Porch Design

At the turn of the 20th Century almost every home on a city street had a porch. In fact the porch became popular before the Civil war and remained a staple of American living well into the next century. But its origins go back thousands of years before our version. The word “porch” comes from the Latin word “porticos” which denotes an entryway into a temple and the Greek derivative, “portico,” remained one its names until Victorian times. Later on in the Middle Ages it represented the church vestibule where the populace could socialize both before and after the service.

Since American heritage is from a diverse background many of these nationalities brought their version of the porch with them and the architecture melded. In fact it may have been plantation slaves who built the first porches as we know them, a relic of West Africa.

Whatever the origins of the porch it represents a portion of the home shared with neighbors as well as strangers. The overhang made it a welcome respite from the elements and being invited onto a porch was a sign of hospitality. The porch was a “no-mans land” where discussion could take place outside the confines and sanctuary of the home. Sitting out on the porch meant that you were socially involved in the activities if the neighborhood. Strolling by homes gave walkers a chance to socialize with neighbors on the next block who were out on their porches. It was also a platform for the traditional rocking chair and many of these dotted the porches of America.

The Architecture of Porches

Colonial Porches: These porches are also called verandas or balconies and are usually built off the ground. These were originally meant for sightseeing and better cooling for the homes of Spanish and French colonials. New Orleans has many of these homes with these porches still in use.

Greek Revival Porches: When you think of the southern mansions, as in Gone With the Wind, the large, thick posts hold up another second-story veranda. Before the Civil War there was a flurry of home building mimicking the Classic Period.

Gothic Porches: Gothic homes brought the “sitting porch” down to ground level so that the owner could be in touch with his or her natural surroundings.

Victorian Porches: Homes with dormers and turrets built in the late 1800's had porches that sometimes wrapped around the entire home. These were large porches made for socializing and featured ornamental wood lace and hanging baskets.

Today's Porches

Many people who purchase a Victorian home want to renovate it to the exactitudes of the period including recreating the decks and porches. However, today we tend to call a porch an enclosed area whereas the open porches of the past we call verandas. Sometimes the small enclosures we encounter before entering the main part of the home are called porches. These were meant to allow an “airlock” between the outside elements and the comfort of the home with sacrificing the latter. This is where the wet, dirty boots are kept and coats were hung.

Today, porches are an extension of the home that is connected to the outside through large patio doors or large screens. The main idea is to connect with the outdoors while impeding its unpleasantness - bugs, rain, wind - from coming in. These are patios without the worry of weather. In essence, to build a porch you are adding on to the home.

Planning a Porch

To build a porch you would go through a similar planning process as you would adding a space to the home. In fact many new room additions began as porches which were then remodeled for extra space.

  1. Design: Does it match the home? This is important. You may not matter if your great-looking porch doesn't match the home but it may be a factor when, and if, you sell it.
  2. Location: This may be your choice but it will also have to conform to local building codes and, in some cases, neighborhood covenants.
  3. Size: What do you need as far as space goes? Will you be having big dinner parties out there or just use it for reading?

Once you have checked out all the civil ramifications of building your porch you now can put together a budget. Usually a porch does not require a basement or foundation so that will save a lot of money. It is basically built on a deck structure with cement pylons and a joist system. This is anchored to the home like a deck and then the walls and roof go on.

To save money your porch does not have to be completely finished right away. Think of it as building a garage with just screens for windows and missing a cement floor. These screens can be upgraded later to windows or large patio doors. As your main usage will probably be in the spring, summer and fall you can seal it up in the winter and use it for storage.

Think of a porch as a summer cottage in your yard. It can be as complete as you want it and as you can afford it.

Posted by: TrustedPros
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