Out on the Porch
A Virginia family's screened porch recalls simpler days.
Synopsis: Back when their Virginia house was off the grid, architect John Rust and his wife, Mary, knew their screened porch would be the most important room in the whole place. They have electricity now, but the porch they created remains the family hub. It serves as their dining room for most of the year and the main center for family entertaining, as well as the best vantage point from which to view the river expanse, woodlands, and marsh that surround the house on three sides.
From the time he started sketching plans for his family’s modest farmhouse on the Potomac, architect John Rust knew he wanted it to include a gathering spot—one that couldn’t possibly be confined within four walls. Set on a thin peninsula between a marsh and the silver-blue river, the little house had an allure that lay in its seclusion and in the sweeping views that captured the occasional passing eagle and heron.
His answer was a screened porch 12 feet wide and nearly 30 feet long extending across the back of the house. There, John, his wife, Mary, and teen-aged son, John Jr., enjoy crab feasts with guests and quiet afternoons among themselves, cooled by ceiling fans and surrounded by nature. “What’s special about where we live is the environment,” John says, “and the porch puts you right into that environment. Without the bugs, that is.”
But it isn’t just the natural beauty of the remote site that has made the back porch a favorite retreat on sultry evenings. Beyond the reach of local electrical lines, the Rusts—until late last summer—relied solely on electricity produced by solar panels. While they had no trouble keeping their lights on and refrigerator running, the energy draw of even one small air conditioner taxed the system. So, as in decades past, they sought relief on the porch, which became the best place to eat meals, entertain guests, and simply pass the time.
The quality of those timeless summers is preserved on the Rusts’ porch with its rustic design, a tribute to the rural Shenandoah Valley resort once operated by Mary’s parents. Simple, bare-wood furnishings and shiny, blackened floorboards recall the rented cottages at Bryce Mountain Family Resort, where Mary, her sisters, and her brother pitched in every summer tending horses and waiting on vacationing families. Artifacts rescued from the old resort have a new home here, such as the old dining hall table where the Rusts play cards, the wooden screen door, and the road sign above it that promises “Bryce’s Resort 10 Miles.”
“My mother is a saver,” Mary explains. “As they started to take down the cottages, she saved things—the screen door off the old store, some of the board and batten pieces that were good, just interesting things. When we were building this house, she said, ‘Here, take it.’”
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