We needed to work on the front porch. It had been badly renovated in the past and was in dire need of help. Because of the single-board walls on the porch, there was no way to insulate what were destined to be guest bedrooms unless we found a way to do a front porch transformation that would restore the look of the original porch while taking into consideration the structural issues we needed to address. front porch restoration plan
We visited Barrington Living History Farm and the Joe E. Turner House before we started on the renovations to try and get an idea about what we were getting into and also what the finished product could look like. Those homes were incredible sources of both information and encouragement. Barrington was furnished with period furniture and you could get a sense of what our finished project might look like. The Joe E. Turner House was restored, but not set up as a place for people to live or really visit. The family who own it told us that a professor from the University of Texas had received a grant to restore it back in the 1970s or so. They spent the summer shoring it up and that is the last that had been done.
We knew that our renovation would have to go beyond what had be done to both of these houses. The Turner house was a raw, cabin. Barrington was more polished but both lacked insulation and heat and air. And that is where we deviated from those other houses. We were renovating for it to be home. That meant creature comforts. That meant that the front porch had to be completely enclosed and insulated so that the rest of the house could be as well.
Original Design of the Old House
The original layout of the old house was simple. It was a dog trot frame house with a large and small room on the north side of the center hallway and the same on the south side of the center hallway. In the space between the protruding small pens was the original front porch. The center hallway had been an open breezeway and the front porch, while covered, was also an open air porch. You can see in the picture (left) that the east side of the breezeway/center hallway was closed and a door installed. We opened this back up so that you can see through the house like you could in 1846. Our goal was to have the house look as near as possible to what Elisha Smith Wyman had built and James and Isabella Wood had raised their family in.
Alterations to the House
Previous owners made changes to the house. For one, the back of the center hallway had been closed and a closet was added. They installed double doors at the start of the hallway so that the house gained the hallway as living space, but the front porch remained open to the elements. Eventually, this front porch was semi-closed. They installed plastic over the large openings. They replaced the wooden porch floor with a concrete slab. All of this had to be removed and a new design thought of.
The Porch Floor
You can read about the jack hammering of the concrete slab in The Great Rattlesnake Roundup of 2018. With the concrete gone, we were left with a pretty large empty hole that had to be rebuilt. We found another rattlesnake (the last one, we hoped) and I was ready to get a real floor in so that I wasn’t standing in a rattlesnake den. In the picture to the left, you can see the sill log behind Jerry. There was a wooden floor here originally. If you look, you can see the notches for the floor joists.
Using the rest of the house as an example, we first set the pads and blocks and then leveled the sill log. We decided on using joist brackets instead of trying to fit the joists into the notches. There is a shaker log in the center to help support the joists.
Rebuilding the Porch
I was concerned that the house would not be comfortable. That we wouldn’t be able to get enough insulation in it to keep it cool or warm. Jerry decided that we would screw decking to the underneath side of the joists, lay insulation bats, seal the cracks with spray foam and then top with more decking and the install the flooring. It was a lot of work, but the house is toasty in the winter and cool in the summer. I believe the extra attention we spent on the floors helps a lot.
Insulation was the reason why this porch had to be completely enclosed. The walls between the porch and the small pens were 1″ thick board walls. Just planks nailed up. We would never be able to keep them original and have insulation. Enclosing the porch allowed us to keep the walls as is (or as was as the case may be).
When we designed the porch, we thought about the siding and what we were going to do in order to keep it looking fairly similar to the way it looked in 1852. We decided to install picture windows, a French door, and to install the siding to look like the original porch rails. Below are the before and after pictures for comparison.
The (Almost) Finished Product
We don’t have everything situated yet. I am trying to piece together what was left of the original wooden windows. We found them in the shed behind the house. Previous owners had removed a window and replaced it with a door. We are putting the window back for balance on the porch. We also left the “Haunt Blue” color paint on the ceiling. It is the only ceiling we didn’t alter. I just hit it with a coat of polyurethane. Oh…and the can lights are not original. We needed light, but didn’t want to install a fixture as the ceiling it really low and we didn’t want to detract from the room.