Designing Saratoga

The Saratoga House: Before and After...A Back Porch as American as Apple Pie


How do you turn a dark, dank, and outdated all-season space into one of the family's favorite rooms in the house?

There are several overused phrases in the home dec world that, after a while, make even those of us who pour through endless episodes of Colorsplash and Design Star, or have issues of Better Homes and Gardens and anything Martha for lunch, tend to cringe at the sound of.  Sometimes it seems like every designer is told to think "out of the box"....every new look is somehow "eclectic"...and every space, no matter how dreary, has "potential".

back porch stools
It's beautiful now, but this back porch definitely went through an ugly duckling stage...but now that it is light and bright, and the original brick of the house is exposed, it has become a completely reclaimed space in our house

Ironically though, the first thing that struck me about our imperfectly prefect old house's back porch was that it indeed had a boatload of untapped "potential", even though most of the family and friends I showed pictures of it to tended to disagree.  When it first became ours, it was a study in 70's rec room chic, with dark wood paneling, old, spongy indoor/outdoor carpeting, and a wall that literally divided the space in half.  One side could only be accessed through a small windowless hallway behind the main floor bathroom and held a 12" television and a scary sagging loveseat, and the other was a cluttered storage space for recycling containers and muddy sneakers that served no other purpose than as a pass-through to the back yard.  There wasn't even an actual door to the outside--just an old, rickety storm door that slammed open whenever a breeze blew the right way.

before back porch 1
Before:  dark, dusty, and mostly unusable...

before back porch 2
...especially since it was divided in half by a paneled wall.

So this area definitely called for a creative that would require the assistance of someone who could swing a hammer and slide a table saw better than the likes of my lovely husband and I.  So with a little semi-professional help, the wall came down, the carpet came up, and one wall of paneling was removed to expose the beautiful brick from the original outer wall of the house that had not seen the light of day for way too many track seasons (also hiding behind the walls was an old paper wasp nest of Hitchcock movie proportions, but we try not to think about that discovery too often!).

back porch table
After:  A great casual dining area with a beautiful view of the back yard.  A bench from Ikea provides needed storage for cleats and baseball mitts, while the tablecloth from Target is scrub-able for easy clean-up after messy activities.  To connect the tablecloth to the other textiles on the bench I purchased a coordinating dish towel and made it into a bench pillow.

Once the outsourced items were completed, it was my turn to have a little fun finding potential in a previously little utilized space.  The very first step was to lighten the room--taking down the wall definitely helped, but whitewashing the paneled walls that still stood (creating a wainscoted effect) and painting the wood floor a dove gray brought the sunshine in. Then it was important to delineate the purpose of the room, and since our kitchen does not have an area for the entire family to have dinner together, we decided dining space was a must.  Like any casual eating area, this also meant room for homework, messy art projects, et al.  And even though the room was now so much more than a pass through, it still needed to serve as a mudroom of sorts for all the footwear, sports equipment, and random clutter a family of five brings in the back door every day.

back porch hutch view
Mudrooms can be beautiful too!  Boot trays make for a convenient spot to leave muddy items, a firewood storage rack makes fires in the main fireplace in the house easy during the winter months, and a hook for a paw-wiping towel and tin for treats keeps the dog happy.

 As far as color schemes, I wanted to connect the space to the kitchen it feeds into, which is decorated in pale blue and Ralph Lauren red, so a little Americana color scheme began to emerge.  This also made it make sense with the rest of the main floor, and repeated some of the same style as the front porch, and since I crave symmetry, this really clicked.  And while the look is crisp and colorful, it also became a fun design project that (I hope!) doesn't take itself too seriously...a great home for my husband's "Dogs Playing Poker" print, lots of rustic texture, and the like.

back porch blue crab pic
Always good to have a little fun with your design...this vintage tin sign reminds us of our adventures living by the Chesapeake Bay, and along with the sisal rug under the table and aged frames throughout the room, add texture to the mix...

So yes, "potential" is a word we throw around a little too much when we design, but sometimes it really sums up a vision that from beginning to end becomes a pretty amazing transformation.  I'm proud of what our back porch has become, and the best reward of all is seeing everyone, including the family dog (who, now that the wall is gone, knows exactly where to take an afternoon nap in the sun on the newly painted floor), enjoy. J





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You have always seen potential in any space and more importantly, have consistently brought it to life in every room into which you step. Well done!

I must agree! BTW this blog is the best!

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Kimberlee Billok
From humble beginnings redecorating my childhood bedroom every few months much to my mother’s chagrin, to years of life as a military spouse making short-term stops our own, to finding myself in Saratoga Springs in a 90-year-old home in need of lots of TLC, I have always enjoyed honing my home decorating and design skills in pursuit of making a house a home for the most important people in my world, my husband Mike and our three children. In pursuit of this goal/obsession I have put my undergraduate studio art studies to work, as well as the unofficial HGTV degree I’ve earned under the tutelage of Vern Yip, Genevieve Gorder, Candace Olson, and the other pros who make us all feel as if we can create as they do. I’ve had the good fortune to have numerous colleagues, friends and family who have trusted me enough to allow me to design their spaces as well, and even redecorated the office of my children’s elementary school principal, which although intimidating, was quite a good time (think a juxtaposition of animal prints and sharpened pencils…luckily she loved it!).

Outside of the decorating/design realm I inhabit in my free time, I am fortunate to spend my days teaching 3 and 4 year old preschoolers here in Saratoga, who can’t help but inspire me to be creative on a regular basis. So since every part of life is an adventure, please join me on this one…combining form and function, design and real life, making each room feel beautiful, comfortable, classic, and personal. All wrapped up in a structure that has been in existence before the invention of spray paint (it’s true—I looked it up!). Here goes!!