New porch blends seamlessly with vintage Victorian home in Minneapolis historic district

The challenge: The side porch on Chuck Levin and Lynn Brofman’s historic home was sagging and leaking. “We were constantly fixing it,” said Levin. Eventually, it was too rotted to continue repairing. “We could have pushed it over,” said Levin. In addition, the porch had a raised walkway where ice and snow collected, creating a wintertime hazard.

The team: Architect Chuck Levin, Charles Levin Architects; James Steele Construction.

The back story: Levin and Brofman’s home is on historic Milwaukee Avenue, a two-block stretch of modest 1880s houses set on a pedestrian mall in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood. Levin bought the house, a duplex, in 1992, after living there as a renter for nine years. Brofman joined him in 1998. Not long after buying the house, Levin designed a new porch to replace the deteriorating one but he waited more than 25 years before going ahead with the project. “The cobbler’s children have no shoes — everyone else’s project was more pressing,” said Brofman.

The first hurdle: Because Milwaukee Avenue is a historic district, any exterior changes must be approved by the neighborhood architectural committee and the Historic Preservation Commission. “The most difficult part of the process was getting it approved,” said Levin. Although his design for the new porch was in the same footprint as the old one, it required a 16-inch variance, which initially was denied.

Fortunately, their neighbors were on board and spoke up for the project, said Brofman. “We got tremendous support from the neighborhood.”

Design cues: Levin wanted to create a new side porch that would blend seamlessly with the rest of the house. While the open front porch was original from the 1880s, the side porch had been added in the 1970s, when Milwaukee Avenue was saved from demolition and received historic designation. “All the houses were stripped to the frames and redone,” said Levin.

For the new side porch, “our goal was to have something that looked appropriate to the house without trying to mimic the front porch,” said Levin.

Both porches have 6-inch columns, but on the front porch they’re lathe-trimmed, while on the side porch they’re simple squares. The front porch is topped with a blue header beam, a design detail that Levin repeated on the side porch. The tongue-and-groove flooring and beadboard ceiling of both porches are fir wood, while the railing and balusters for the new porch are a simplified version of those on the front porch. A lattice skirt adds to the new porch’s vintage look.

Both the interior and exterior of the new porch are finished in 4-inch lap siding, which is similar in scale to the brick veneer siding on the house.

Functional design: The new porch has a covered entry to provide a bit of shelter. Custom windows and doors were sized for practicality. “We wanted the window sills to be drink level and wide enough for hors d’oeuvres,” Levin said. The new porch also includes a storage closet, something that wasn’t in Levin’s original design years ago. “We don’t have a garage. Lynn insisted on storage,” Levin said. The closet provides a place for stashing a ladder, a rake and other yard and garden tools. “We call it our garage,” said Lynn.

A place to grill: Above the porch is an 8- by 16-foot deck, with a membrane and ducts that allow drainage. It’s on the same level as the kitchen and dining room. Previously, there was no outdoor space at that level. When the couple wanted to grill, they had to do it in the driveway, then run up and down stairs with the food. “Now the deck is right outside the dining room, which is incredibly convenient,” Lynn said.

The result: Levin’s carefully crafted design for the porch won a Preserve Minneapolis award, which honors preservation that “fits seamlessly into its historic context.”

The completed project also has improved daily life for Levin and Brofman. “We love our porch,” said Levin. “The porch before was so little and terrible — we used it to store junk. Now it’s a wonderful spot.” And as the main entry into their home, “it’s completely changed our lifestyle on that side of the house,” he said. With the overhang, “we don’t have a problem with snow and ice anymore.”

Even when it’s raining, they now enjoy spending time on their porch, said Brofman. “Chuck can meet with clients on the porch. It’s a relaxing place to have a nice conversation and a cup of coffee or ice tea.”

Kim Palmer has retired from the Star Tribune. To reach the new Homes editor, e-mail Nancy Ngo, [email protected] To reach Kim Palmer, e-mail [email protected]

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