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.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
4 thoughts on “Free Your Front Porch”
We have just bought a 1936 farm house the front is rough. Has a porch but exposed metal beams hold the roof up. Wish I could post a picture to get everyone’s thoughts. We will cover the metal with wooden posts. Was thinking of making it look like a craftsman or bungalow style and move the stairs from the side to the front. There I a post very close to the right where the stairs would go up. Any thought appreciated. Not sure what the style would have been in 1936 this house has no style.
There are three instances where I’ve had to deal with houses that had an enclosed front porch. It’s very uncomfortable, and very uninviting. Not to mention awkward. The first was a girl I dated in high school. It was an old house from the mid 1800’s that was really two houses remodeled into one back in the 1910’s and remodeled to look like the other Victorian transition into Bungalows in her neighborhood. It had been her grandmother’s house and in the 1970’s her grandmother had enclosed the front porch. I felt very awkward the first few times, especially the first time, because I stood at the exterior door knocking. Her dad came to the door eventually and told me it was okay to come into the porch and ring the door bell. If felt very awkward doing that for the first few times.
The second time was some friends of mine. The previous owners of the house had put in very expensive vinal floor to ceiling windows enclosing the whole porch and a screen door. The first time I came over, again stood at the screen door and knocked. They always kept the screen door locked so you couldn’t actually go to the front door. I once asked them if they would ever open the porch up. They said they wouldn’t because the windows were very expensive and they thought it would be wasteful to get rid of them (even though they were not the ones who bought the windows in the first place). It was a cute little early 1900 vernacular turned bungalow in the 1910’s too. Very sad.
The third house was when I had to take a package that got miss delivered. Again very uninviting. This was a 1980’s brick and window job with a screen door. These people also kept their screen door locked. I knocked on it for about 10 minutes and no one came, yet there were signs of life inside. So I ended up setting the package on the step in front of the screen door. This house is only 7 houses down from mine and I’ve never met these neighbors the 14 years I’ve lived in my house. I got the feeling they didn’t ever want people over.
All in all because of this, I despise enclosed front porches. They look terrible and they feel terrible.
I agree! We have a 1912 bungalow with a full front porch. It survived – untouched – but we’re replacing everything down to the joists with all new wood. Plus we’ve added a course of bricks to the brick support posts. It’s worth it!
Make sure to keep ot original dont put on a modern porch put on a 1912 porch and look around and keep as much original features as possible