The Evolving American Porch

Shooting the Breezeway

What is the Fourth of July without a porch to read the Declaration of Independence on? Or, when it’s time to relax with a picnic lunch after marching in your community parade (something that actually happens in my family — though it’s more of a ramble along a country road from one house to another). So here’s a brief (breezy!) porch history and round-up of examples that offer visual and practical, if not always patriotic, refreshment.

First a definition: a porch is a covered space beside an entrance and usually having a separate roof; it’s an open-air shelter from sun and rain with room to sit. Variations abound from breezeways to Shingle style “piazzas.” The grander house-wrapping porches as we know them in the United States first

van cortland manor from historic hudson







appeared in the mid-eighteenth century with Dutch Colonial examples like Van Cortland Manor in New York’s Hudson River Valley (photo above courtesy Historic Hudson Valley), or the Fortier House (Homeplace Plantation) at Hahnville on the Missisippi shown below, (historic photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons). Such porches became more common in mild climate areas,

Homeplace_Plantation,_River_Road,_Hahnville_(St._Charles_Parish,_Louisiana) from Wikimedia commons

especially in the French Colonial South around New Orleans and ultimately may have come from the West Indies in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Spanish and Mexican porch traditions influenced the design of porch structures in western parts of the country as in the Old Custom House at Monterey,

old custom house monterey from sf gate

California, built between 1827and 1846, with its adobe walls, tile roof, and

WhiteHouseSouthFacade from wikipediatimbered balconies (photo courtesy SF Gate). Perhaps the ultimate double-decker porch is one everyone knows well: it’s on The White House and is known as the North Portico, which was added in 1824. A portico, by the way is defined as a porch that has columns and a temple front — or you could say it’s a porch with pretensions.

The porch as multi-purpose outdoor room has always fascinated architects and designers, as I have mentioned in previous posts (and if you read this blog you know that I’m the one who is obsessed). I’m especially interested in ways the porch can be shaped: it has almost infinite possibilities; for example, here’s a famous design by Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects. The client wanted  a

Zimmerman house by TGH from TGH

bright light filled house with lots of porches. So, according to the architects, “We designed a house that is also a porch.” The outer shell is a timber structure sheathed in redwood lattice and covered with a translucent plastic roof. In the close-up photo below you can see how the lattice envelopes the house like an architectural cloud. Openings cut into the lattice create famed vistas into the surrounding

Zimmerman facade

landscape. It’s an abstract geometric version of the old double-decker veranda (photos courtesy TGH Architects).

A porch doesn’t need to be strictly exterior space; it all depends on the materials used and proximity to the outdoors, as shown in this marvelous vacation home

beach-house-martin-gomez-arquitectos, exterior

designed by Argentinian Martin Gomez Arquitectos for a beach site in Uruguay. The exterior wood decking comes indoors to form the flooring for the main

Gomez Arquitectos -- beach house in Uruguay

living, dining, and cooking space, making it feel like an outdoor space even when the sliding window walls are closed. It’s another way of designing “a house that is also a porch.”  (photo courtesy Remodelista — I am grateful to Remodelista editor Julie Carlson for this example). Naturally at Houseplans we have many


examples of porch-oriented designs. Here are two of our latest: Plan 497-19 (above) with its porch at the back, and Plan 17-2512 (below) with a long porch at


the front. I’m ready to grab one of those rockers. Happy Independence Day!







3 responses to “The Evolving American Porch

  1. Hi Dan
    A quick question: when is a porch a verandah (or even occasionally spelt veranda)? Do you even use that term?
    In Australia, a porch is usually very small, and mostly near a front door, to provide shelter for visitors while waiting for the door to be answered, whereas most of the porches that you referenced in your article, we would call them verandahs! (Except for the White House North Portico – that isn’t a verandah and is definitely a portico!)

    • According to my architecture dictionary, a veranda is “an open gallery or balcony with a roof supported by light, usually metal, supports.” So it is a form of porch — and often wraps around two sides of a house…

  2. Great post Dan. I love the pics more like country style. Thanks so much for giving me an idea.

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