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Eight Columns Are Enough: Design Solutions for My Porch Addition

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Tuscan columns and louvered wall panel

Several years ago, I designed and built a new rear porch for the 1923 house in Washington, DC that I own with my wife, Eryl. The new porch has become a favorite space—it’s our outdoor living room in good weather. But it was quite a process to get to the point where we could enjoy the porch.

The Old House

Our house was designed by architect Arthur B. Heaton and was among a group of five houses speculatively built in Northwest DC. It is a modest house, what could be called “Builder-Tudor-Style.” Previously owned by a couple with the U.S. State Department, the house had been rented for 15 of the 20 years they owned it and got little attention aside from a new slate roof, which I greatly appreciate. But aside from the new roof and white paint on the exterior brick, the maintenance to the house was minimal at best. A slap-dash 1967 kitchen and bath remodel was unappealing.

So when we moved into the house in 2001, we began a three-year remodeling saga: kitchen, bathrooms, windows, HVAC—you name it, it had to be done. As we got the serious remodeling work behind us and made progress with a new brick-walled garden, it was time to build our long-awaited back porch—the fun stuff.

The Porch Design Concept

The design concept was to make the porch a bit whimsical with hints of “garden folly,” which are architecturally sympathetic to the house and yet serve its purpose as a space to relax and view our brick-walled garden. To reduce maintenance and enhance my architectural vision, we agreed that it was necessary to use high-quality materials throughout, including:

  • Red wood columns by Chatsworth
  • A custom-made cedar wood louver panel for sun control
  • Copper roofing
  • Powder-coated aluminum and tempered glass railings

An existing elevated 12 x 16 foot stone terrace with steps (added in the 1967 remodel) had a brick foundation that made financial sense to keep. The elevated terrace, perfect as a garden viewing perch, received new 2-inch-thick flagstone as the floor for the new porch. It was a practical beginning for a bit of architectural indulgence.

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Glass and metal railings on porch addition

The Plan

As with many aspects of life, what seemed simple at the start got complicated as the design’s floor plan emerged on paper. For example, the kitchen’s triple casement window, which provided a wonderful garden view, overlapped the existing terrace, making it impossible to place a column or pilaster at the corner where the porch met the house. And being a casement window, it had to swing out for ventilation, requiring that any column would have to be placed just so to provide space for the window to open. After many iterations and instead of solving this problem in a traditional way (with four columns, one at each corner), I decided that eight columns were needed.

Placing the columns 24 inches from the rear wall of the house looked natural and uncluttered while allowing clearance for the casement window to open. The columns were grouped in pairs to frame views at the north and south. A column was placed at each outer corner and a final pair of columns at the east elevation to frame the garden view. Each pair of columns frames the view and embraces railings at two locations, and at the south elevation, the pair of columns frames a louvered wall panel (for sun control and privacy).

An existing seven-riser brick stair allows guests to walk directly into the garden from the porch.

More about this porch design solution in the next post—stay tuned!

 

“ Dear Bruce, We are so pleased with our new room addition, designed and constructed by Wentworth, Inc. Mr. Lach gave us a design that elevates our spirits each day and brings praise from friends and neighbors who have seen the room in actuality or iPhone photos. Steve Barnard has our highest praise for triumph over single-digit temps, record snows, and personal changes to oversee and manage the on-site Wentworth team. His craftsmanship with built-in bookcases both in the new room and dining room will continue to give us pleasure for years to come. Carpenter Juan is a valuable asset to your company and its client-homeowners. Consistently punctual at 7 a.m., skilled in workmanship and explanations to homeowners, good team leader and good team player. With our gratitude for all the meetings here and at your office, for you and your team who worked with us every step of the way, and our warmest regards, ”

C.J., Arlington, VA