Porches and Entrances

The Old House Web
01.jpg (22894 bytes)Preservation experts from the National Park Service recommend the following steps in restoring any historic structure. First, identify the historically significant features. Second, protect the features that are historically significant. Third, repair damage to historically important features. Fourth, replace what cannot be repaired. Fifth, recreate missing features that were historically significant. And lastly, avoid new additions that alter the historical appearance inside, or outside. These steps are based on guidelines developed by the Department of the Interior.

Porches and Entrances: An introduction

Entrances and porches are quite often the focus of historic buildings, particularly on primary elevations.

Above is a dramatic entrance to an early 20th century building.

Together with their functional and decorative features such as doors, steps, balustrades, pilasters, and entablatures, entrances and porches can be extremely important in defining the overall character of a building.

In many cases, porches were energy-saving devices, shading southern and western elevations. Usually entrances and porches were integral components of a historic building's design; for example, porches on Greek Revival houses, with Doric or Ionic columns and pediments echoed the architectural elements and features of the larger building.

02.jpg (12579 bytes)Central one-bay porches or arcaded porches are evident in Italianate style buildings of the 1860s. Doors of Renaissance Revival style buildings frequently supported entablatures or pediments.

At left is a row of distinctive wooden porches.

Porches were particularly prominent features of Eastlake and Stick Style houses; porch posts, railings, and balusters were characterized by a massive and robust quality, with members turned on a lathe. Porches of bungalows of the early 20th century were characterized by tapered porch posts, exposed post and beams, and low pitched roofs with wide overhangs.

Art Deco commercial buildings were entered through stylized glass and stainless steel doors.

Step 1: Identify, retain, preserve

03.jpg (16476 bytes)This stained glass arched transom characterizes entrance to 1880s rowhouse.

Identify, retain, and preserve entrances--and their functional and decorative features--that are important in defining the overall historic character of the building such as doors, fanlights, sidelights, pilaster, entablatures, columns, balustrades, and stairs.

Not recommended:

  • Removing or radically changing entrances and porches which are important in defining the overall historic character of the building so that, as a result, the character is diminished.
  • Stripping entrances and porches of historic material such as wood, iron, cast iron, terra cotta, tile and brick.
  • Removing an entrance or porch because the building has been re-oriented to accommodate a new house.
  • Cutting new entrances on a primary elevation.
  • Altering utilitarian or service entrances so they appear to be formal entrances by adding paneled doors, fanlights, and sidelights.

Back to top

Step 2: Protect and maintain historically significant features

04.jpg (21453 bytes)Protect and maintain the masonry, wood, and architectural metal that comprise entrances and porches through appropriate surface treatments such as cleaning, rust removal, limited paint removal, and re-application of protective coating systems.

The porch at right is protected by a traditional painted finish.

Evaluate the overall condition of materials to determine whether more than protection and maintenance are required, that is, whether repairs to entrance and porch features will be necessary.

Not recommended:

04.jpg (12327 bytes)Failing to provide adequate protection to materials on a cyclical basis so that deterioration of entrances and porches results, like the porch at left.

Failing to undertake adequate measures to assure the protection of historic entrances and porches.

Back to top

Step 3: Repair damaged historical features

04.jpg (16170 bytes)Repair entrances and porches by reinforcing the historic materials, as in the house at right.

Repair will also generally include the limited replacement in kind--of with compatible substitute material--of those extensively deteriorated or missing parts of repeated features where there are surviving prototypes such as balustrades, cornices, entablatures, columns, sidelights, and stairs.

Not recommended:

  • Replacing an entire entrance or porch when the repair of materials and limited replacement of parts are appropriate.
  • Using a substitute material for the replacement parts that does not convey the visual appearance of the surviving parts of the entrance and porch or that is physically or chemically incompatible.

Back to top

Step 4: Replace what cannot be repaired

Replace in kind an entire entrance or porch that is too deteriorated to repair--if the form and detailing are still evident--using the physical evidence as a model to reproduce the feature.

If using the same kind of material is not technically or economically feasible, then a compatible substitute material may be considered.

Not recommended:

Removing an entrance or porch that is not repairable and not replacing it; or replacing it with a new entrance or porch that does not convey the same visual appearance.

Back to top

Step 5: Recreate missing features

Design for missing historic features represents the particularly complex technical or design aspects of rehabilitation projects. It should only be considered after the preservation concerns listed above have been addressed.

Designing and constructing a new entrance or porch when the historic entrance or porch is completely missing. It may be a restoration based on historical, pictorial, and physical documentation; or be a new design that is compatible with the historic character building.

Not recommended:

07.jpg (18306 bytes)Creating a false historical appearance because the replaced entrance or porch is based on insufficient historical, pictorial, and physical documentation. In the picture at right, the replacement awning design is incompatible with the building's historic character.

Introducing a new entrance or porch that is incompatible in size, scale, material and color.

Back to top

Optional Step 6: Alternations/Additions for new use

The following work is highlighted to indicate that it represents the particularly complex technical or design aspects of rehabilitation projects and should only be considered after the preservation concerns listed above have been addressed.

Permissible:

Designing enclosures for historic porches when required by the new use in a manner that preserves the historic character of the building. This can include using large sheets of glass and recessing the enclosure wall behind existing scrollwork, posts, and balustrades.

Designing and installing additional entrances or porches when required for the new use in a manner that preserves the historic character of the buildings, i.e., limiting such alteration to non-character-defining elevations.

Not recommended:

  • Enclosing porches in a manner that results in a diminution or loss of historic character by using solid materials such as wood, stucco, or masonry.
  • Installing secondary service entrances and porches that are incompatible in size and scale with the historic building or obscure, damage, or destroy character-defining features.

Back to top

To see a list of all of the stories in this series, click here.

About the Author
The Old House Web


Search Improvement Project