The Fabulous Front Porch

Lure buyers from the curb with an inviting front porch.

June 1, 2010

When Lisa Sevajian, a real estate professional with Coldwell Banker in Haverhill, Mass., recently listed a home, it was the front porch that nabbed a buyer.

"All three potential buyers knew they were buying it before they even saw the inside," she says. Sevajian had added bamboo flooring and a ceiling fan to the porch. "It looks like indoor living space but it's a porch." The home sold the first weekend it was listed — and for more than the asking price.

For another listing she again played up the porch. Staging the 6-foot-wide farmer's porch, which ran the span of the house, with quality furnishings enticed potential buyers to check out the home. "Whether it's in Miami or Boston, people want a front porch for that extra living space," Sevajian says.

"I'm glad to see the revival of the front porch," says Bryce Sanders, sales associate at Halstead Property in New York, who admits his region — dominated by high-rises — is not an area with many front porches. He applauds Seaside, Fla., one of the country's first New Urbanism communities, with the revival of the concept. "It brought back the idea of the porch," he says.

This renewed interest in having a front porch dovetails with a want for compactly designed and pedestrian-friendly communities, the kind of blocks where you chat with neighbors. A row of front porches encourages those casual conversations.

Today's ideal-sized porch, says John Norquist, president of the Congress for New Urbanism, is one where you can comfortably sit in a rocking chair. "A pseudo-porch really doesn't work. Dimensions matter. Modest-size streets and small lot sizes are ideal so people can stroll to each house comfortably. The idea of walking to the corner store is doing well in the current economic downturn," he says. "If the streets are too big or too wide, that can take away from the neighborhood feeling.

"Generally, porches are considered an asset," Norquist adds. "There's no real downside to porches." About 40 years ago, he says, home owners spent more time in their back yards, and upgraded those areas with intensity, in part to create a private space away from the street and surrounding houses. "All the social space was in the back yard," he says. Now he's noticing a shift in older homes where front porches are added and integrated into the design, offering not only curb appeal but an extra space to congregate.

"When you talk to people about neighborhoods, their favorite neighborhoods in the United States are comprised of front porches that are part of the design," says Tim de Noble, dean of the college of architecture, planning, and design at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. He's noticing more and more front-porch designs in new-home construction projects.

Front porches provide the best of both worlds: privacy and community. "They make great communal sense," he says. "We can become isolated as we retreat farther and farther back in the house." Yet it also provides a "sense of separation" between the indoor living space and the street.

A front porch also provides ecological advantages. "Because the windows are protected, you don't have to close everything down to keep the sun out. The porch provides that gasket of environmental relief," de Noble says.

Like all home design, the range of styles runs the gamut, from traditional to contemporary and a lot of eclecticism in between. But one thing is for sure: There's a desire to bring the indoors outside (with comfy furnishings) and let the cool breezes from outdoors waft inside.

"Patio furniture has morphed into higher-quality furniture, even at Target, for a luxury-resort feel," Sevajian says. "We're also seeing a lot of gas lamps within the last 18 months."

Robert Cohen, president of Meyda Custom Lighting, has even noticed chandeliers — mostly wrought iron — on front porches. The company's Craftsman series of outdoor lighting, those made from brass and copper, continues to do well, but he's also seeing a draw towards Victorian- and mission-style lighting. "I don't think there's any one design theme going on these days," Cohen says.

Renovating a home's front porch can definitely boost its chance of selling, which is what Sevajian found in Massachusetts. "It absolutely adds value to the house and makes it more saleable as you have more living space," she says.

Lighting is a part of that equation. "We use varying levels of brightness to create an elegant look," says Brandon Stephens, vice president of marketing at NiteTime Décor, which designs custom lighting for homes' outdoor spaces. Projects range from $1,200 to $50,000, with the average job running around $4,000. A recent client survey revealed that the No. 1 reason for buying a home is its curb appeal, in which lighting plays a huge role.

"The name of the game is to provide a warming, welcoming atmosphere on the front porch," Stephens says. Lately he's noticing more sconces on porches that result in a "figure-8 shadow," or softer, light.

For homes on the market, adding lighting to the porch, he says, can double the viewing time as many people shop for houses or do drive-bys after work when it's dark outside.

In a time where financial concerns are pushing people away from the thought of expensive vacations or trading up for a larger house and instead opting for home improvements, more care is being put into the adjacent outdoor spaces, too.

"We're finding ways to enjoy what we do have," says Sevajian. "It's all part of the idea that people don't want to spend as much money, and it ties into the 'staycation' idea if you have more yard space."


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