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Southern Home Design - Porches That Rock!

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Services for Real Estate Pros with Tim Barron Architect, Inc.

Southern Home Design - Porches that Rock!Southern Home Rocking Chair

The comments I received on my last post underscore that porches are a vital link between the southern home and its community. A simple wall with windows does little to connect the home - and the family inside - with the neighborhood outside. The porch is the place where people can extend their inside activities outward. At the same time, the porch extends an invitation to come inside.

But there's more to it! To be effective in its role, the porch needs to be designed to be used. This seems elementary, but I see a lot of porches that aren't usable - and that's a shame. So what's the difference between a porch that's simply stuck on the front of a house, and one that's a warm and inviting place to sit and interact with the world?

Southern Home PorchIn Architecture school, I was exposed to Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language (Oxford University Press, 1977). Mr. Alexander makes the statement that, "Balconies and porches which are less than six feet deep are hardly ever used." He goes on to explain why - dealing with furniture arrangement and the desire for people to sit where they can see each other, rather than sitting in a row facing outward. The degree of enclosure is also important in determining whether a porch will be used or not. [The enclosure of a porch is a measure of the open sides of the porch to the solid parts like columns, railings, trellises, etc.] Mr. Alexander says that the porches that are used most are about half-open, apparently because the partial privacy makes people feel more comfortable.

My own experience in designing southern homes for my clients, both confirms and modifies this pattern. I rarely see a 4' wide porch with people on it. I find that the most comfortable porches for me are 8 to 12 feet wide. But I've noticed that the degree of enclosure that makes someone comfortable seems to have a personal factor. While I agree that most people do feel comfortable on porches that are 35 to 50% enclosed (the house above is about 35%), sometimes my clients request porches that are more open (as in, "do we have to have a railing around our porch?").Southern Home Porch At first I tried to talk them into more enclosure, but over time I've noticed that people with outgoing personalities really like - and really use - porches that are more open. It seems they prefer to minimize their personal privacy in exchange for more social interaction. I would add that when a porch is furnished as a place to sit comfortably, and accessorized with flowers and decorations, it will be warm and inviting from inside and out.

There are many other factors that make a porch useful and inviting. I've noticed several by studying the porches on Great Southern Homes, and have incorporated them into the porches I design. I'll get into those factors more in later posts. Until then, go sit on your porch, sip some ice tea, and let me know what you think.