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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lattice and Stick-style railings give the open tower Victorian flair.
Paint offers a way of personalizing the porch while protecting the integrity of the wood.