A Look Inside the Aptly Named Long Porch Cabin
Find out how the designers of this home take a scientific approach to light.
Long Porch Cabin is a resort-esque home that sits on a peaceful lake in New England. The home was co-designed and managed by Architect Elizabeth Hedde at Centerbrook Architects & Planners and built by Burlington Construction, led by Justin Giampaolo. The structure unites past with present by combining authentic timber frame construction, a building technique that’s been around for thousands of years, with super-energy-efficient Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs). Designed to leverage views of the lake, Long Porch Cabin balances summer and winter light and harnesses the fresh air of its picturesque woodland environment.
When building a home on a lake, it’s important to take advantage of the waterfront views, which is why this home was designed with a substantial lakeside porch, hence the name Long Porch Camp. The porch runs the length of the main house, granting much of the living space stunning lakeside scenery. To preserve the natural beauty of the area, the homeowners chose not to build near the shore.
“The clients on this project have three daughters and a large extended family that comes to visit them during the summer and on vacations,” said Mark Simon, Principal at Centerbrook. “They wanted to find a place with terrific views and easy access without encroaching on the lake too much. The lake has a number of houses around it, but amazingly, you don't really see them because they're all set back farther than what you typically find on waterfront property.”
Leveraging Space, Sun, and Air
New England has a relatively short summer season, so it was important to make the most of outdoor spaces. “We added motor-operated screens,” Simon said, “so they can be retracted in the winter, which keeps the view clear and prevents the screens from getting as dirty as they otherwise might. But in the summer, the screens can be lowered, and the homeowners can open up the large Marvin Lift and Slide doors so the porch becomes part of the main living area.”
In addition to adding valuable outdoor living space, the porch also helps keep the home comfortable. “It worked out perfectly that the lake was on the south, so in addition to views, we were able to leverage passive solar principals,” Simon said. “The large porch overhangs block the summer sun but allow the winter sun to come in. We also installed venting skylights to harness more light and provide a place for the summer heat to escape when the screens are down.”
Today’s home designers understand the importance of natural light and easy access to the outdoors, and the best way to capture more light and to improve access is to increase the number of exterior walls. The more exterior walls there are, the greater the opportunity to install additional windows and doors.
“We didn't want one huge structure, so the home was broken into three pieces, the main house, the garage, and the guest house,” Simon said. “And while the garage is seen as a separate structure, it has a bridge that closely ties it to the house. When you walk under that bridge, you get down to a lower-level courtyard and the guesthouse. It all feels like a little village.”
We now spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors. And there is compelling scientific evidence proving that natural light not only makes us feel better, but it can also improve our productivity and mental clarity.
“We give light a lot of consideration and try to bring as much of it indoors as possible, not simply as a matter of style, but as a matter of scientific research. There are several studies that demonstrate how light can improve our performance. One study observed two sets of students where everything was the same except one group of students was being taught in classrooms with plenty of natural light while the other group was in classrooms with only artificial lighting. The reading and math test scores were substantially better among the students exposed to natural light, in some cases over 20 percent better.”
More light isn’t always better. When designing windows and doors into his buildings, Simon tries to avoid creating spaces where glare becomes a problem. Excessive and prolonged exposure to light glare can cause discomfort, tired eyes, and even headaches.
“Glare does not necessarily occur because there’s too much light present, it has more to do with contrast,” Simon said. “Bright light coming in from a window will look glary if it’s surrounded by darker, unlit surfaces. When you see an unlit ceiling, wall, or floor, your eyes accustom themselves to that darkness, and then when your eyes pass over a bright opening they must quickly adjust, and you experience glare. This is particularly common when you get one punched-in window in the middle of a wall. I like to place windows and skylights near indoor adjacent surfaces, that is to say, near walls, floors, and ceilings. That way, the light entering the home is bouncing off those nearby surfaces creating a smoother transition as your eyes move from the darker inside to the brighter outside.”
When the massive Marvin Lift and Slide doors are open, the indoor spaces near the porch seamlessly flow outdoors. But when it comes to merging indoor spaces with the outdoors, it’s more than just the size of the windows and doors, it’s about proportion and placement.
“There are plenty of houses I've been in that have large panels of glass, much larger than this home, yet they don't have that nice indoor-outdoor connection because the designers haven't paid attention to how the light is going to work and which surfaces it's going to bounce off of,” Simon said. “The best way to achieve that connection is to flood adjacent surfaces with daylight. That’s why floor-to-ceiling glass will always feel more indoor-outdoor than the same bank of windows and doors put in a space where there’s a lot of wall surface around it.”