What I'm Seeing Now

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The American Front Porch

If there is any feature on a house that has come and gone, it is the American front porch.

When houses have them now, they become a feature!  And if there isn't one, the porch becomes a second thought.

Porches have been prominent through American history.  But they depended on the size, or price, or design, of the home.  Iconic porches would include Mr. Washington's Mt. Vernon (front and back) and Mr. Jefferson's Monticello.

Our word PORCH is derived from the Latin word "porticus,"  or the Greek word "portico,"  with both signifying a columned entry.  The porch was very temple like, and the grand entrance into the house.

In the American sense it referred to a roofed, but not walled, area, with room for people.

The porch was prominent, and wrapped around the side of my grandmother's house, pictured to the left.  My room was the front left corner, second floor.  It was my mother's room before me.

Completed in 1910, the porch was a well-used feature of her house, with family gathering there every day, and particularly Sundays.

The American front porch became an architectural form and a cultural object.  And it served real purposes!  It connected people to each other, to nature, and to the land around the house.  It was outdoor living to where everyone would retire after a long day at work, and the family dinner.  People could pass time.

What were some of the purposes?

For one thing, during the summer houses would heat up dramatically.  Windows and doors would be opened but it would take time for indoor heat to dissipate.  The front porch offered a cooler, more comfortable, place to be.  Conversation ensued, games, porch swings, rocking chairs, and the like, all combined to encourage the brood to be together.   Children could play in the yard.  Passersby could stop in or simply wave a hello.  Connections were made.  Families knitted together.  And by bedtime the house would have cooled sufficiently and everyone could sleep.

So what happened?  What could possibly have contributed to the decline of all this goodness?

Two things, probably.  Air conditioning and the television.  Yep, modern living.

Why go outside to cool when the house inside was already cool?  And why go outside for stimulation when it was provided by a box in the living room?  Families remained indoors and the primary function of the front porch declined.  Eventually the porch, as it historically came to be, was no longer needed.  If it has been replaced with anything, it has been with the rear deck or patio.

Cultural changes happened because of technological changes!  The need for community declined as well, and people grew more individualistic.  And community orientation was replaced by individual orientation.  And here we are.

As was said earlier, when a porch is present on the house it becomes a feature.  But if a house comes without one not much consideration is usually made.

My recommendation:  if those things associated with the porch are important to you, look for a house that has one!  If not, get the features you want.  Maybe porches, and the family knitting, community orientation, and restful lifestyle should be required today.  The porch could go a long way toward getting along!  I think the American front porch needs to make a come back!

 

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 20 commentsJay Markanich • June 10 2015 12:22AM

Comments

Good morning Jay. My childhood home was an old southern dwelling with a wrap-around porch. Those days are gone.

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) over 3 years ago

We used to have roller skating races on my grandmother's wrap-around porch Michael.  That was really fun!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

I grew up with a wrap-around porch and it's one of the things I love about visiting my childhood home in Western PA. There is nothing more relaxing that rocking on the front porch with a cup of coffee in the early morning. As for where we live now, the front porch doesn't exist.

Posted by Kim Johnson, Selling South Florida (Realty Associates of Florida I Inc.) over 3 years ago

I think porches have been replaced by decks and patios as an architechtural and recreational element in our part of the world.

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 3 years ago

That's wonderful Kimberly.  Ours also had a swing on the end.

I make that very point in the post S&D. 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Good morning Jay.  I remember having one and I really enjoyed it.  We had a porch swing (built for two).  Those were good times.  Very few people have them now and that's a shame... 

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) over 3 years ago

James - I am told that many marriage proposals were extended on the front porch swing of the house in that photo.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Jay Markanich When I was a kid we spent so much time on various front porches of the neighborhood. We have one but don't spend as much time as we should on the front porch. I do spend many evenings on my back deck. I believe there is a value all though not disclose to a home with a porch. 

Posted by Frank Rubi, FrankRubiRealEstate.com (Frank Rubi Real Estate, LLC) over 3 years ago

Good morning Jay,

When I built the last house the porch was to narrow in the plans; I made it go to 8X24 in stead of 5X10.

Make yourself a great day.

Posted by Raymond E. Camp, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Greater Rochester (Howard Hanna Real Estate Services) over 3 years ago

Good morning Jay. This is a great post: evocative and interesting too. I wish I had one.

Posted by Sheila Anderson, The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133 (Referral Group Incorporated) over 3 years ago

I think about the evolution of the porch and watched it move from greeter to near extinction in the past century. The wooden rocking chair also needs a resurgence Jay. This may be why I like the Cracker Barrel so much. 

Posted by Kevin J. May, Serving the Treasure & Paradise Coasts of Florida (Florida Supreme Realty) over 3 years ago

Jay, There are some places it still lives. Just did a new home where it was in a planned community and the porches (actually back porches) all overlook a large green-space. Kinda echoing those days of yore.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Before air conditioning, the porch provided shade from the sun in the front rooms.  That's fine if one likes darkened rooms.  That porch also blocks a lot of light.

Just go into a few country homes with porches and the temp in the front rooms is 10 degrees lower than the back.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 3 years ago

I think lots of people these days can't sit still long enough to enjoy a nice porch swing... busy busy busy

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 3 years ago

Outdoor living is great Frank.  We love our deck too.  But it isn't the same as a front porch, you are right.

Now THAT is a porch, Raymond!

Sheila - when we built our house I said it would be perfect with a front porch.  They said the design did not come with one.  A house went up across the street a year later, our design, and with a front porch.  There you go...

Kevin - the rocker demands relaxation and conversation!

Don - the neighborhood I did this morning has them on some houses, but not all.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Lenn - in my grandmother's house it only darkened two windows.  But it was such a nice feature!

Maybe that needs to change, Fred!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

I too think it was the air condition and the TV. I can remember sitting outside under our front porch on hot afternoons to cool off. The neighbors across the street would way and sometimes they would come over and chat. My parents owned an acre corner lot with two major state roads and a horse corral on one side. The only other neighbor was a horse doctor and he was never home. The full moon nights were awesome. Thanks for the memories.

Posted by Sussie Sutton, UTR TEXAS Realtors - Rep for buyers and sellers. (UTR Texas Realtors) over 3 years ago

Glad to help bring them back Sussie!  Our porch was the place to be.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Nice piece Jay.  It does seem that our society is becoming less social, which in my mind, is not a good thing.

Posted by Stephen Weakley (Nationwide Mortgage Services) over 3 years ago

Thanks Stephen.  I love porches.  And we ARE becoming less social!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

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