This writer remembers spending hours at a time sitting on the front porch, watching the world go by. It is just something we did as kids. Front and back porches are a normal part of U.S. housing, especially on homes built prior to the turn of the 21st century. But things are changing, Many new homes are being built without porches.
Is that a sign of the times? Does it suggest people are less social and more inclined to hide away in their homes with the shades drawn and all the windows and doors locked? Perhaps. And if so, it is a shame. Seeing the porch go the way of the tightly knit family neighborhood is akin to watching yet another American tradition die a slow death.
A Uniquely American Thing
Chattanooga Times Free Press contributor Lisa Denton wrote a great piece on local residents and how they have used their porches during the coronavirus prices. She pointed out that, while porches can be found in architecture dating back hundreds of years, they are uniquely American in terms of being normal elements of family homes.
In other words, building homes with porches has been the norm in this country since its founding. Perhaps the only place you will find as many residential porches is Canada. But more than that, porches were not customarily included in U.S. home design merely for aesthetic value. They were built for their social value.
In the America of 50 to 70 years ago, people would spend warm summer evenings sitting on the porch. They would enjoy conversations with neighbors and random passersby. When families wanted privacy, they retreated to the back porch. No, it wasn’t unusual for homes to have porches on both front and back.
That In-Between Space
The architects at Park City, Utah’s Sparano + Mooney describe porches as that ‘in-between’ space. A porch is a transitional area between indoors and out. A covered and screened porch is the perfect solution for bringing the outdoors in.
We appreciate the in-between space because it gets us out of the house without necessarily exposing us to weather we aren’t all that fond of. For example, who among us hasn’t enjoyed sitting on the porch during a rainstorm? There is just something comforting about enjoying the rain under the cover of a porch roof.
Sparano + Mooney specializes in mountain modern architecture and contemporary design. Porches are a big part of mountain modern. Many houses have porches at both front and back. Some have wraparound porches as well.
On the other hand, travel to any suburban housing tract being built in 2021. You are not likely to see porches quite as often. Today’s houses have little but a small stoop at front of the front door. If there is anything out back, it is nothing but a concrete slab.
Embrace the Porch
If this writer could give advice to people building brand-new houses, it would be this: do not forget the porch. Looking out the front window onto a porch is almost an invitation to go outside and enjoy the fresh air. A porch invites you to relax and watch the world go by. It is an invitation to turn off the TV, put down the smartphone, and go have a conversation.
It’s unfortunate that the porch isn’t as important as it once was. But perhaps the coronavirus crisis is changing that. Perhaps some people have finally come to realize the value of what used to be an invaluable space. If so, perhaps it is time to break out the lemonade and invest in a porch swing.