each summer with its floor to not quite ceiling screens on 2 sides, but rain and snow would easily blow through those screens and puddle on the painted wood floor. (Not good.) Each spring layers of green pollen dust would float on in, too.

    So last year I took the plunge and replaced the screens with windows, which for code reasons could only start about 15 inches above the floor. But i also had built-in benches put in. I have no heat in there, just 1 electrical outlet and a rustic-looking exposed ceiling I've decided not to close in.

    I had a lot of mixed feelings about the project as I knew that in the process of enclosing the space I'd lose some of the airiness and feeling of being outside.

    Still, I'm very happy with the results. I feel it's a more usuable room now. It sounds like you've figured out how to optimize your space, too.

  7. Fern, I hope you'll put a post up of your enclosed space, I'd love to see how you reimagined your porch.


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