Porch Design: How-to, How NOT-To

By: Mark Clement , Contributing Writer
In: Uncategorized

Good design is good design. You know it when you see it. It can be complicated like a 2nd Empire home or more simply stated like an American Foursquare.

Conversely, bad design is really bad. And you know that when you see it too–especially in an old house. In fact, if you have an eye for proportion, balance, and texture, it practically reaches out and horse collars you like a cheap-shot on the gridiron.

Some other design elements, however, are subtle and take time or the right moment to take hold of you. Or you it, giving credence to the misquoted Mies van der Rohe’s observation “God is in the details.”

simple, smart, functional. And beautiful.

Design: simple, smart, functional. And beautiful.

I got a full-scale lesson in this walking my boy through town the other day. I’d love to go for a dad of the year award and say we were on an architectural tour but the reality is his two year molars are coming in like a dental freight train and being on the move makes him feel better. Anyway, walking is good because I miss details like these two porches when I’m running or driving. One is a lesson in good, balanced, and simple design with nominal lumber. The other is a lesson in…well…I’ll rely on your for adjectives.

Porch Numero Uno takes a bland facade–and brings it to life. It also does the duty of protecting the front door from the direct hit of the elements. The gable end is facing the street–a good call for a shallow porch like this. The girder is beefy without being too massive while the “joists” are 4×6 (laid flat) and 4×4 mitered to a point. The rafters are exposed. All that detail is nice as is their spacing and cantilever over the beam. It serves both function and form graciously in my mind. (I didn’t even notice, until I examined the photo, that one eave hangs out past the house; that’s a miss.)

Eave over-hangs are proportionate and the columns are simple but effective. Of course the paint is practically jumping off the wood, the first sign this will rot out (breaks my heart) sooner than later–but it doesn’t need much upkeep.

What didn't they get wrong on this porch remodel? It's not even low maintenance.

What didn't they get wrong on this porch remodel? It's barely even low maintenance.

The porch a few doors down, however, needs both upkeep and a wrecking bar. And if you think I’m mad at vinyl, I’m not. I have nothing against modern materials. What I hate is the poor use of any materials, which this is an object lesson in. All over-hangs are subsumed by cover-up. All the graceful shadow-lines are shot through with a product inappropriate for the location and while this porch may not need paint, it looks like…Well…I’ll lean on you for the adjectives again.