©2019 by The Gardens 

The Story of the American Front Porch

 

The front porch is part of American history.  As ubiquitous as apple pie, the story of its architectural adaption paints a picture of how generations spent their time.  Beginning in the 1800s design styles had impressed the idea of outdoor leisure space.  Families were able to work toward a lifestyle that accommodated gathering and social time.  Many sought to gravitate toward the semi-public space of their front porch.  A shaded spot that gave them shelter from the sun, rain and wind.  This is where stories were told, songs were sung, and a sense of community was built.  In subsequent years architecture evolved to meet the desire to accommodate an indoor, outdoor relationship.  As technology progressed this space was drawn out of the American home, but has been reintroduced in our lives in recent years. 

 

French Colonial homes were one of the first styles to accommodate an outdoor living space.  Primarily built in the 1700s, this style of architecture was originally seen throughout the southern United States.  Designed as a space to seek refuge from the stifling summer heat, verandas that wrapped around the first floor were included to accommodate a cool seating area that benefited from the afternoon breeze.  Soon after Greek revival architecture began in the 1830’s throughout much of the east coast.  Stately columns adorned the façade of the homes to emit a sense of stature.  These columns served at the perimeter of the porch of the first, and sometimes second story.  This colonnade was reminiscent of the classical porticoes found in Greece and Italy.  A columned lined space surrounding public buildings where people would gather for market, shopping and to socialize.  On a small scale Greek revival architecture brought this gathering space to homes in the United States.  Shortly thereafter Italianate architecture graced upon estate design where front porches began to hold a personalized aesthetic.  Painted ceilings, decorated columns and cast iron elements adorned the entry to the residence.

 

Andrew Jackson Downing, a prominent landscape designer and architect, created some of the first design styles unique to American architecture.  Stick Style architecture appears to be an adaptation of Victorian design.  “Stick” refers to the stickwork on the façade of the structure that is purely aesthetic.  These homes incorporated a prominent wrap around porch, found in New England and California.  A more ornate sense of design continued as the Queen Anne style made its appearance in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.  This Tudor inspired architecture featured homes with large L-shaped or wrap around porches.  

 

Nearing the 1900s architectural styles began to evolve to take on a naturalized form.  Shingle style homes first made their appearance in the 1890s as a stark contrast to Queen Anne design.  This rustic façade encompassed wood shingles covering the entire structure.  Popularized in east coast, homes were located to nestle into the landscape and take advantage of the view.  Oversized porches were a key element in creating an extension of the house that captured the natural setting.  Simultaneously Bungalow or Craftsman houses were rapidly gaining popularity.  The design intent to blend with the environment by not creating momentous elaborate structures placed a priority on the outdoor environment.  Deeply shaded porches are a signature element of this architectural style that establishes a sense of community within neighborhoods.  Shortly after Frank Lloyd Wright, a pivotal architect, gave rise to Prairie style in the early 1900s.  Horizontal rooflines that uniquely mimic the natural setting were married with large porches that could easily be classified as outdoor rooms.  These single story spaces were frequently contained within a low wall that was attached to and matched the main structure.  The early 1900s marked a period of time that a countermovement was occurring that sought an alternative to ornate imposing structures.  Designers and their clients were creating a lifestyle that sought a sense of community.  Beginning with impressive public parks, such as Central Park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1850s, this movement was interested in incorporating nature in their everyday lives. 

Our communities transformed dramatically in the post war era of WWII.  Technologic and economic advancements created the cities and communities we identify with today.  Affordable automobiles took people away from city centers to suburbs where land was inexpensive.  Homes were designed in the Modern era that has been reinterpreted many times over recent decades.  Our homes now favor a horizontal structure that emphasize the building itself more than detail attributed to it.  The homes are situated on lots with ample backyards fenced off for privacy.  Central air conditioners and televisions brought families into the homes to spend their free time, instead of the front porch where they may have congregated generations before. 

 

As time has passed we see another rotation in design arising.  I am now spending more time working with design clients on creating outdoor living spaces and outdoor rooms within their landscape.  Extending their front and back porch, creating seating areas and outdoor dining areas.  The ebb and flow of design is constant and recirculating.  One thing is certain, it is always a response to an existing movement.  I believe people are now reevaluating the value of their landscape after seeing many neighborhoods and public facilities go barren from water restrictions.  Architectural styles such as Bungalow, Prairie style, and Craftsman have regained popularity in recent years, which by design emphasize the landscape.  Young families are moving into established neighborhoods that favor these styles of architecture, reigniting their interest in the indoor-outdoor relationship. 

Mediterranean design styles have become favorable to many living in the central valley.  People are remodeling their homes or constructing new dwellings to reflect this character.  The appeal of Mediterranean architecture expands beyond a visual.  Like the architectural styles that preceded through the United States, we are often attracted to a style based on the lifestyle it represents.  After spending time studying in Italy I found that people gravitate toward the slow movement of the day-to-day life.  The bustle of the city is drowned out by dining areas with vine covered pergolas, olive trees that appear to have years of wisdom, and an evening spent enjoying a glass of wine with the cooling summer breeze.  There is a sense of community and family that creates a home. 

The front porch is a reflective symbol of how we desire to live our lives. 

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