Design Q + A: Screened-in porches

Architect Chuck Sullivan advises filling them with light, air, friends, and family.

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A screened-in porch at an Aquinnah bluff home. Architecture by Hutker Architects and Phil Regan. — Brian Vanden Brink

First of all, do you say “screen porch,” or “screened porch,” or “screened-in porch”?

Typically “screen porch” because it is the shortest term.

In your design experience, are screen porches added to existing open porches, or built from scratch as an addition?

There are two situations that lead to a screen porch.

The first is an addition: In an existing structure, the clients have lived in a house without a screen porch and found the need to be outside more during the day, but in a protected way; from direct sunlight, for example. Or to enjoy summer nights outside but without the bugs.

When we work with clients who acquired new property, we draft a list of their goals and needs, and if they like the idea of a screen porch, we make it part of the overall architectural design program.

What makes for a well-considered screen porch?

We like to design screen porches with three open walls, two at a minimum. Each porch should have two points of access — interior and exterior. The interior access is key to ease of circulation between the indoor rooms and the porch. Proximity to the kitchen is preferred by a lot of clients because they’re dining on the porch, and can move freely from food prep to serving. Similarly, the exterior access of the porch can be ideal for grill setups, outdoor kitchens, pools.

Other considerations include lighting design, ceiling fans, and finish — natural or painted. Some clients prefer exposed ceiling rafters or framing, while others like a more polished or painted look. We ask clients what experience they’re looking for.

Flat or cathedral roofline?

The roof or ceiling configuration of the screen porch is informed by either the existing exterior design if it’s an addition, or incorporated into the new design in a way that flows. We tend to design screened porches that offer contrast to the interiors. For example, if the shared public space (kitchen and great room) has a flat ceiling, then it’s nice to have a cathedral ceiling on the screen porch. And in another house, where the kitchen and living space have vaulted ceilings, we’ll create a flat-roofed porch for a different kind of experience. Both, of course, are scaled in relationship to the roofline of the house.

If we design a screen porch with a cathedral ceiling, then there are design decisions to be made about the gable end of the structure. We take into consideration the size of the opening, and the scale and number of the openings within the opening. In one of the photos, you can see where we included a wraparound screened transom.

If Islanders want to use a screened porch three or four seasons, how do they design so that warmth stays in, but water from rainstorms can drain out? What kind of floor? Should panels with screens go all the way to the floor?

A true screen porch is open, and not necessarily extreme-weather-friendly, especially here on the Island. When we start talking about staying warm and dry, what we’re talking about is designing a sunroom, which has another set of optimal conditions and design elements.

So when all is said and done …

The ideal screen porch in theory and design is as open as possible, with just enough light for comfortable use at night, situated on your favorite body of water or meadow, filled with family and good friends.