View From The Top

A second-story screened-in porch gets a major upgrade to become a waterfront four-season room, complete panoramic views.
A home in Bartholomew County, outside of Columbus, with a private lake is pictured.
Photo courtesy Sarah Shields Photography

In Bartholomew County, just outside Columbus, sits a home on 40 acres of land. The property represents the best of both worlds—it’s close to the city but has a rural feel with a private drive looping through wildflower meadows, zigzagging around apple orchards, and meandering up hills until it reaches the house, perched neatly over a private lake.

The setting is especially idyllic, like a peek into a mysterious world. If it’s the right time of day and you happen to be sitting in the waterfront four-season room, you might spot coyotes or wild turkeys darting into the forest behind the lake or see herons dipping their beaks into the water, catching fish in easy, languid movements. Ducks paddle at the lake’s edge. Birds sing. And a herd of deer might turn their heads to gaze at you before vanishing back between the trees.

With views like these, it’s easy to see why the homeowners wanted to turn the picturesque property into a forever home. But there was one problem: The house, built in 2007, came with an oddly shaped, second-story screened-in post-and-beam porch that affected the home’s overall livability. The space was cramped and couldn’t be used year-round, and the sight lines from the house were restricted due to the structure’s shape and its dull screens.

“This is a house that was built many years ago,” says Loren Wood, owner and project manager of Loren Wood Builders. “And parts of it no longer had adequate views or weren’t large enough for the entertaining and functionality the homeowners wanted.”

The home's new four-season waterfront view room is pictured.
Photo courtesy Sarah Shields Photography

The project was a massive undertaking. The final design of the new four-season room would push the structure out an extra 25 feet from where the original screened-in porch ended, and numerous accommodations, like new landscaping and a revamped basement, had to be made.

It was just the sort of complicated project that Wood and his company seek out. Knowing their expertise, architecture firm Brownsmith Studios thought of them and brought them on to help execute it. “We embrace the opportunity to work on architecturally significant projects like this,” Wood says. “We really bring a skilled and expert team to bear on any project with meticulous details.”

As hoped, the collaboration was a match made in heaven. Brownsmith and Columbus-based LAA Office worked together on the preliminary design and landscape architecture, while Loren Wood Builders built out the designs to perfection. “We were impressed with the whole team,” says the homeowner. “They had done big projects before, so we knew they could handle ours.”

The new four-season room, which the building team fondly referred to as “the nest,” included 14-foot-tall glass windows—a sizeable effort, for which even the slightest mistake was intolerable. The glass had to fit on the steel beams perfectly. A quarter inch difference could cause the glass to slide off. “Every single aspect of this project is unique and was handcrafted by our carpenters,” says Wood. “Every element represents a huge amount of intentionality. We bring that high level of expertise and oversight to our work.”

Such effective builder and architect collaborations are rare these days. That’s because the typical residential home building or renovation project today goes to general contractors, who then subcontract out all the work, from the carpentry to the interior design. “That’s a lean model for construction, and that’s what most builders unfortunately work under,” Wood explains. Many homeowners prefer this approach because it saves money and time, as the projects tend to be executed more quickly.

According to Wood, the hidden cost of using a general contractor is a lack of artistry and finesse. “The value of a self-performing contractor like us in conjunction with a skilled architect is that this collaboration allows us to execute really unique projects at a high level—and it is a much more curated process,” Wood says. It can be a challenge for a general contractor to ask a subcontractor to complete work that involves detailed and unique components. Loren Wood Builders, however, takes the time to adjust to homeowners’ requests.

With this house project, for example, Wood carefully devised a way to detach the screened-in porch’s timber beams and install them in the basement’s new ceiling. This has helped preserve the home’s original design flow. It was also convenient because the owner ended up requesting a basement renovation to better accommodate the new four-season room and glass breezeway connecting it to the existing house.

The renovation team also added to the home's basement a unique quartzite bar top.
Photo courtesy Sarah Shields Photography

The team transformed the basement into another space for the homeowners to entertain guests, including building a unique quartzite bar top that shimmers so beautifully, it looks like it’s glowing in the dark. “It’s the best I’ve ever seen,” says one of the owners, whose idea for the bar top came from others they’d seen while traveling across the country. “Here, the built-in lights are all dimmable. And the builders created that countertop from scratch, so if anything goes wrong, they can come back and fix it.” To coordinate with the natural hues and materials of the renovations, other rooms in the house were updated from whites and taupes to shades of light or dark gray.

Back in the four-season room, the building team crafted several other standout features, including a skylight ceiling framed in white oak. The new tile floors have radiant heating and allow the owners’ dogs to walk around without slipping. The hefty windows were finished with phantom screens cleverly tucked away in hidden ceiling compartments. “The screens provide enough contrast to warn birds they can’t fly through the windows, and [they] also block out the sun—it can get up to 77 degrees in this room at spring, while in summer it’s even warmer,” a homeowner explains. Air conditioning supplements the work of the screens, making the space comfortable in the hotter months.

Most of the home’s new additions consider how the owners will enjoy the spaces in the coming years. After the indoor refurbishments, the homeowners decided they wanted a sunken hot tub and saltwater pool. “We ultimately want to retire and grow old here,” says one homeowner. “And we hope the house will be a great spot for grandkids—we thought future grandkids would like a pool.”

The home owners' also renovated the outdoor of their home by getting a sunken hot tub and saltwater pool installed.
Photo courtesy Sarah Shields Photography

“We want our house to be a place where our grown kids and their new families will want to come back to,” the homeowners say. And they’re off to a great start. Not long after the renovations were completed, they hosted their son’s wedding at the house, welcoming 200 guests.

The house stands as an example of what many of their friends are hoping to do with their own homes. Says one owner, “We know several people who have added on to their houses around the county—there’s just not that much on the housing market right now.” Wood isn’t surprised. “As Southern Indiana cities like Columbus and Bloomington continue to densify, we’re going to start seeing more home renos that allow homeowners to retire or age in place,” says Wood. This is also the case in desirable areas on the north side of Indianapolis. “Ideal neighborhoods are already built out, so unless you can find an affordable empty lot, buying and renovating an existing house will become the norm.”

Or homeowners may want to buy a distressed home and tear it down to start anew. “We’ve seen an increase in this type of thing in the last 10 years as well, since more homeowners consider larger scale renos to stay in their city’s existing infrastructure.” In other words, a lot of people want to reside near their city centers, making the empty lots on the outskirts of cities less desirable.

For this reason and others, the homeowners are ecstatic about their Bartholomew County property and what they’ve been able to achieve. Their proximity to Columbus allows them to feel like they’re part of the community, but they can still enjoy the seclusion their hidden gem of a house supplies, with its position tucked away near woods and rambling hills. They have even planted food plots for the deer on the other side of the lake. “We enjoy sitting up in ‘the nest’ and watching the wildlife.”

Right next to the property, they have planted an apple orchard with numerous varieties. They’ve also added walking trails and sown seven acres of wildflowers. “We’re out here all the time now—or enjoying the views from our nest. We can’t imagine being anywhere else.