“We’re basically out here all the time,” says Sarah Winchester, an interiors photographer based in Boston. “Here” is the side porch of her family’s picturesque 1880 house. One look at the space, and it’s easy to see why: With comfortable furniture, decorative accessories, and cleverly-placed plants for privacy, the porch feels more like a cozy family room than an outdoor space. And with its proximity to the backyard, it’s the perfect place for Winchester and her husband to sit while the kids play outside, for the entire family to gather for meals, or for the adults to sneak away for a cup of coffee, a conference call, or a moment alone. But, though the multifunctional space may be the ideal getaway now, the space was far from inviting when the family first moved in. “It was pretty neglected,” Winchester tells House Beautiful. Here’s how she transformed the drab porch to the best room
in outside the house.
Keep the good
Despite the poor conditions of the porch when the family moved in, Winchester notes that she decided to keep the original bones. “We thought about ripping it out, but every builder I spoke to said, ‘the original wood is so good—you won’t be able to find anything like that.'” Good advice for anyone renovating an old home: Don’t throw everything away—there’s likely a great foundation that can be revived with some refinishing.
Winchester stripped and stained the floors (“I wanted that saturated black on the floor against the yellow of the house,” she says), painted the trim a fresh white, and covered the ceiling in a hue that nods to Winchester’s Southern roots: Haint blue, a light shade with origins in West African tradition—where it was said to ward off evil spirits—and adopted through Gullah tradition in South Carolina, where it quickly spread to surrounding states. The color has the effect of lightening the space and making it feel more open.
Create multiple zones
Part of why this porch area is so multifunctional is that it was designed with distinct areas for various activities: There’s a dining table and chairs (found at World Market) at one end perfect for meals or working on a laptop, while a more lounge-like space at the other end invites sitting for a cup of coffee or a cocktail.
Design like you’re not outside
The most surprising thing about this porch may well be that in many ways, it doesn’t look like an outdoor space at all—and that was intentional.
Many of the pieces have sentimental value—the dining table once sat in Winchester’s father’s office, and the red console was a hand-me-down from her parents’ house—but Winchester is happier putting them to good use than locking them away from wear in a storage unit. “I feel okay with these pieces getting a little wear and tear,” she says. “Then they’ll get a little patina—and eventually maybe I’ll stain or paint them.”
“We live on a pretty busy road, but we wanted to still make it feel like an enclave,” explains Winchester. So, she planted a magnolia tree at one end of the porch, shielding it from the road. A freshly-painted trellis and additional plants in pots around the edges of the space make it feel cozy, secluded, and private—without sacrificing the best parts of being outdoors.
Bring in the good lighting
The best-designed rooms need a variety of light sources for different times of day—and this is no different for an outdoor space used with such frequency. In addition to the overheard lights, Winchester added several lanterns to add ambience as the sun sets. After all, the family wouldn’t want to miss a moment out there: “We are using every inch of it,” says Winchester.
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