Wicker isn’t the only option for porches. Letitia Little, a certified interior designer, turned her client’s screen porch into a contemporary oasis that is a little bit Zen — and a lot easy to clean.
“We wanted it to feel like you could use the furniture inside, too, with its clean, contemporary lines,” Little says. She also chose materials that can stand up to the elements — as well as the teenagers and dogs of the homeowner.
The home was built in 1925 but was gutted inside and has a contemporary style now, Little says. She wanted the porch to fit in.
“It’s a softer contemporary styling, with the browns and tans and oranges and earth tones of the rest of the home and a little bit of an Asian feel.”
The Lake Harriet house, which was the 2008 American Society of Interior Designers Showcase Home, has many grand elements, but the relatively modest, approximately 12x12 porch won a people’s choice award for its comfortable ambience.
“I kept getting people saying, ‘Oh, I could live here. I could sit in this room all day long — all I need is a cocktail and I’d be happy,’ or ‘I could see myself sitting here with an iced tea and a book all afternoon,’” Little says.
But when tour-goers saw how the screened room was furnished — a couch and chairs covered in rich-looking fabric, an elegant area rug, a ceiling fan and gauzy curtains— they were confused.
“People would say, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s just screens. Are these fabrics going to be all right? Do you have to keep bringing them in and out?’ ” says Little. “I said,‘Nope, it’s carefree material.’ ”
The cushions of the teak loveseat and armchairs, as well as the curtains, aren’t typical patio furniture selections.
“The fabrics are all acrylics, which are fade-resistant and water-resistant,” Little says. “Acrylics are relatively new in the design business, and now they come in really fun, interesting fabric patterns and colors. They don’t look like something you’d choose for a piece of furniture that you can put out on the patio, but you can.”
Durable materials make up the other pieces in the room, too. “The cocktail table and end tables are made out of vinyl-wrapped aluminum. It doesn’t matter if it gets wet,” Little says.
The rug can also withstand the elements. “It’s a faux jute rug that is made of polypropylene and can be hosed off,” she says.
Even the ceiling fan could take on Mother Nature.
“You can’t just put any electric thing out there — it has to be approved for outdoor use. The woven wicker fan is damp rated,” Little says. The pieces were tested plenty during the five-week tour. “There were some pretty good storms during that period — blowing wind, rain, dirt — and it all cleaned up beautifully,” says Little.
The room wasn’t just about looking good, though. The homeowner planned to use the space frequently during the warm weather months. “I picked out a nice little game teak table with four chairs because the client wanted the opportunity on a summer morning to go out there and read the paper and enjoy his coffee, and he was also a bridge player, and he wanted to play cards out there in the evening,” she says.
In fact, seating was a big challenge in the little room. “It’s not very big, so then trying to get enough seating in there for at least four people to sit down, and then the game table and chairs, that was a trick,” she says.
“What’s nice is with the contemporary styling on the armchairs, they’re open, which feels more airy. It doesn’t look so crowded as it might if it were all wicker. I think the effect is open and spacious.”
She dressed the room with accessories that go well in an “outdoor” room.
“Lanterns are a really fun accessory for outdoors, whether it’s on the patio or a screen porch,” Little says. “I’m just crazy about lanterns, especially hurricane lanterns. And then the wind won’t blow the candles out.”
Other finishing touches include bamboo stalks in metal containers and a variety of potted plants. For Little, it was about including a mix of texture and color.
“You’ve got the faux jute rug, the woven chocolate-brown aluminum tables, the warm teak, the acrylic tan fabrics that look like cotton duck, pillows of heavier texture, the bamboo, the houseplants, the wicker ceiling fan, the beadboard,” she says. “Having a lot of contrasting textures adds to the interest, as well as the colors.”
Of course, the setting helps make the room special, too, which is true of all porches.
“It’s on the main floor, but the walkout level is underneath it, so it feels like you’re sitting out in the trees,” Little says. ✴ Molly Guthrey is a Pioneer Press reporter and frequent contributor to Spaces.