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Victorian-Era Porches

The American front porch had its heyday in the late 19th century, when boxy houses gave way to free-form masterpieces. Check out these colorful, highly decorated examples of rocking-chair heaven.

First Impressions

Photo by Nancy Andrews

The most public room of a private dwelling, the front porch brings us closer to nature, yet never far away from the comforts of home.

The Rise of the Porch

Photo by Nancy Andrews

Before the 1850s, few American houses outside the steamy South had verandas. But the Victorian-era trend toward more picturesque architecture—combined with a passion for more naturalistic landscaping—made the "rocking-chair porch" an American icon by the end of the late 19th century.

Modular Parts

Photo by Nancy Andrews

Victorian millworks mass-produced a wide range of wooden posts, rails, balusters, moldings, and trim details, which they advertised in catalogues and shipped by railroad all over the country. Soon, every new suburban house had a porch of its own. Porches were even added to Colonial or Federal period homes that had never had one before.

Fresh Air

Photo by Nancy Andrews

Wary of the health hazards stagnant indoor air posed, late-19th-century designers dreamed up big, bright houses like this gracious Queen Anne, an asymmetrical form defined by its many windows and multilevel porches.

Wraparound

Photo by Nancy Andrews

A veranda that wraps around the front and sides of a house vastly improves one's odds of finding a spot that's conducive to relaxing in the sun or shade, any time of day.

Passive Solar Advantages

Photo by Nancy Andrews

A properly designed porch can cut down on winter fuel and summer air-conditioning bills: The porch shields the sun's rays from the ground-floor windows in summer, keeping the whole house cooler. But in winter, the porch lets the season's low-angled rays shine through, creating interior warmth through the greenhouse effect.

Shingle Style

Photo by Nancy Andrews

Clean-lined white railings stand out against weathered cedar shakes of a Shingle-style house, a form that found popularity in seaside resorts along the New England coast in the early 1880s.

Sleeping Porch

Photo by Nancy Andrews

In the days before air conditioning, a recessed porch off a bedroom provided a comfortable place to sleep on sweltering summer night. Many such alcoves were enclosed in the mid 20th century, sacrificed by homeowners willing to trade historic character for interior square footage.

A Broad Veranda

Photo by Nancy Andrews

Textured shingles preserve the period look of this veranda's wide, curving roof, while its well-placed downspouts, gutters, and leaders conduct water away from the eaves, often the first part of a porch's anatomy to deteriorate.

Scroll-Sawn Trim

Photo by Nancy Andrews

With the invention of the steam-powered scroll saw—which made it quick and easy for millworks to shape and incise wood in just about any way imaginable—the variations on the basic components of deck, posts, balustrade, and roof became infinite.

Private Pavilion

Photo by Nancy Andrews

Brightly painted scroll-sawn balusters, red cornice trim, and a braced roof with half-circle shingles give this porch the festive look of a pavilion.

Gingerbread Trim

Photo by Nancy Andrews

With its scroll-sawn brackets and balustrade and abundance of lacy trim, the balcony of this mansard-roof cottage recalls the romance of an Alpine chalet.

Visor-Green Awnings

Photo by Nancy Andrews

In newly developed suburbs and seaside towns where street trees had yet to reach maturity, canvas awnings were installed on porches for an extra measure of protection from the sun. Typically, they would be hung in summer and removed in fall, a seasonal ritual that not only extended the life of the awnings but allowed more light to enter the house in winter.

Colonial Revival

Photo by Nancy Andrews

A herringbone railing brings classic Chippendale elegance to this early 20th-century facade. The mature yew at the foundation is trimmed to stay beneath railing height.

Stickwork Railings

Photo by Nancy Andrews

Lattice and Stick-style railings give the open tower Victorian flair.

Color Queues

Photo by Nancy Andrews

Paint offers a way of personalizing the porch while protecting the integrity of the wood.