Porch Revival

By Dan Gregory

Homeowners are rediscovering the comfort and charm of the traditional American porch.

A recent article by Amy Gamerman in The Wall Street Journal sees a renewed interest in residential porches. She writes: "Decades after it began disappearing from the American architectural landscape—felled by the advent of cars, air conditioning, and the backyard barbecue—the porch is back. In June, the Census Bureau reported that 63% of new single-family homes completed in 2013 had porches—up from 42% in 1993."

I think the return of the porch is traceable, at least in part, to the wide popularity of planned communities like Seaside, Florida from the early 1980s, which were inspired by small Southern towns from the 19th and early 20th centuries, where nearly every house included a porch as a way of tempering the hot and humid Southern climate.

Designed by Florida architect/planners Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Seaside was the first well known project to illustrate so-called New Urbanist town planning principles -- focusing on pedestrian-oriented (instead of car-dominated) environments and traditional American residential design from past eras -- updated for modern living (photo courtesy Seaside).

New York architect Robert A. M. Stern, who also did some work at Seaside, promoted porches in his extremely popular Shingle style Dream House for Life Magazine of 1994, shown below. 

Versions of it were built all over the country. The porch is a true outdoor living room as you can see here. 

(The two photos above courtesy Robert A. M. Stern Architects.)

Porches were (and are) the best way to shelter a house from sun and rain and allow it to expand in good weather -- functions that remain even more important today when energy use and building costs make it important to build as efficiently as possible. 

Porches have a rich history -- and many different names -- from the pergolas and "piazzas" of late 19th century summer homes on the New England coast -- like the Isaac Bell house in Newport, Rhode Island of 1883 by McKim Mead & White shown here (photo courtesy Historic-structures.com),

to the modern 20th century Hawaiian lanai, as shown in this Honolulu house of 1958 by Vladimir Ossipoff

(photo courtesy Honolulu Academy) -- which is essentially an outdoor living room.

Today's porches are often full of amenities like built-in barbecues, as shown in Plan 496-14 by Leon Meyer,

and some include built-in seating as in Sarah Susanka's Plan 454-12.


Other 21st century designs have outdoor fireplaces, as shown in Plan 132-221,


and even outdoor kitchens, as shown in Plan 48-642.


Indeed, today's porches are all about possibility -- almost every room can move outdoors if it's treated as a porch and the climate is right. It's time to relax on your own living porch and enjoy the rest of summer!


07/31/2014