David T. Price, Renovation Design Group
Overall, the porch style should match the existing house style, giving great attention to details.
If you follow this column, you know that for the past month we have been covering house styles. We broke down the history, traditional elements, remodeling challenges and solutions for the Craftsman Bungalow, the Tudor Revival, the Cape Cod and the California Ranch.
While this was just a sampling of house styles, we made the point that it is important to identify your house’s style before you begin a home remodel of any kind. Truly, most houses are an eclectic mix featuring elements from multiple house styles. Even though it may not represent a "pure" design style, a house will often have a predominant style that you can choose to enhance with your remodel. One exterior element that has a major impact on the perceived style of a home is the front porch.
When clients come to us looking to enhance curb appeal, we often recommend a front porch addition or upgrade. A front porch can do wonders for the look and feel of a house. In addition to helping define the style, the front porch also serves to add to a home’s functionality for residents and guests alike. It is most helpful to be able to stand out of the elements when you or your guests approach your home. Any porch adds a psychologically welcoming feeling to a house; however, the right porch in the right style can earn you serious points in the curb appeal category — which also often translates to added value.
Many times a poorly designed porch addition will leave the house looking awkward. A porch must be proportioned correctly in relation to the house. The columns and support beams should be the right visual size, which is almost always larger than the size required structurally to hold up the porch roof. Overall, the porch style should match your existing house style. The trick is to design the porch with a similar roof line and pitch as the main roof of your house. For example, adding a porch with a steep Tudor roof pitch to your Cape Cod house would not be a good match.
Detailing is also crucial to a great porch. Think of it as a little jewel on the front of your home. Not only must you get the columns the right size and weight, you must also give them some style. Colonial or Georgian homes often feature round columns, while Capes are more likely to have square ones. Of course, one of the bungalow’s favorite features is a tapered column, often set on a brick or stone base.
Expressing the structure of a porch is done by showing the beams as well as the columns holding them up. You can show the actual structural beams if they are timbers on a mountain lodge or glulam beams on a contemporary home. Other styles may need their structural beams beefed up and wrapped in trim to achieve the right proportions and look.
Don’t forget the ceiling, which can be flat, arched or curved. You will have to know the look you want before you design the actual structure, or you will end up with a porch that looks like the triangle added to every child’s first drawing of a house.
Just as with remodeling any area of your house, there are many material options from which you can choose. Timbers that can be stained or sealed their natural color are appropriate to some homes. If you want a painted wood look, however, you may not want to stay with natural wood with its tendency to shrink and swell with every change of the weather. This quality takes a toll on paint and may require more maintenance than you are willing to give. If you want a crisp, white porch (or a painted finish), look into synthetic woods or fiberglass moldings, which will give the appearance of painted wood with ever-so-much-less need for constant upkeep.
You can choose the ceiling material of a porch from a wide selection of material. This can range from stucco to painted exterior gypsum board to synthetic bead board. Each selection should be made carefully, as it will add or detract from the style you are trying to achieve.
When you consider other areas that must be addressed, such as lighting, fascia (roof edge) details, gutters and downspouts, porch flooring — not to mention the front door itself! — and even the doorbell, you can see that a "simple" porch may not be so simple after all.
Many communities now see the value of a neighborhood with porches which tend to make a street seem more friendly and walkable. However, their zoning ordinances do not always support this philosophy. Often the front setback (which defines the area in which you can build) is an average of the depths of the front yards of the houses on your side of the block. Since many neighborhoods were built as subdivisions, most houses are pretty well lined up relative to their distance from the curb. This means that you may not be able to add the porch you are envisioning. The concrete stoop and stairs of the porch can be constructed in the front setback; it is the roof and columns which may not be allowed. Sometimes the roof can cantilever into the setback a ways, which means only the columns are forbidden. In this situation, consider using corbels attached to the front wall that can arch out to hold up the roof. In any case, make sure you check your local zoning before you launch into your new porch design.
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A well-designed porch should be the focal point of the front of your house, which means it can compensate for myriad design flaws or missed opportunities on the rest of the house. It can be an affordable way to significantly change the curb appeal and functionality of your home. Just make sure you give it the design attention it deserves.
Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the Principal Architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com