When the Becken family comes together, it’s a lot of people — 25 in all, including Kay and Tom, their five grown children and spouses and 13 grandchildren.
“We try to get together as many times as we can,” said Kay, who enjoys hosting their extended family at their longtime home in Lake Elmo.
The Beckens’ house, which they built 40 years ago, is large enough to accommodate their extended family. But in warm weather, the family prefers to dine and relax in the fresh air. That left them with a choice between sitting outside and getting bitten by mosquitoes — or squeezing everyone into the Beckens’ porch.
“Our screen porch was very nice but it was too small for our family,” Kay said. “When we had dinner on the porch, we could never get enough card tables and still move around.”
Last year, the Beckens decided it was time to expand their screen porch, so they turned to Mom’s Design Build, Shakopee.
But there was an obstacle. The house was set on Downs Lake, a natural habitat, at the 100-year flood setback. The original porch was within the setback, but it couldn’t be expanded.
To create new living space that complied with the flood plain restriction, the Mom’s team designed an “addition” that isn’t a full-fledged addition.
Instead, it’s a 12- by 20 porch extension with a pergola, motorized “roof” and roll-down “walls.” The room has no foundation, just grade-level paving. It’s attached to the beam that supports the porch, but is not considered an addition under city rules.
The louvered aluminum roof system by Arcadia can be opened and closed by remote control.
“When it’s open, it’s a pergola,” said Jim Sweeney, owner of Mom’s Design Build. “But you can close it to be watertight and protected from wind and rain.”
The “walls,” too, can be opened or closed, depending on conditions. One wall is made of EZ-Screen panels with adjustable panes that can be moved up or down. The other walls are larger retractable Phantom Screens that roll up into the pergola frame, with two tracks, one for screens and the other for clear vinyl panels.
During the daytime, the room can be completely open to summer breezes. In evening, when the mosquitoes are out in force, the screens can be closed to keep the patio bug-free.
And on chilly days, the vinyl panels offer even more protection from the elements, but without obstructing the view of the lake and wetland.
“Vinyl panels cut down on wind, so you can be outside in fall and spring,” said Sweeney. The black frames make it feel like “looking out a giant picture window.”
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The quest for outdoor living is driving more home-improvement projects, according to Sweeney.
“People are trying to find spaces where they can be outside, in a way that feels cozy. This [project] represents a whole new category of outdoor living,” he said.
The pergola is designed to carry the snow load so the Beckens can leave the roof louvers closed during the cold months. Infrared heaters were added to the ceiling of the existing porch and the beams of the new pergola to keep the space cozy during colder weather. “You can be out there in winter,” said Sweeney.
There’s also a gutter system for the flat roof that collects water inside one of the supporting columns and funnels it out into the yard.
The Beckens wanted their new porch extension to blend seamlessly with their existing home and not overwhelm it.
“Trying to get the size right was a challenge,” said Sweeney. “They wanted space to accommodate a bigger group yet still be comfortable for a couple.”
The bluestone paver flooring has two levels, one for the original porch and a step down to the new space.
Expanding their porch was only part of the Beckens’ outdoor project. They also added an open patio with an outdoor kitchen, including a grill with a small prep area and a trash center, as well as a fire pit and a raised stone planter filled with colorful annuals and tropicals with dramatic foliage.
“Kay looks out the kitchen window, and we wanted to give her something to look at,” Sweeney said. The raised planter helps the plants stand out and is easier to tend than a flat bed, he noted.
The Beckens’ new all-weather addition takes the guesswork out of trying to plan large family gatherings. If there’s a chance of rain, the party can go on.
“It’s been fun,” said Kay. “Father’s Day was our first event. We had space for everybody to sit and have a chair. It was good!”
She’s hoping to host the entire family for Thanksgiving on their new and improved porch — rain, shine or even snow. “It extends the season.”