An ode to outdoor spaces

After spending much of the spring thawing out in what my partner and I refer to as the “city house” in Stevens Square, we have been spending many of our summer hours basking on the outdoor patio of his North Minneapolis home, otherwise known as the “country house.” I’ve enjoyed eight years of living just south of Downtown, apparently enough to make me think of anything north of Broadway as “rural,” but the perfectly tuned microclimate of his patio has justified the commute. There is a delightful corner of my own home, where I can track the seasons by the length and angle of light washing the wall, but in the summer it falls short of the patio experience because it is confined behind two stories of glass and conditioned air. As a lifelong Minnesotan, I’ve learned to take advantage of any day the elements are bestowing favor upon their people.

The Patio

The country house’s south-facing patio is physically little more than a concrete slab bordered by a strip of planted mulch and a weathering cedar fence. It’s simply equipped with a grill and comfortable patio furniture, but its hallmark is a lush and healthy Honey Locust looming over the back yard.  From 11 a.m.–3 p.m., the patio is rendered uninhabitable by the sun, blistering the otherwise plush sofa cushions before lunch, but by mid-afternoon when the first almond shaped leaves begin to steal the sun’s intensity it cools in a soft, filtered light and becomes an idyllic environment for conversation and relaxation.

The Porch

Another outdoor space I’m especially fond of belongs to friends in the Fulton neighborhood. Abundant foliage and colorful furniture make for an especially vibrant and shaded patio, but this space adds another layer of protection with a porch. Though not the picture of a Victorian-inspired wrap-around, this small, raised porch was created by the addition of a second story that intentionally extends out and over the formerly exposed side door. In addition to shade, the porch provides protection from the elements and a sheltered point of entry. In this case, it also offers an elevated platform for these parents to stand guard over rowdy toddlers running endlessly back and forth.

The Screened Porch

The ultimate outdoor comfort in this land of 10,000 mosquitoes is the screened porch, but surprisingly it is not often the first choice. More often, clients looking to improve their connection to the outdoors ask for a “three-season porch,” believing the glazing will extend the usefulness of their space. Instead, it either becomes a conditioned space, redundant of another gathering area, or an unconditioned glass box, too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. I’m an advocate for diversity of space and whenever possible strongly encourage clients to explore a screened porch. Admittedly, it will not be useable in January, but as a professor once told me about justifying a convertible in Seattle, it’s best when you can’t always use it. A screen porch provides shade and shelter, but adds a breezy immediacy to nature that cannot be recreated behind glass.

Just a few months ago I presented this argument to a client undergoing a home renovation who initially expressed a desire for “more useable” space. I was thrilled when she later said to me, with absolute irony, “I’m so thankful you insisted on that stupid screened porch, because now it’s my favorite place to sit!”

Bryan Anderson lives in Stevens Square. He works for SALA Architects on East Hennepin.