The old-fashioned cottage had a unique character. Furniture was usually more comfortable than stylish, electronics were minimal, and nobody worried if you came in with a wet bathing suit. Weekends centred around three places: the dock, the deck, and the screen porch.
That old-fashioned vibe still exists in the best modern waterfront homes. It’s just been updated and modernized. Nowhere is that seen more than in the descendant of the screen porch.
“The look is completely different, but the demand for indoor-outdoor spaces is unchanged,” says Matt Pryce, co-owner with his brother, Steve, of Prycon Custom Building and Renovations.
Prycon is renowned for building luxurious custom homes, so it’s perhaps surprising to hear that many of their clients want something as simple as a screen porch. But Matt says it’s all about function. “The old-fashioned screen porches existed for a reason: to offer a place that’s comfortable, bug-free, and shaded, but feels a bit like being outdoors. People still want that experience, but just in a more modern way.”
But put away any image of screen porches of your childhood, with exposed two-by-four studs and an ill-fitting door that closed with a loud snap. The modern incarnation is luxurious, spacious, and flexible, a room – or, more often, rooms – that let you enjoy the sensory delights of being outdoors and all the comforts of being indoors.
“These are living rooms that have a greater outdoor feel,” says Steve. “Calling them screen porches is a bit of a misnomer.”
One of the more obvious differences is that many indoor-outdoor spaces now are designed for four seasons. That can bring some interesting design challenges in our climate. After all, you’re asking the same space to be wide open to the breezes in summer, and warm and cozy when it’s minus 20 outside.
Achieving that takes design and construction expertise, along with a healthy dose of modern technology. Retractable screens, windows, and doors can be installed – and automated – so that the space can be transformed with a touch of a button, or even automatically in response to the weather. Heating and insulation can be carefully balanced to ensure year-round comfort.
But for many people, a three-season space is perfect. “A lot of the spaces we’re building are designed to simply be closed off for the winter. You can leave all the furniture there, close the door, and come back to it in spring,” Steve says. “Or maybe you just use it occasionally in winter, when you feel like having a fire, snuggling under a blanket, and watching the snow fall.”
No matter how many seasons they are designed for, though, indoor-outdoor rooms do share one, perhaps less obvious, difference from their predecessors: they’re fully integrated into the design of the home.
“The old screen porches were often separate spaces, added on to the side of the cottage almost as an afterthought,” says Matt. “We’re not doing that now.”
These rooms are often transitional spaces, designed as places to stop and relax – as living rooms in their own right – but also serving as gateways from the indoors to the outdoors. That means building seamless transitions between the spaces, and architectural design that leads the eye – and the feet – from being fully indoors, to indoor-outdoors, to outdoors.
“In some cases, the transition from indoors to out is so gradual, so subtle, that you barely even notice as you move through it,” says Matt. “If your hot tub has a retractable roof so you can enjoy it when it’s raining or when you want to see the stars, is that hot tub indoors or outdoors? The answer is ‘yes. It is.’”
Nor is there necessarily just one indoor-outdoor space in a home. “In most waterfront homes, everything is focused on the lake,” says Steve. “That’s where the view is best, that’s where people tend to gravitate.” Having a transitional space between an indoor living room and the path to the lake makes a lot of sense.
But, he says, there are often other outdoor features that serve as attractions as well. An outdoor sports court, a pool, or a garden-side patio can all be integrated into the home, often by incorporating an indoor-outdoor space. “That space might serve as a viewing area, for example – a spot where people can watch the pickleball game or keep an eye on the grandkids playing in the pool.”
No matter the style or the details of the function, the goal in any indoor-outdoor space is the same: to create a comfortable place where the homeowner can enjoy the beauty of their surroundings. It might be a place to gather with friends and family, or it might be a quiet place to unwind, but it needs to be gorgeous and functional, just like the rest of the home.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN