Our biggest project of 2018 kept us busy for quite some time. Scheming ways in which to update the covered porch of our midcentury home was a 5-year process, and though I’ve started many times to draft the story in a way that it could be digested as a single serving, it’s a bit of a full meal. I think it makes for a better memory than piecemealing the process into 10 separate posts. To read more posts relating to the reinvention of our various outdoor living spaces, check the Outdoor Living category of the blog.
Outdoor Living Room: Before – 2013
The screened in porch wasn’t included in the square footage of our home, but turns out, it’s one of our most lived-in spaces! The previous owner had it outfitted with a patio table and chairs, as well as heavy-duty bamboo rolling blinds. In fact, this picture is from our first time seeing the house. Not bad, but a true throwback.
The Outdoor Living Room Became Integral to Our Daily Routine – 2013-2015
We found the screened-in patio to be a practical space for outdoor living from Day 1 [at the time had one kid and one dog]. We’ve been told in more recent years that the woman who had lived here “was never outside,” and “surely never used that room,” which may or not be true, but would help to explain why it was in pristine condition before we rained our messy life all over it.
Within days of moving in, we had removed the blinds, and stationed one of our barn wood wedding tables as an indoor/outdoor dining table. We surrounded it with the few chairs we owned. Used it heavily. Ate on it nightly. Worked at it daily. It was great for our former dog, Cody, who could stay contained but outdoors if we left the house for short periods of time, and a great place for us all to enjoy the nature that sweeps our backyard.
We Made a Plan to Improve Our Backyard Lifestyle – 2016
We’re still unsure whether we built the patio big enough (our sole tip to any of you looking to build something like this… go bigger) but the stonework we added outside our screened in porch was the first improvement we did to make our space even more liveable. This post shows how we planned and installed a large flagstone patio.
The flagstones were sourced from a New York quarry and sold at a stone yard owned by a timber company nearby Rochester, NY. Once the patio had been installed and officially checked off our list, we began planning with other ways we could continue to elaborate on the space. We got chaise lounge chairs and formal chairs for the rustic wedding table, which now lives on the patio.
Over the next year or so, our tribe grew, our foot traffic in the room accelerated, and despite vacuuming, we destroyed the indoor/outdoor carpet. We also began to slowly tear and puncture the screens. To replace the screens, we knew we’d have to disassemble the frames (and sand and repaint them, too), and it quickly became apparent that it could be a good time to open up and re-concept the space.
The summer that Sam was born in 2016, we experimented with ridding the room of the screens altogether. The simple hardware holding them in place made it easy for us to temporarily remove them so we could experiment with the flow of traffic and airflow and observe whether pollen and leaves were a total burden.
We liked it without screens. Removing them for a year was a nice way to experiment and see if we could live without them, and how we might navigate the space if there were no walls guiding our pathway. Common Qs:
Q: Would it get snowy? A: Yup. It drifts in under our 36″ eaves and is often a few inches deep around the perimeter of the room. It doesn’t get snowy by the back door though, and to be honest, snow would drift through the little screen holes during big storms, too, so it was never a truly dry space.
Q: Would springtime pollen make us crazy? A: Yes, but with the screens gone we could easily use a blower to clean off any excess that was building up on the tabletops, chairs, etc. We still had to vacuum the floor quite a bit. This was all easier than vacuuming the vertical screens, which is what we had to do a few times every year to keep them cobweb and free of heavy yellow pollen.
Most often asked Q – don’t screens keep out bugs? A: Nope. The door to the screened in porch was open so often, that the flies and mosquitos were always inside, and that was really frustrating since they had no easy escape route. Without the screens, we can keep the fan on and there are virtually no bugs driving us crazy.
Removing the Carpet and Refinishing the Concrete Slab Base – 2017
One year later, shortly before Sam’s first birthday in 2017, I casually announced that I’d had enough of the gross carpet and wanted to tear it up. And as you do, 4 hours later, it was gone, cut into strips, and wedged into the trash bin. It was a dusty, dirty mess at this point. I was partially expecting to find mold beneath the carpet knowing how many times we’ve had to spray it off, or clean up spilled lemonade, etc, but there was no mold, only lots of old-old-old thick and crumbly adhesive. Our indoor/outdoor carpet that felt vaguely like astroturf was glued down, and we were pretty relieved by that. In its wake, we were left with a big slab of concrete in remarkably good condition considering freeze/thaw/weather cycles.
At this point, Pete and I had either been given bad advice and told that it would be hard to sand away the glue, or maybe we just assumed it ourselves.
Every night for a week, we took extra efforts to remove the dried adhesive that was affixed to the concrete thinking that make the surface easier to refinish. We pedaled along on our hands and knees with different expensive glue removal solutions and a wide variety of razor blades with ergonomic handles and varied widths, though still to end up with 45 hand blisters a piece. It might be vaguely satisfying to scrape anything with a perfectly angled razor blade, but believe me, if you’re scheming a project like this at your home, skip the pain and suffering and just jump right to the stripping the concrete with a rented grinder before you spend weeks trying to manually remove dried adhesive. You’re welcome.
Just for kicks, and because I’ve been storing this boomerang to share for literally years, enjoy.
Despite all efforts and blisters, there were still spots we couldn’t clean well enough by hand so we rented an industrial sander for 4 hours, and took the rough surface to smooth in one clean pass of the grinder. The wheel left us with the perfect, smooth surface on which to lay tiles.
Sourcing and Transporting New Stone – 2018
All this time, I held on to the memory of a very thin 1/2″ flagstone sourced from the same quarry and at the stone yard, and slowly started to scheme a plan where we would connect the covered and open patio spaces by extending the flagstone up beneath the covered porch.
At some point between when I ordered the original flagstone from the stone yard for our outdoor patio, and set out to buy the 1/2″ material on the covered porch, operations changed at the business, and the stone yard was unmanaged.
The main reason that I wanted to get the flagstone from the same source was that it was cut from the same quarry and more guaranteed to match the stones we had already used. It was also quoted for me at $3.50/sq. ft., whereas the other local stone yard priced a similar product at $8/sq. ft., and when you’re buying 300 sq. ft., those numbers really begin to matter.
I had a really difficult time getting in touch with anyone who could take our money for the 1/2″ flagstone that was still sitting [visible from the road] behind a locked gate at the stone yard, and I finally lucked out after sending a handwritten note to the company (a recommendation made by another blogger friend – thanks!) and triggered them to call me back.
When they finally called, I drove to the stone yard same-day, bought it all, and hauled it back to the house. The stone yard is 45 minutes from my house, and though it was thin stone, it was still very heavy so I divided the load between two car trips, juggled pre-k pickup, 80+ degree temps, and employed every single muscle in my body to load the stones into the minivan, and then out of the van back at home. Twice. (Hattie supervised the second trip.)
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Definitely deserve 🍦 after hauling 300 sq. ft. of flagstone divided between two minivan loads 40 miles to and from and to home in 86-degree heat. ☀️ Also, you can’t convince me that minivans aren’t incredible. 🏡 #homeimprovement #diy #💪🏻 #flagstone #bluestone #wotd #myway #rochesterny #icecreamplease #andabeer
It sat stacked, organized by size, around every single tree next to our house for several months.
Planning the Stone Pattern
No professional ever will tell you that this is the way to organize patio stones for a simple installation, but Pete’s a design whiz and made us a roadmap in Photoshop so that we could:
- configure the patterns so that the seams and joints were intentionally in a random pattern
- plan out how the few larger stones we sourced would be balanced by the smaller, more plentiful-sized stones
- design a layout that required minimal stone cuts
- … and minimize waste… because even when you order 10% extra stone or tile, it’s always a little bit nervewracking if you’re running short
- make installation *faster*
Simply put, he created a perfectly to scale model of our porch, and then made individual rectangular layers in the file that represented each flagstone size, at the same scale. From there, he created a puzzle that looked like this:
Completed and printed, it served as our master plan and by the end of the project was covered in blood, sweat, coffee, beer, and dirt.
Many things came into play as we considered the when and how to install the flagstones on the solid, smooth concrete slab.
We had to factor in removing the vinyl siding, and then decide if the stones would look weird butted up to the underlying cedar shingles. We needed to add trim around the top edge once the siding was removed. The outlets that were positioned to be flush with the vinyl also needed to be considered, as did the cedar shiplap ceiling. We were relieved when all of this worked out just as expected, but it’s worth noting that putting in something that seems like an ordinary flagstone tile floor came with a lot of extra manual labor and creative thinking.
We saved the vinyl siding to reuse as part of our kitchen renovation because we’ll need to add in siding where we decided to lose a window. We patched the nail holes left by the cedar shingles for now, totally relieved that they’re in excellent condition (and curious if the rest of the house is as perfect beneath the vinyl). Eventually, the shingles will get painted.
Crown molding extends along the open edge of the patio, but had been removed from where the shingles meet the cedar ceiling back when the vinyl siding had been installed. There was a lot of scrap wood stored in our basement, and we happened to find enough pieces of matching molding to install it along the top of the walls, including these extremely small and precise miters that trim out our windows and the door.
I removed the vinyl that wrapped along the columns on the porch to expose the original painted wood, and Pete cut out the two pieces that framed out our old screen door. No going back now!
The cedar ceiling was cleaned to mediate some of the black mold spots that we believe formed over the years when air circulation was hindered by the screens and former window coverings. They look exceptionally great now.
Installing the Flagstone Floor – still 2018
The stone installation came together pretty easily once we mustered the energy to start such a big project. We didn’t exactly make it easy on ourselves, though, because began doing it on the same afternoon that we brought Martha home.
Following the aforementioned Photoshop pattern made install very easy, mostly because I could grab the right-sized stone, hose it off in the sun, let it dry, and then bring it to Pete when he had the base mortar ready to go. The stones were laid in a smooth bed of mortar right atop the existing concrete slab – we ditched the notched trowel because the mortar was pretty damn thick. We also used the same mortar to grout the stones as we went along for simplicity, rather than using a different grout product to finish the seams. Pete’s layout didn’t require many cuts until we got along the outer edge of the porch, so the bulk of the stonework was done in just a few days (over two weekends). When we did need to make cuts, I used the cordless cut-off machine that Stihl gave us when they sponsored the repair of our front steps; the cut-off machine is still-and-probably-always one of the coolest tools I own, and really works like a dream for these little zoom-zip type of flagstone cuts when you don’t want to deal with starting a gas engine. Battery-operated tools are the best.
Determining how to wrap the edge of the slab with stones was one of the design aspects that held me back from getting started on this project earlier, but we decided to go simple by mortaring lengths of flagstone onto the edge of the slab. The block foundation beneath isn’t as visible or as noticeably unmatched as I expected it would, and the finished surface is perfection. We added that edge, and then overlapped the horizontal pieces of stone so that they were measured and cut to overlap and match with the depth of the vertical edge.
Really feeling now like this is the perfect archival piece that we’ll be glad to look back on in many years, even though it’s probably longer than anything else I’ve written in years. The shingled walls are still unpainted until our kitchen is done this fall, but I’ll be sure to add a few more photos of it once the space is “officially” feeling done – 2016-2019 is a long time for a project to take full-effect but I’m glad to show this in a way that doesn’t make it look like it was done in a single weekend. (P.S. Martha’s a real full-grown dog now: @MarthaMyDog, and the Berner, Cody, shown further up the page is in our past.)