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