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Almost like a teenage girl eager to look grown-up with more make-up, young Americans after World War II tried to look more sophisticated by doing away with the styles of the older generation.

That rush to modernize was even evident on the home front, where Victorians and bungalows, classic homes and cottages gave way to stripped down tract houses with sleek new furniture inside. And one of the many "old fashioned" features that vanished was the front porch.

Families equipped with barbecues, cement patios and big lawns began living in their back yards, losing touch with the street.

Not only did it lead to isolation from neighbors, but it left houses looking very plain.

Such was the case with Michael and Alysson Foster's Petaluma home. Built in the 1950s, the two-story house on a quiet street on the east side had a fabulous big back yard with shade trees and a built-in pond. But the front yard, they conceded, was a fizzle.

After undertaking a host of home improvements to keep their retirement nest comfortable, they decided to give it a true facelift. Without adding walls or square footage, they dramatically changed the look of their house by adding an inviting front porch, new windows and a new front door, brick walkways and updated landscaping that was far more interesting than the dated junipers and rock already there.

"I always thought the front porches in this neighborhood got no thought," lamented Alysson. "They just had these tiny little sticks holding up an eave that was just there to keep you from getting wet when you went into the front door. They're blah."

The only difference among the houses on the block is that some, like hers, have dormer windows on the second floor.

She bought the house in 1976 with her late husband and undertook improvement projects over the years, from landscaping the back yard to a new kitchen. But her new husband Michael, who she met when they were volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, really got behind the idea of finishing off the house by giving it an attractive front.

"I thought if there was a possibility to do something to make it stand out and give it more curb appeal and to make it more comfortable and more inviting, we should do it," Alysson said.

Wanting it to look natural, as if the house had always been that way, they went in search of an architect and found Harriet Redlich. At 89, she has 61 years of experience, beginning as an apprentice to Richard Neutra, and later was a disciple of Mies van der Rohe. For many years she did remodels in Chicago's historic Hyde Park area. Now, the Petaluma architect and great grandma, working under the name Granny Houses by Granny, specializes in second units and helping other elders age in place.

For the Fosters, she came up with a design that continues the Craftsman look that Alysson had already begun when she replaced the original redwood siding with cedar shingles painted a blue-gray.

Redlich created a covered 6- by 30-foot porch with twin square pedestals on either side. Small details can go a long way toward creating a look. A picture window was replaced with a double-hung window evocative of the Arts & Crafts era and moved up six inches. A small window in a utility room facing the street and the upstairs dormer windows also were replaced with matching windows.

Working within a budget, the Fosters were priced out of a custom Craftsman front door but settled for a similar design off-the-shelf for only $700 and painted it red.

Any remodeling or addition project creates an opportunity to rethink details or fix small problems. The Fosters wanted a smaller step up over the threshold. When their original plans for a concrete porch edged with brick resulted in a much higher step, they called a halt to the work and, instead, opted to make the whole porch in brick. It also matches the double-walkway they created from the street.

The project cost about $40,000, but that included some electrical rewiring, painting, repairs to a utility room and new landscaping. It also gave the Fosters a chance to strip 40 years' worth of telephone and cable wire that was wrapped around the house. It's now wireless.

It was, they say, worth every penny and gave them exactly what they wanted — a cool place to chill when the back yard is broiling as well as a house with curbside appeal.

"In the evening we'll sit out here and do a puzzle or grab the mail to read," said Michael, who is retired from the U.S. Parks Service. "It's protected from the wind and also a nice place to go outside when it rains."

Having a porch has helped engage them in the neighborhood.

"We had hoped it would encourage people to come out and talk," said Alysson, enjoying a cool Coke from her rocker on a summer day. "And sure enough. The second week we were home and had the furniture, our neighbor next door came over, and another guy walking his dogs took them home and then came back. People have gotten used to us sitting out here."

(You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.)