The Perfect Porch

An ever-popular feature on buyers, wish lists, porches offer the joy of sitting outdoors and bonding with the neighborhood.

December 1, 2005

A porch serves many roles: a sheltered front perch from which to enjoy a streetscape and connect with neighbors, a backyard haven to savor nature, and a place to catch cool breezes on a hot day. Porches also add an elegant architectural punctuation mark, particularly when it matches a home's style and scale.

In all cases, porches are a gracious transition to the indoors. They're also a much sought-after feature by today's homebuyers. To help buyers recognize the benefits of porches, start by learning the right terminology.

When a Porch Isn't a Porch

Different types of porches go by different names, such as loggia or veranda. Impress your clients by knowing and using the following terms when discussing their dream home:

  • Porch. A covered entrance to a building, usually projecting from the wall and having a separate roof.
  • Loggia. An arcaded or roofed gallery built into or projecting from the side of a building, often overlooking an open court.
  • Portico. A porch or covered walk, consisting of a roof supported by columns, often at the entrance or across the front of a building.
  • Veranda or verandah. An open porch or portico, usually roofed, along the outside of a building but not always at the front.
  • Sleeping porch. Originally used in Victorian times for sleeping outdoors in warm weather and often was on the second story.
  • Stoop. A small porch with steps at the door of a house.

A Rich History

The word porch comes from the Latin porticus and Greek portico, both defined as columned entries to temples. It became a feature of early Greek and Roman homes.

In the United States, the porch early on became an integral part of many homes. Porches were particularly prevalent in the South due to warm weather, and many famous homes there contained this attractive feature.

Drayton Hall—completed in Charleston, S.C., in 1742 and considered one of the finest examples of Georgian-Palladian-style architecture—has a two-story porch with a pediment and columns. George Washington's Georgian-style Mount Vernon on the Potomac River outside Washington, D.C., contains a two-story colonnaded porch. Thomas Jefferson's Palladian-inspired Monticello home in Charlottesville, Va., has front and back porticos.

Some porches served a public function. William McKinley addressed crowds from his Ohio front porch when he ran for office, and the term "front-porch campaign" was coined. The 880-foot-long porch of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan is said to be the world's longest.

After the end of World War II, the porch lost cachet as air conditioning and television lured families indoors. Its status re-emerged with the New Urbanism movement that stressed the importance of human scale, walking rather than driving, and knowing neighbors—often by socializing on a porch. The planned community of Seaside, Fla., required every home to have a porch. One-third of homebuilder Rob Bowman's designs for Lancaster, Pa.-based Charter Homes now include a porch, which he describes as outdoor living spaces.

All the Right Features

If your buyers say they want a home with a porch, share with them these expert tips for choosing a porch that's perfect for their needs:

  • Right size. It should be big enough to include furniture if used for sitting. Bowman recommends a minimum 6-foot depth, 12- to 14-foot length, and 9-foot height.
  • Detailing. Rails, columns, header, beam, and ceiling treatment should be properly scaled and styled.
  • Amenities. A ceiling fan to cool, awning to shade, screens or glass to keep out bugs, fireplace to extend use into colder weather, and lights to add pleasure at night. Many of these can be easily added after the home purchase.
  • Maintenance. Proper finishing of a porch depends on the material it's made of. Some need restaining, oiling, or application of polyurethane. Water should be kept out of porches with a large overhang.

Why Porches Endure

Through the centuries and across continents, porches have continued as an appealing home feature because of their architectural grace, their link with nature, and their way of convincing us to slow down, sit back, take a big breath, and come together with family and friends.

Learn More

The American Porch: An Informal History of an Informal Place by Michael Dolan (The Lyons Press, 2002).

Porch Style by Barbara B. Buchholz and Lisa Skolnik (Rizzoli, 2000).

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).


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