Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Building a Prairie-styled porch screen / trellis

Mention you have a home in Oak Park, and inevitably you are asked if it is near or similar to the many Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the area. The fact is, he had nothing to do with our home, or most of those in our neighborhood. Nevertheless, Humphrey House took one step closer to emulating the famous prairie-style architect this weekend.

Ever since our kitchen remodel, we noticed that one of our windows that brings in tons of daylight also allows unwanted views from our alley. While we do have blinds, I wanted to create a visual screen using one of the existing support posts on our rear porch, and thought a trellis to grow vines up during summer would be a fantastic solution. A homegrown green screen, of sorts.

After purchasing and temporarily hanging some typical diagonal criss-cross lattice, Jen and I both were underwhelmed. It seemed to clash too much with the rest of the porch and there was no clear place to transition it. Enter our friends from Tiny Bungalow, who stopped by to visit one Saturday, and mentioned that a screen could be made out out of spare wood, emphasizing horizontal and vertical lines, which would better compliment the home. Duh! This should have been plainly obvious, but just one of those mental block things we had.

Fortunately, under the porch, I still had a stash of old wood lathe and even some old growth pine 2x4s from the kitchen wall we wrecked on the Today Show, and I realized that creating a screen trellis would be the perfect homage! The space was 4' x 4', and could even be framed with studs 16-inches on center, just like the wall we had torn down.

Onto the design. I knew horizontal lines would be important, and Jen (a designer) always emphasizes the "rule of three". So I figured 3 groups of 3 pieces of lathe would be the foundation of the design. Once this was in place, the top and bottom were too open, so I played with a few layouts and settled on a 1-2-1 piecing. After painting and hanging all the wood, it looked great, but still a bit too sparse.

It was time to figure out some vertical arrangements. I originally planned to bisect the groups of three with short vertical pieces. But this ended up looking too.. eh, formulaic? I played with other designs, doing them in X shape, a diamond shape, but it just didn't look right. I went inside to see the view from the kitchen area, and examined how the rear door's stained glass was done. Then I realized that by partially spanning the groups of three on the trellis to connect one group with the other, I could create a much more organic-looking design. I also remembered that Frank Lloyd Wright's stained glass work often mirrored the prairie grasses and plants, so I tried to figure out how to achieve that. After all, we planned to grow plants up it half the year anyway. I started with a tight group of vertical pieces, representing "leaves" of a plant, which then open to the wider "flowers" of a plant, shown in the image below.

Ultimately, things came together quite stunningly. This is now a very striking addition to our backyard, and I daresay even a focal point of the home when viewed from the rear. Complimented by some nifty little lanterns and soft colorful lighting put up by Jen, our rear porch finally has a welcoming feel to it that draws the eye and body outside. A truly remarkable transformation. Thanks for the inspiration, TinyBungalow! And to Jen, Scott, and Julie, who all were on hand to help me shape and give feedback during the process! And thanks Mr. Wright for your timeless influence!

I added one final artisanal touch that may be hard to notice from the photos here. The very top piece in the middle section has a complete circle from a knot in the wood, perfectly centered in the lathe, and the very bottom piece of lathe has a half-circle in it. From sun to moon, we now have a beautiful arts and crafts influenced screen trellis built into our porch.

Now, I just need to resist the temptation to create other designs with all the other pieces of lathe we have stored under the porch...