Home Touch by Mary G. Pepitone

Porch Perch

Whether open-air, screened-in or wraparound, a porch links a home to the outside world. A porch's presence is most welcome, especially during the coronavirus age, where physical distancing and fresh-air activities are necessities when socializing, says Nancy Moore, president and owner of The Porch Company in Nashville, Tennessee.

"In our 28 years in business, we have never been busier, as our sales have seen a 50% increase," she said. "People are looking to either build a front or back porch on their home, or spruce up an existing one."

Porches aren't a modern architectural phenomenon, but are enjoying a contemporary comeback after falling out of favor in the mid-20th century. Some of the oldest porches on record are stately porticos on Greek buildings, from which the word "porch" is derived. These columned entryways to ancient buildings serve the same purpose in today's home: a covered architectural transition for those entering or exiting a building.

"A porch is an outdoor structure, which must have a roofline and walls that breathe," Moore said. "Whether it's screened-in or open to the elements, a porch requires a contractor that understands this structure is exposed to weather."

A Porch Production

Before building or renovating a porch, Moore says the covered structure needs to fit both the house's architecture and the character of the neighborhood. "A front porch gives homeowners a connection to the street and community, and can be perceived as a form of hospitality," she said. "A back porch is more private and connects people to nature or serves as a personal sanctuary."

When it comes to construction, Moore says to make sure you're working with competent contractors who have experience installing porches. After a design is drawn, the site needs to be prepared so the porch slightly slopes away from the house and drains away from the foundation.

Moore says a typical porch her company builds is about 300 square feet with a vaulted roof with at least a 1-foot overhang to provide greater protection from rain. A peak or gable in the center of a porch roof creates a focal point, often leading one to the front door. "A house that just has a stoop or a simple walk-up can really get a facelift when the entryway is expanded to include a porch," she said. "That being said, you would never build a Victorian-style porch on a ranch house. You have to get the proportions and the aesthetics right."

Renovate and Refresh

Painting or staining a wooden porch is one of the quickest and easiest ways to freshen an existing or new space. While there are building codes that must be followed, panels -- in a myriad of designs -- can easily replace badly beaten balusters on a porch railing. With a typical rail height of 30 to 42 inches, The Porch Co. sells panels made of low-maintenance cellular PVC, which emulates a wood look, starting at $125.

To refresh an existing grey cement porch, the slab may be acid-stained or painted with a concrete acrylic coating. But, if pouring a new porch, the concrete can be tinted and stamped to emulate real stone or tile on the floor.

Finishing/Furnishing Touches

When a porch is illuminated properly, it creates an airy, inviting atmosphere, says Moore. It's important to choose lighting fixtures that complement a home's architectural style and also rated by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL Wet) as safe when exposed to the weather. Ceiling fans are important fixtures on porches and can pull double duty when outfitted with a light kit. Fans also draw in and circulate fresh air, while providing a cooling effect in a shaded space.

Whether a homeowner wants to shoot the breeze or just catch one, the porch's furniture provides a finishing touch. Of course, the iconic porch swing can be seen as a must on every porch, but make sure there's enough room to accommodate the size and movement of this piece of furniture. To sleep in peace, The Porch Co. also sells bed swings (starting at $1,650), which can double as seating with enough pillows in place.

If a homeowner wants to embrace the neighborhood, arrange furniture on the porch to face the street. But if creating an intimate setting is more important, arrange furnishings in tight groupings that face each other. Most porches double as entries into a home, so it's imperative to allow for a clear pathway to the front or back door.

Furnishings made of sturdy materials such as wood, durable plastic and rustproof metal will withstand the elements, but can still be comfortable and attractive. Porch furnishings and accessories range from traditional to contemporary, but the outdoor furniture you choose should complement the style, colors and materials inside your home.

Moore says the porch should be a fully integrated design element to a house.

"There are porch people, who see this structure as a respite from work inside and outside the home," she said. "A porch gives people a place that is sheltered, where they can feel safe and also take in the sights of the world around them."

Picture-Perfect Porch

The Porch Company products: PorchCo.com

Captino 05: A house that once featured a simple walk-up has a more impactful entrance with its front porch, designed by The Porch Co. in Nashville. The architectural gable in the center of the porch roof creates a focal point and pleasantly leads one to the front door. Credit: J. Paul Moore Photography