Porches swing back into favor

Popular: For the first time in 20 years, porches have eclipsed decks in popularity with new-home buyers.

April 13, 2003|By Patricia V. Rivera | Patricia V. Rivera,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Michael Ledley yearned for the days when people relaxed while sitting outside on the porch watching their children play.

So he added a wraparound porch to his new home adjoining 67 acres of family farmland in Essex.

"I've always wanted a farmhouse for the family to gather in," said Ledley. "And now with a porch it's even more meaningful."

Homeowners have fallen in love again with porches, once an emblem of American architecture.

"Everyone wants a porch these days," said Howard French, a dealer with the Keystone Builders Resource Group Inc. in Richmond, Va. "Five or 10 years ago that wasn't the case."

For the first time in 20 years, porches have eclipsed decks in popularity, says the National Association of Home Builders.

The association says federal data show that about 51 percent of new single-family homes had porches in 2002, compared with 42 percent in 1992. Porches - born out of a need to escape from hot, stuffy rooms - lost their usefulness and their popularity with the advent of low-cost air conditioning units.

By the mid-20th century, porches were frowned upon by leading architects as frumpy and outdated.

University of Maryland architecture professor Roger K. Lewis, a practicing professional, admits he was one of those modern architects who abandoned and then rediscovered the porch.

The exciting thing about their rediscovery is that porches today no longer need to bear any resemblance to their neoclassical and Victorian roots, he said.

"Porches have a variety of other names - veranda, lanai, loggia, portico, piazza - some of which clearly suggest elevated status and nobility," he said.

In size, dimension, proportion and character, porches are as diverse as buildings themselves.

Lewis said porches can be high or low, shallow or deep. They can be open, expansive, filled with light and exposed to view. Some porches wrap around two or more sides of a home. Others are intimate and room-like, screened in and laced with the tracery of shadows cast by the porch itself.

While porches usually are rectangular, shapes can include parts of circles, hexagons, octagons or any other figure that architect and client choose to adopt, Lewis added.

"There is no question that porches are back now," Lewis said. "We have a lot of housing developed today that carries many traditional architectural characteristics and that include the front porch."

The New Urbanism movement, in which planners, homebuilders and architects are trying to capture the sense of community inherent in the neighborhoods of yesteryears, will continue to feature more porches, he said.

Whether they'll be as widely used, is another matter, noting that he suspects most families still will retire to the back yard for leisure activities, Lewis said.

The general rule for porch architecture should include a space between the siding and rail that is at least 7 feet to 8 feet wide for it be useful, Lewis said.

But the size of a porch isn't a factor for many people who enjoy outdoor camaraderie. Along streets filled by Baltimore's famous rowhouses, brick and concrete porches and marble stoops are lined up next to one another, offering neighbors a place to chat with the people who live next door - or across the street.

Newcomers to older Baltimore neighborhoods often don't realize the role that stoops play in city life, Maryland architect Randy M. Sovich said. When he moved to Butchers Hill years ago, Sovich said, he instinctively set up some chairs in the back yard.

"Neighbors would say, `Why you doing that? Only trash goes back there,' " Sovich said.

Every summer evening, after spending a long day writing traffic tickets for the city, Donna Citrano looks forward to relaxing on her front porch along Grundy Street in Canton. She'll spend a couple of hours reading or just catching up with neighbors.

"Everyone is outside, so we just yell out to each other across the street," she said.

Geraldine Crisp has lived on Umbra Street in Greektown for 45 years. Along this Southeast Baltimore street of rowhouses, porches sit right next to one another. And neighbors like Crisp go out each summer evening after supper to discuss the day's events.

"We all sit outside and cool off," Crisp said. "Even when it rains, we can go out there and talk to one another."

Some city porches are so wide that families make a practice of entertaining on them.

"We've had several parties out here," said Sherri Anderson, of the gray wraparound porch embracing her Victorian home on Roland Avenue. She and husband Douglas List put out enough furniture to sit 15 people on any given day.

They're known to use the porch long past the official end of summer.

"It's usually November before we start to bring the furniture in," she said. "We just love it out there. It's such a great porch."

Many of the developments under construction feature the smaller porches to provide the curb appeal that many homeowners covet. Keystone, for example, now includes small porches in two of its new models in response to homebuyer demand.

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