amy azzaritopast & present

past & present: porches + outdoor round-up

by Amy Azzarito

porch from sneak peek: christina flowers of magnolia moonlight see more sneak peek porches below!

It has been hot, hot, hot here on the East Coast – a little taste of summer! All week we were waiting for a little rain to cool things off, and I was wishing for a place (other than a movie theater) to escape the heat box that had become my apartment. I would love to have a porch where I could cool off, enjoy the summer and watch that summer rain. So if you have a porch, have a mint julep for me and if you don’t, let’s live vicariously through some cool photos of the early history of the porch.

temple of portunu via wikimedia commons

Porches are a component of the vernacular architecture in nearly every warm climate (makes sense, right?), and the porches in America borrow a little bit from nearly every one of those cultures. In order that you have time for lunch today, I’m going to concentrate on the early European influences (spoiler alert: that’s where we got the word “porch”!) but if you’re interested in reading more about the history, please see the Books to Read section.  The photo above might seem to share little with our modern porch but the word “porch” was derived from the Latin porticus or the Greek portico – both referring to a covered, the columnated opening to an important building or temple.

from left: portico at the pantheon and south portico at the white house

Porticos- A Classic Architectural Feature
Porticos were a significant feature of classical architecture. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all incorporated a porch-like aspect to their buildings – it was the perfect escape for hot climates. This porch-like feature fell out of fashion during the Middle Ages (when more fortress-like structures were preferred), but was revived during the Renaissance.

Check out some of my favorite porch accessories below!

CLICK HERE for more porch history + sneak peek porches + outdoor round-up

villa cornaro, designed by palladio in 1552 via panoramio

The portico was revived by the individual considered to be the most influential Western architect – Andrea Palladio. In the 16th century, Palladio mistakenly assumed that the porticos he saw on Roman temples and public buildings must have been also used in residential architecture, and he applied the form to his own designs. He would occasionally substitute a loggia for a portico. A loggia is a recessed portico – an internal single-storey room with pierced walls – open to the elements. (A double loggia has two levels) It was a huge development. Those fortress-like buildings of the Middle Ages were now completely opened up.

hampton court designed by christopher wren, 1689–1702 via wikimedia commons

The Palladian style of architecture delighted Grand Tour travelers. And the 18th century English edition of The Four Books of Architecture set off a Palladian movement across Europe and into the New World. The look became identified as democratic and egalitarian. Porticos were prominently featured in neoclassical architecture – such as at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello as well as in his design for the University of Virginia.

marquise and stoop railing via the new york public library digital gallery

In America the porch began to appear in the 1730s and 1740s. Having a porch means that the home’s residents must be comfortable with open spaces. The desire to be open and welcoming trumped the need for defense.  In order to even consider a porch, home owners had to feel secure. Americans must have felt positive about the 18th century because the porch was everywhere! And by the mid-18th century, they were a vital part of the American home.

18th & 19th century names for porches

  • galleries – what French speakers in the lower Mississippi called the porches that encircled their buildings
  • veranda(h) – entered the American vocabulary from India by way of England. A veranda is open pillared gallery, often roofed, and partly enclosed by a railing. The veranda is frequently seen in Australian vernacular architecture.
  • stoep – a Dutch term that referred to an open entry-way


Decline of the porch
After Word War II, people were less interested in an outdoor room and more interested in space for a car. Porches began to decline in favor of carports and garages. If the sneak peeks (see below) are any indication, porches are more popular today than ever!

Books to Read

Facts to Know

  • American homes had balconies before they had porches.
  • In William McKinley’s 1896 famous “front porch campaign” –  he ran for president while appearing to relax at home and inviting the nation to his doorstep.


Favorite Porches from Sneak Peeks
There have been some fantastic porches featured in the design*sponge sneak peeks. Here are just a few favorites!

nancy lendved’s georgia home (see the full peek)
The porch of the kitchen cottage was inspired by a photo in a coffee table design book, and executed (scallops were hand made!) by James Askins. The tavern table is from Pennsylvania, the wall of french doors is from our local Habitat for Humanity thrift store, and the sheer curtains are from the Noorder-market in Amsterdam. –nancy lendved

kelly teasley’s southern porch in atlanta (see the full peek)
Every southern home has to have a rocking chair and blue porch ceiling ( to keep away bad spirits-so they say) – kelly teasley

kelly moseley’s austin porch (see the full peek)
Many happy times on this porch, aka ‘my office’. On cool mornings, I take my coffee and laptop out to check email and make notes. For twenty in years in New York, I dreamt of one of these! -kelly moseley

chicago’s cursive design (see the full peek)
our porch is our salvation. it doubles our living space in warmer months. we basically live and entertain friends out here for 6 months out of the year. my favorite thing this year was the bunny tail grass i grew from seed and my organic herb garden. sadly our “porch season” is ending but i think we have a couple days left. the porch furniture is from a thrift store. i re-painted them and stained/sealed the wood. the table was a bookcase i found in the alley and re-fashioned it into a table. the white standing planter is from cb2, and the hurricanes are from crate & barrel. –sara fox & jon satrom

on left: christina flowers of magnolia moonlight (see the full peek) and on right: pam zsori of ink and peat (see the full peek)
Our porch.  We love to sit in the rockers and play a little chess after a long days work! –christina flowers
Our porch – great on summer evenings.
pam zsori

tec and chelsea petaja in nashville, tennessee (see the full peek)

The family that lived here before us took beautiful care of this home.  They left the swing for us to enjoy the front porch with. – tec and chelsea petaja


Outdoor Round-Up
Here are some of my favorite outdoor furnishings – rustic, french country and modern!

[clockwise from left: captain stripe indoor/outdoor rug $34-495, diftwood birdhouse $40, vintage pear crate $28, rustic rattan cutlery box $26, willow and glass canister $18, trunk wood bowls $40-45, london life utensil set $32, lakeland mills rocking chair $152]

[from left: laboratory flower vases $18, american camp ovens $86]

[clockwise from left: moon chimes $88, alberino lanterns $9.99, bodega birdhouse $79, herb garden royal vkb $49,  guggenheim pots $8-$24, barrow bar cart $199, vivo square bento box $32.99, camilla watering can $24]

[sky planter, $85]

[clockwise from left: crested treeswift birdhouse $38, faux bois wall pockets $1,658, apothecary beverage dispenser $45.95, pom pom spreading obelisk $32, french urn $48-250, sunburst garden chair $129, european herb holder $34]

[guy wolff pottery $8-24]

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  • seriously, why don’t they make houses with porches anymore?! On the west coast they seem so rare which seems odd because we do have nice enough weather practically year-round to sit outside. I would love, love, love to have a wrap around porch with a little bench swing, some patio furniture.. sigh.

    • Becky – I think the West Coast suffered from “car is king” – more carports than porches. Also I think people stopped wanting to hang out in the front of their house and wanted to retreat to the backyard. I think that is slowly shifting. I have some friends who renovated their So. Cal home and put in a huge front porch and with the “Edible Front Lawn” movement – hopefully more people will hang out in the front. Definitely makes a neighborhood safer when everyone is on the front porch! But I’m totally with you – one day, I will have a wrap-around porch!!!! (with a swing!)

  • I wish this was posted 2 weeks ago when i was renovating my front porch. I was dying for inspiration! Back porch could always use a facelift though ;)

    Has anyone else noticed this getting your mug snapped on your front porch trend in portrait photography like Tec & Chelsea’s pic here? I think the front porch pics are so cute.

  • The shift from porches to non-porches during WW2 had a little to do with wanting to save most of building materials for the war effort and a desire for a house that women could take care of on their own as well. These houses have many names, but one of them is widow cottages. I live in one (circa 1941) and there’s barely any trim, they didn’t even waste wood on eaves. So you get a chance to add some adornment of your own. We’ve got a covered walkway/almost porch thing hanging off the side of ours where we escape in the evening. Sometimes sleep on. We don’t have much sun in Seattle, but we don’t have air conditioning either.

  • I am lucky enough to have a wraparound porch (in So. Cal, no less!), and I really want to fix it up this summer. There’s so much great inspiration here, thanks for this post!

  • Great article! I grew up in a city in the middle of the Amazon Jungle. Porches were not only a beautiful way to welcome people, but also a good way to keep the temperature inside the house more comfortable. I love them!

  • Ilonda, that explains so much. I have the same thing (c.1946) in Seattle. I’ve heard other names, but never widow cottage. Thank heavens for at least a deck.

  • I love reading the history about stuff that I wouldnt usually think about knowing the history of….

    I think porches are much more important and popular on the east coast because of the lack of outdoor space. I live on the west coast, and even though I am fortunate enough to have a huge enormous front porch, most people on the west coast would rather have a large patio or deck. I think its because of the warmer climate that makes outdoor living here without roofs more popular.

  • I adore these porch inspirations. I have great memories of sitting on my best friend’s porch in the rain as a teenager. I’m considering adding a porch to my cottage home here in Northern Michigan.

  • I have HUGE front porch, it’s almost as big as my living room, you could literally have a party on it. It was a big selling point when I decided to buy the house, it’s pretty much the only one in the neighborhood with a porch like that.

  • One day I could not find my son. He was on our front porch “watching the corn grow”. Front porches are great for visiting and meeting neighbors. If were we were buying a new home, front porch in a neighborhood with other front porches would be a must. Loved the looking at others’ porches.