I see way too many old houses with a front porch that has been bound and gagged. The front porch was closed in with jalousie windows or cheap aluminum windows and plywood siding, almost as an afterthought. It looks so out of place to me, like a straw hat on a woman in a formal gown or sneakers with a tux.
The front porch was key to the design of an old house and closing it in to gain a few extra square feet may improve your standings in the tax rolls but, but does nothing but give your house a black eye. Even a nicely done front porch enclosure creates a jarring and disjointed entrance into the home.
In his epic treatise on architecture and planning called A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander discusses the natural flow of the different types of spaces we encounter when approaching a home and how transitioning through each is imperative.
- The Sidewalk – Public (Anyone can be here and you would not question their presence)
- The Front Walk – Semi-Public (There is an assumption of pending interaction with these people)
- The Front Porch – Semi-Private (People on you front porch must be invited by the owner or have an assumed invitation like a mailman or delivery person)
- The Home’s Interior – Private (Invited guests and friends with whom the owner intends to interact with on a more intimate manner.)
Enclosing the front porch cuts off this normal transition from one level of access to another and causes the visitor to jump directly from semi-public right to private. This may seem like feng-shui non-sense, but I can assure you that though it may not be noticeable in a conscious way, it does matter.
The inside of our homes are built with much the same principles. You enter the front door into the foyer, then proceed into the living room and as you continue further into the home, you encounter more and more private spaces like the kitchen and bedrooms.
Could you imagine walking right into a friend’s house where the front door opened into the master bedroom? It would be plain weird. Just like our bodies acclimate to different temperatures, our psyches need to acclimate to increasing levels of intimacy, whether it’s in our homes or our relationships. Think about how your relationship with your significant other has progressed. Were you as intimate on date one as in year 10 of your marriage? Doubtful.
The Purpose of the Porch
The design of old houses is full of examples of form following function and the front porch had plenty of function. It was more than just a place to store a bicycle or drop packages off. Much like the television is the center of our homes today, the front porch was the place to be before radio, television, and air conditioning trapped us inside.
The front porch was the place to talk with your neighbors and develop relationships. It provided shade on those hot summer days, and kept us dry on rainy nights. The front porch protects visitors at your door from mother nature and gives them shelter from the storm. It allows you to sit on a porch swing with your sweetheart and enjoy the final cool breeze of spring before summer barrels into town.
If this sounds like nostalgia, it’s only because you’ve chosen to not exploit all that your front porch generously offers. When neighborhoods start opening up their front porches again, residents realize that what they loose in square footage, they gain in freedom of spirit. Neighbors talk again, flower boxes and flags dot the street, homes are restored, and quality of life rises right along with property values.
If you have a home with a front porch that has been kept captive for decades, I hope you’ll considering setting your porch free. Unburden your old porch and let it breathe again. You’ll be glad you did and so will the neighborhood.