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Specialty Rooms: The Front Porch

Specialty Rooms: The Front Porch

The Front Porch is the gateway to your home.  It is the face to the neighborhood, the connection between the public space of the street and the private space of your home.  It creates a semi-private space outside your home to interact with your neighbors, to entertain and to enjoy the great outdoors in a protected environment.  Though not all houses have a front porch, it is becoming a popular design trend for new homes as well as renovation and additions.  Whether it is large or small the front porch offers many beneficial features and creates a welcoming entry sequence into your home.

If your home already has a front porch, keep reading, I will talk about some ways to spruce up a new or existing space.  But first lets discuss porch design on a larger scale, I will call it the bones of the project.  Your porch should fit the design of your home.  If you are designing new, this is an easier process.  For those who are integrating the front porch as a renovation or addition, analyze the style and size of your home.  Make sure the porch you are designing fits the home, since one that is too small or too large could end up looking out of place rather than improve the overall character.  If you are thinking of tackling this project yourself, consider doing some research on porch design.  There are many books available that can help you determine what is a good size and style porch for your home.  A quick search online or at your local library will provide you with instant ideas.  If your project seems larger than you want to tackle, I would suggest contacting a local builder or architect to get you started with some design ideas tailored to your home and move forward from there.  There are so many different styles of homes, from Craftsman to Cape Cod to Georgian to name a few, that you want to make sure your porch remains true to the characteristics of your home.

Now we will move on to the basics of a front porch.  Once you determine the size and general style of your front porch, there are still design elements that need to be taken into consideration.  Many may think that these elements fall in the details category, and maybe some of them fall on that line, but these are the elements that define the style of your porch and create the enclosure, or feeling of enclosure for the space.

First lets talk about the roof structure.  The roof can be a simple shed, pitched off the existing roof, a gable connected back to the roof to create a portico over the entry area, or perhaps you choose a more open air structure like a pergola that provides a small amount of protect but keeps the space open to the sky.   Each option or even a combination will offer different looks and functions for your space.

Next there need to be supports for the roof.  Many jump right to the concept of columns but depending on your design, but they may not be your best option.  Alternates include brackets, larger masonry piers (which are square in size and often much heavier and bulky than a traditional column), or perhaps arches are the way to go, so think about all your options before deciding what to use to hold your roof up.  Even when looking at columns, there are many options.  The traditional path is a full height, round column that relates back to ancient Greek and Roman temples.  These are often very formal and work well on a traditional or Georgian home, but not as well on a simple home such as a Bungalow or Cape Cod.  Alternatives to the full height rounded column include: full height square piers that retain the characteristics of the formal columns, but are often simplified in the level of detail, stacked columns on column bases that can be round, square or even tapered which can be made as simple as desired based on the home.  The stacked columns are becoming more popular because they offer more versatility in design and a less formal approach to the front porch.  Stacked columns can historically be seen on most Bungalow style front porches.

The last of the basics is the railing system.  If you porch is low to the ground, you may want to check your local codes because some areas allow the porch not to have a railing if the platform is under a certain number of inches above the ground.  However, railing offer another measure of enclosure and detail.  You can create a half wall around the porch which really encloses it from surround space, choose a post and rail system that has wide posts and a heavy rail only offering minimal openings, a traditional wood system, or a decorative metal system.  Each option offers their own unique characteristics and will develop the detail of your porch.

Now that we have discussed the bones and the basics, it is time to move on to the beauty.  This is where those of you who already have a front porch need to start paying attention.  The beauty is what makes your porch a inviting and functioning space.  It is the furniture, the plants, the decorations, and color you use to enliven your front porch and allow it to reflect as much of your design taste, displayed on the interior to flow outside your home.  When selecting furniture, make sure it is design to be outdoors, durable, and comfortable.  Don't overfill your space.  A few chairs and a table is all most standard porches can fit while still allowing walking space.  If your porch is small, perhaps a single chair or decorative table is it can handle.  The idea is not to overpower the space with furniture but at the same time use the space.  As an alternative (or in addition to if you have the space) is the porch swing.  This is a wonderful addition to any porch.  When I was younger, my great aunt had two porch swings on each end of her front porch and the kids would just clamor over whose turn it was next.  Once you got your turn, it was so relaxing to just swing and talk to your swing mate (because most are built for two) for hours.  They make great recreational additions to your front porch for both the adult's and kid's enjoyment.  Also think about decorative treatments in the space.  Stained bead board ceilings, flowing outdoor curtains, decorative planters, even the color of your front door all have a way of making the space unique.

So now that your have your ideas, it is time to put them into action.  Because the best part about designing your front porch is using it when you are finished.  So when you have finished your project, grab your favorite refreshing drink, sit on your new front porch, interact with your neighbors and enjoy the great fresh air of the outdoors.

Written By: JoAnna Landers