Let the south side sunshine in

Have you ever been to the Forest at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe? The feeling of walking on the floor under the big tree there is something indescribable… Maybe something like random mounds of spring-loaded marshmallows underneath the carpet. Well, that is how the floor of the porch on the south side of the casa felt when you walked on it. There were layers of dirty musty carpet on top of who knows what that gave way under your feet in certain spots. It was very unsettling.

The space itself was very dark, dingy and claustrophobic. The main entrance was a hulking door on the east side that was formidable and heavy and was not only uninviting, it was intimidating. The old rickety paneled door on the south side put up a fight whenever you opened it, catching on the floor and latching with a mangled utility hasp and bent nail. The opaque yellowed fiberglass paneling on the top portion of the walls let in some depressing nicotine-stained colored light, and the old drab adobe pink-painted paneling and walls had given up decades before.

In the west corner was a heap of random gardening accessories, boxes, bottles, and substances covered with dust that gave off a cemetery feel. Coming in and out of the house through the porch was dismal. Moving into the place in mid-March meant a couple of months of winter-ish weather and freezing temps. The living room and kitchen would not warm up to be comfortable since the natural gas radiant heater was tucked way in the back of the house down the narrow hallway. It was hard to be excited about staying inside these four walls after living under the airy and naturally-lit dome of our Super Ger at Sahalee. On the very long list of things to-do at ‘Casablanca’ as it would come to be called, the porch quickly became a priority to finish before the next cold season.

After I got up the nerve to clean out the resident junk and cobwebs, I braced myself to move out the horrendous pieces of carpeting. I just wasn’t sure what I would find below. The change was immediate and the discovery uplifting. There wasn’t anything more scary than some decrepit plywood softly bending with old linoleum tiles peeling off that covered a few busted old pine planks and a caved in concrete pad. A good sweeping showed me what I had to work with and it was definitely manageable.

From there, it was the doors and walls that begged for attention. For practicality purposes, we needed to put in a door on the west side where there was none so we could make for easy access to the side yard, aka the dog yard. The walls consisted of old pine plank siding covered with asphalt shingle paper. It was easy enough to tear off and the wood was salvageable. I framed up the doorway inside the existing wall studs for the new storm door. To close in the walls after the heavy siding was removed, I used clear corrugated plastic paneling to let the natural view in.

I hadn’t originally thought about putting windows in where the old doors were, but I ended up with two windows that fit perfectly. The windows were special ordered as replacements for the casita. However, I came to find out from the crew that was going to help me put them in that they were the wrong size. D’oh! When they suggested I put them on the porch instead, I thought that the windows were way too nice for the dinky porch project and would be better sold at loss to recoup some of my budget. Turns out they were just the right size to fit in the existing opening of the south side doorway and the idea grew on me.

So, on I went to install the second storm door on the south side to make for a nicer, more welcoming main entrance. I used an old chunk of poured concrete that had been removed from the bottom of the exterior porch wall for a level step, and I finished out the threshold with some new lumber. While tearing off the remaining wood planking from the walls, it occurred to me that we could repurpose the best pieces to repair the busted flooring. Hot diggity! Up went the clear siding on the south side and then in went the new windows to replace the old doors, eventually trimmed out with new 1×3.

What a transformation! Having the porch lit up in the daytime and the new doors at the fresh entryways lifted my spirits to high heaven. I couldn’t wait to come in to the house and leave the living room and kitchen doors open to receive the natural light and warmth I was so used to. The tired old floor was next for a necessary makeover.

We went to work tearing out the old floor planks on the west side and decided to lay in two more joists for extra support using new 2×6 and some precast concrete piers that we had leftover from the outhouse/storage project at Sahalee. We removed the nails from the old siding and cut the planks to fit to complete the rustic finish.

I decided to tackle the rest of the floor on the east side as a bit of a design challenge to make the living room entry more easily accessible. As it was, there was a step up from the outside, then a step down inside the porch, then another step up and over down into the living room. With the small concrete pad at the old doorway and uneven transition to the existing wood floor, it seemed an easy enough solution to install a new deck with 2×8 planks over the top, creating a new transition to the lower level in the middle of the porch at the rustic-planked west end. There was a bit of finagling tying the new joists in to the added wall studs and finding the level using a combination of 2×6 and 2x4s.

To finish things off at the end, making sure safety was top-of-mind, I used bright white with a layer of glow-in-the-dark paint to stencil in a decorative geometric design on the new step.

With a new coat of lively forest green paint on the walls, bright white on the door trim, and some pretty adobe-colored patterned outdoor rugs, the sun porch turned out to be a stunner… A far cry from the old hall of horrors and now our favorite room in the house!

And, just to illustrate the newfound solar potential, we’ve hit temps near 100 degrees on the sun porch while outside temps are well below in the 60s or less…