The New Old-Fashioned Porch

Keep architectural continuity and durability in mind when adding a front structure.
By: Marcia Jedd

As more porches sprout in front yards across the country, the homebuilders behind them meet the wants of today's buyers with a kind of architectural back to the future. Popping up in both renovations and new construction, it seems to be all about the new old-fashioned porch.

Porches are also larger these days, Minneapolis architect Paul Buum says, often spanning the full length of the front of the house. Depending on the style of home, many production builders also are making front porches standard and building them wider than a decade ago — 8 to 10 feet wide instead of 4 to 6 feet.

"In both remodels and new construction, full lengths are nice for homes facing a street, and so are wider porches to accommodate tables, chairs or the old-fashioned porch swing," Buum says. He adds that wraparound porches with screened-in portions are popular in rural settings and on farmhouse-style homes.

Ensuring continuity with the architectural style of the rest of the home is a key design consideration. A porch should be consistent in detail and character with the rest of the house. "This is particularly true with front porches," Buum notes, "since it's the first introduction a person has to the home."

Buum outlines these porch design trends:

More color. Design elements emphasize color. "You see a lot of multicolor palettes today. You can have one siding or cladding color, another trim color and an accent color on window sashes," Buum says.

Bolder columns. Architectural columns often are on a larger scale for design or aesthetic purposes while enclosing a smaller structural column (typically 4x4 or 6x6 posts), as long as the columns are scaled appropriately to the home. "Columns can be round, squared or tapered and sit on the deck of the porch or a pier."

Durable materials. A well-designed porch typically will encompass the same exterior material as the rest of the home, such as stucco or brick, or synthetics such as fiber cement siding products.

Flooring. In addition to traditional pine or cedar floors on front porches, an increasingly popular choice is ipe, a Brazilian hardwood that is an incredibly strong wood, resistant to insects, rot and mold. "Ipe is moderately priced," Buum says. "Installation can be more expensive than other wood floors, because it's more time-consuming given the very dense wood, which requires pre-drilling."

Especially in remodels, Buum advises contractors to consider how views from the inside of the home will be altered from front windows and how an expanded porch could alter light flow inside the home. Buum also stresses that porches should be pitched to drain away from the home. He also recommends floor venting to prevent moisture buildup and the many accompanying problems that result. "It depends on the base of the porch, whether it's on piers or a continuous long low brick wall. In any case, we vent from underneath the porch, at the base or perimeter walls, to the sides or front so you allow air movement to keep the joist space ventilated and dry."

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