Out on the Porch

An all-purpose porch combines East Coast sensibility with the carefree attitude of the West Coast.

April/May 2006 issue of Better Homes and Gardens Remodel                     Photography by Ed Gohlich

A porch is the original outdoor room, and when Ned and Carolyn Young decided to add one along the side of their 1907 La Jolla, California farmhouse, they didn’t want just any porch. They wanted a porch in its truest sense, a comfortable, kick-back place that could accommodate a number of activities: art projects on Saturday morning, naps on the wicker swing in the afternoon, and casual entertaining at night, with friends and family spilling over from the adjacent family room.

“Every summer, we go back to Chautauqua, New York, to visit my mother,” Carolyn says. “All of those old Victorian homes from the 1800s have porches. That kind of outdoor space is somewhat rare here, but we love the sensation of being outside while still being covered from the elements.”

Part of a larger renovation that added a wing for their children, the porch was designed to complement the clean lines and simple style of the existing home. Working with architect Ione R. Stiegler, the Youngs chose period details, such as tongue-and-groove ceilings, fretwork around the edge of the roof to mimic the windowpanes, and rails and banisters to match those found on the home’s back porch.

Overlooking a quiet side yard screened with a privacy hedge, the porch also created much-needed flow between indoor and outdoor spaces. “Before, the house had been pretty much cut off from this section of the yard,” Stiegler says. “The family would have to squeeze their way back through the laundry room and out through a service door to reach it.” The new porch connects the inside to the outside, and with its L shape and generous 8-foot width, it provides each room it adjoins with outdoor access. “Guests feel like they have their own private porch,” Carolyn says, “and because of its privacy, we can leave things out and not worry about it being picked up.”

Both pretty and practical, the addition accomplished transition of space as well as geography. “It’s really like having our own East Coast house right here on the West Coast,” Carolyn says.

A wide porch can accommodate furniture and accessories without impeding the flow of traffic. Remaining true to the design on the home’s existing porch, the new porch railing features the same columns and rails and is the same height, 2 1/2 feet, which is almost a foot shorter than standard railings. The porch’s function should factor into the overall design. Here, the steps leading to the yard were moved to accommodate a wicker swing that would fit only in the corner of the porch. Sconces and mounted ceiling lights feature the same linear pattern as the fretwork around the perimeter of the porch, evidence that much attention was paid to detail. Carrying existing details through to a new addition makes this porch look and feel as though it were part of the original house.

Porch Pointers

Though many homes have porches, most are too small to function as outdoor rooms. Before you start your renovation, consider the following tips for adding on a porch.
Choose the right width. “On one hand, you need a [porch] width that will serve your purpose,” architect Ione R Stiegler says. “On the other, you have to be sensitive to the shadowing created from a covered porch and how it affects the light in adjacent rooms.” Think about how you will use the porch and plan accordingly.
Pick a porch floor that reflects the style of the house. Saltillo clay tiles, colored concrete, and wood or wood substitute are all good choices. “Porches are open to the weather, so there will always be some sort of maintenance issue,” Stiegler says.
Keep furniture and accessories simple and carefree. The Youngs chose all-weather wicker furniture and outdoor fabrics that can withstand the elements.
Select lighting that’s functional and stylish. There are many creative options on the market. “I love hanging a pendent fixture above a front entry door,” Stiegler says.
Unite porch and home. For continuity, look at the house’s architectural details and incorporate them into the design for the new porch.