Add a Sunny Space to Your Home

backyard patio and deck
Photo by Degnan Design Builders

Most of us have dreamed of adding a room on our home where the sun filters and a warm breeze lightly ruffles the pages of our favorite book. A number of NARI builders and remodelers create rooms like this and we talked with Abe Degnan whose firm, Degnan Design Builders, recently won a NARI award for just such a space. Like many NARI members, he takes the time upfront to help explore the options thoroughly. The Degnan team has years of experience in both remodeling and building new homes, and they find that although many homeowners have strong ideas about what they want, they often haven’t considered all the possibilities. Abe walks prospective clients through several key questions before beginning a design for outdoor living space.

First Abe urges you to consider how much of an outdoor feel you want in the new room. The progression from a screen porch to a three-season space to a four-season sunroom has a noticeable effect on the tenor of the room, and can impact the mood of your entire house. He discusses the advantages and disadvantages of a space that is closer to the outdoors, as well as a space that is totally enclosed.

Photo provided by Degnan Design Builders

Paramount to that decision is the way you plan to use the room. Will it be a place where you work on crafts, read, garden, entertain, or sit in the sun with your morning coffee? Living in Wisconsin, it’s important to consider whether the room will be a space you use year-round.

While your budget for the project may incline you to minimize, Abe points out that the craftsmanship required for a screen porch is more labor intensive than people realize, with both the inside and out requiring exterior-grade materials. In addition, virtually all the work requires finish-grade carpentry. A good screen porch can be a major expense, so it is worth considering whether a three-season room would be more useful.

Year-round spaces, like sunrooms, often end up becoming the favorite room in the house, but in many cases it’s at the expense of another room. While sunrooms are desirable, before you spend money on new construction, it’s worth looking around your home. Is there a way you might be able to remodel underutilized space and create a sunlit room from space you have?

Often a three-season or screen porch can strengthen your home’s connection with the backyard, as was the case with the award-winning design. This Town of Bristol home had a large deck off the main floor of the home, and although the back of the home had an exposed lower level, the deck had no stairway down to the backyard. The homeowners knew they wanted to replace the aging deck and include an enclosed area protected from bugs in the plan.

Photo provided by Degnan Design Builders

The design process helped the homeowners consider every option. Placement of the screened area was critical since the homeowner wanted to retain views from an office and other areas in the lower level, as well as the main floor great room and dining room. Degnan Design Builders created a dozen variations on five main concepts to address the views and determine the proportion of the room. The chosen design was an asymmetrical octagon-shaped screen porch, which saved the views from the master bedroom, office, and great room.

The new deck wraps around the back of the home, with a stairway leading into the yard. The screen porch, accessed through a door off the deck, accommodates a round dining set and two reading chairs perfectly, which is not surprising since the owners purchased them in advance and each alternate design showed the furniture in place. A radiant heater in the screen porch provides comfort in cooler temperatures, and is energy efficient in that it turns on only as needed.

Every detail of the project received careful attention, from the materials to the roofing design and decking patterns. The Trex posts on the deck match the Trex decking, and glass balusters provide a wide view of the yard. A horizontal stainless steel cable railing surrounds the cedar-framed screen porch, where the decking pattern precisely follows the octagon shape of the room.

Photo provided by Degnan Design Builders

Degnan Design Builders stained the cedar and painted other materials to match the Trex decking. Since the underside of the deck was visible from the office, they wrapped the treated beams in a cellular PVC product that could be painted, and painted the underside of the deck.

Abe says, “Many of the decisions were not typical, but they were well thought out and exactly what the homeowners wanted for themselves.” He appreciates this careful approach and sees the satisfaction the completed project provides when people design spaces that reflect their unique likes and needs. He used, as an example, a screen porch built primarily for cats, which has provided years of pleasure.

“People need to decide if they are doing something for themselves. People who love their home and their neighborhood tend to invest in their home for their own enjoyment. They don’t view their home as just a commodity,” Abe says.

No matter what kind of porch you have in mind, a professional remodeler will help you design for your style of home. You can choose to match the context, or do a porch that makes an intentional design intervention to define the house differently. Either way, Abe stresses the importance of working in context, making a project everything that it deserves to be but not turning it into something out of character with your neighborhood. You can improve a home from any era by adding useful and beautiful spaces that furnish enjoyment, indoors and out.

Yvette Jones is president of designCraft Advertising in Madison, and serves on the board of NARI Madison.

The following NARI members were involved in the project mentioned in this article.

Degnan Design Builders

134 Ethun Place
DeForest, WI 53532
(608) 846-5963

Design Electric of Madison, Inc.

6320 Monona Drive, Suite 203
Madison, WI 53716
(608) 221-3563

Wisconsin Building Supply

PO Box 258
Windsor, WI 53598
(608) 846-5445

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) represents people who work in and with the remodeling industry. NARI professionals are expected to be licensed and insured, educated about current industry standards, ethical, and dedicated to excellent customer service.