Spring is in the air! What better way to welcome the arrival of warm weather and longer days than to celebrate one of residential architecture’s most iconic outdoor elements? The front porch is more than a practical building component — it’s a cultural institution.
In many regions across the country and numerous architectural styles, it is a trademark piece of classical home design. The pace and use of technology in modern life have gradually reduced the prevalence of porches, but we keep building them for more than just nostalgia. The porch is a retreat from the elements, a relaxing vantage point for taking in surrounding scenery, and the perfect venue to welcome guests and entertain neighbors.
Here are some incentives and considerations for your front porch…
The porch serves as the threshold between public and private — an arrival and transition point for your home. In this country, its lineage can be traced back to Southern architecture of the eighteenth century, with the most notable examples appearing in the Low Country and French Colonial styles of Charleston and Savannah. Here in the Mid-Atlantic, front porches that can accommodate indoor/outdoor living and capitalize on coastal breezes are characteristic of the Tidewater homes traditional to the region. As an integral part of the home’s exterior and entrance, it should be inviting to those visitors or passersby. A well-appointed brick or stone walkway, wide staircase and colonnade do well to greet your guests.
At their most fundamental core, porches serve a vital function of providing cover. The height and depth of the space will have a large impact on the amount of shade generated during the sunniest days. Generally, a ceiling height of 8 to 9 feet and a roof overhang of at least 1 foot is most suitable.
A porch is really a room of its own. It can be designed as a seamless extension of the interior or a distinct destination to relax and linger. While it should be proportional to the house as a whole, here are some good general guidelines for dimensions:
- DEPTH — 5 feet at minimum; ideally 8 feet (from house to column)
- Furniture will greatly impact the function of the space: Use individual chairs or a narrow bench for smaller spaces and save couches and tables for porches of a broader depth, like 10 to 12 feet. Preserve at least 3 feet for circulation and separate furniture from the path to the front door.
- COLUMNS — Typically between 10- to 12-inches wide (both round and square)
- Most stone or brick piers range between 18 and 24 inches but should relate to the style of the house (for example, Craftsman homes have much larger piers than Farmhouse) and not impede on the overall depth.
- Two-story porches should have columns that are larger on the lower level than the upper level to preserve historically accurate proportions
- ELEVATION — 8 inches minimum above grade (one step); ideally between 2 and 3 feet
- This raised portion will provide a “perch” to look over the front yard and street — perfect for keeping an eye on young children and engaging with the neighbors as they pass by
- Note that most building codes require a railing when the porch is more than 3 feet above grade
Porch details can vary substantially depending on the style, location, and scale of the home. Materials should be cohesive with the overall exterior and respond well the site. Consider the function of the space, too — brick, stone and concrete are much more resilient and easier to clean than wood. If the porch will see a lot of traffic and wear is a concern, it might make sense to err toward a masonry floor.
Ceilings should provide some accent to emphasize the entrance and visual appeal while relaxing (e.g., lounging on a swing or hammock). Since they are heavier, brick columns or piers will accentuate the feeling of enclosure, while Victorian wood spindles will give the porch a lighter appearance.
Do you have a porch you love or one you envy? If so, share it with us! Post a picture in the comments below with some notes about the features that appeal to you.
Guest blog courtesy of W.C. Ralston Architects, an architecture and planning firm that has built an enduring reputation for design excellence in homes, neighborhoods and communities across the Mid-Atlantic region. Learn more at www.wcralston.com.