Midwest Makeovers

Innovative, thoughtful upgrades such as screened porches and third-floor bonus space can buck the notions of how a Midwestern home should look.

December 01, 2002


Screening a porch can help make it as livable as a home's interior spaces.

Innovative, thoughtful upgrades such as screened porches and third-floor bonus space can buck the notions of how a Midwestern home should look.

"I think everyone is drawn to the charm of a porch that you'd find down South," says Richard Ruvin, managing partner at Weissmann Ruvin Design Partnership in Milwaukee. "People like the way they look, but in the Midwest our climate isn't cooperative, so people don't typically use their porches. But when you screen them, you have the best of all worlds."

Because of nesting trends and concern over insect-related illnesses, screened porches have become more popular among Ruvin's clientele. By adding features such as fireplaces, in-floor radiant heat, ceiling fans, fully wired audiovisual capability, transom screens and weatherproof closets, a screened porch can add one-third of a year to the typical Midwest porch season (May-September). French doors connecting the home and porch help expand interior entertaining space while acknowledging the porch in the grander scheme of a home's layout.

The quality of finishes drives a screened porch's cost, but Ruvin estimates that a quality screened porch is approximately 75% of the home's base square-footage cost.

"We made the porch more than just an afterthought," Ruvin says. "We turned it into the hub of the house during the temperate times of the year. They can be outdoor family rooms, dining rooms or simply incorporate the wonderful views of the property. I think you'll see more of these porches if you're willing to invest a substantial amount of money into the space to make it feel wonderful."


The Baldwin Manor plan's third floor adds stature as well as the functionality of a basement.

Porches aren't the only way to create bonus space. Midwest builders often concentrate on basement space when they could be "moving on up." When King's Court Builders of Naperville, Ill., introduced the Baldwin Manor floor plan in a local cavalcade of homes, it put 553 square feet of bonus space on the third floor instead of just relegating flexible space to the basement.

"The whole design of the home evolved around the circular staircase, and the third floor helped make that dramatic entrance," says Kathy Elizondo, general sales and marketing manager for King's Court. "People try their best to open up a basement staircase and make it part of the home, but you just don't get that same style or design that we have with that curved staircase as opposed to walking down into a basement. A lot of people found it reminiscent of a grandparent's home or a home where they grew up that had attic space - the basement was for storage."

To her knowledge, Elizondo says the current homeowners have no plans to finish the basement, even though it's almost four times the square footage (2,048) of the third-floor space. She thinks this speaks to the efficiency and appeal of finishing higher-level spaces. King's Court plans to incorporate the Baldwin Manor plan into its portfolio.

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