Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Evolving American Porch

Shooting the Breezeway

What is the Fourth of July without a porch to read the Declaration of Independence on? Or, when it’s time to relax with a picnic lunch after marching in your community parade (something that actually happens in my family — though it’s more of a ramble along a country road from one house to another). So here’s a brief (breezy!) porch history and round-up of examples that offer visual and practical, if not always patriotic, refreshment.

First a definition: a porch is a covered space beside an entrance and usually having a separate roof; it’s an open-air shelter from sun and rain with room to sit. Variations abound from breezeways to Shingle style “piazzas.” The grander house-wrapping porches as we know them in the United States first

van cortland manor from historic hudson







appeared in the mid-eighteenth century with Dutch Colonial examples like Van Cortland Manor in New York’s Hudson River Valley (photo above courtesy Historic Hudson Valley), or the Fortier House (Homeplace Plantation) at Hahnville on the Missisippi shown below, (historic photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons). Such porches became more common in mild climate areas,

Homeplace_Plantation,_River_Road,_Hahnville_(St._Charles_Parish,_Louisiana) from Wikimedia commons

especially in the French Colonial South around New Orleans and ultimately may have come from the West Indies in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Spanish and Mexican porch traditions influenced the design of porch structures in western parts of the country as in the Old Custom House at Monterey,

old custom house monterey from sf gate

California, built between 1827and 1846, with its adobe walls, tile roof, and

WhiteHouseSouthFacade from wikipediatimbered balconies (photo courtesy SF Gate). Perhaps the ultimate double-decker porch is one everyone knows well: it’s on The White House and is known as the North Portico, which was added in 1824. A portico, by the way is defined as a porch that has columns and a temple front — or you could say it’s a porch with pretensions.

The porch as multi-purpose outdoor room has always fascinated architects and designers, as I have mentioned in previous posts (and if you read this blog you know that I’m the one who is obsessed). I’m especially interested in ways the porch can be shaped: it has almost infinite possibilities; for example, here’s a famous design by Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects. The client wanted  a

Zimmerman house by TGH from TGH

bright light filled house with lots of porches. So, according to the architects, “We designed a house that is also a porch.” The outer shell is a timber structure sheathed in redwood lattice and covered with a translucent plastic roof. In the close-up photo below you can see how the lattice envelopes the house like an architectural cloud. Openings cut into the lattice create famed vistas into the surrounding

Zimmerman facade

landscape. It’s an abstract geometric version of the old double-decker veranda (photos courtesy TGH Architects).

A porch doesn’t need to be strictly exterior space; it all depends on the materials used and proximity to the outdoors, as shown in this marvelous vacation home

beach-house-martin-gomez-arquitectos, exterior

designed by Argentinian Martin Gomez Arquitectos for a beach site in Uruguay. The exterior wood decking comes indoors to form the flooring for the main

Gomez Arquitectos -- beach house in Uruguay

living, dining, and cooking space, making it feel like an outdoor space even when the sliding window walls are closed. It’s another way of designing “a house that is also a porch.”  (photo courtesy Remodelista — I am grateful to Remodelista editor Julie Carlson for this example). Naturally at Houseplans we have many


examples of porch-oriented designs. Here are two of our latest: Plan 497-19 (above) with its porch at the back, and Plan 17-2512 (below) with a long porch at


the front. I’m ready to grab one of those rockers. Happy Independence Day!







Trees And Your New Home

Arbor Days, Outside and In

I have been doing some brush clearing and tree trimming in preparation for a Fourth of July picnic and it has reminded me of the marvelous and still relevant 1950s book Gardens Are For People, by landscape architect Thomas Church, where he writes: “Charles Dudley Warner [essayist who collaborated with Mark Twain on The Gilded Age] said that until he saw the Annapolis at low tide he never realized how much it added to the looks of a river to have water in it. One might say the same thing of trees in the landscape.” The trick is to see how “the shape of the trunk, the curve of a branch, the texture of the foliage, the pattern of the shade, may influence your whole design.” So here are some notes on how trees should be part of any home.

First see how Monterey, California landscape architect Bernard Trainor used this

Bernard Trainor tree as frame

live oak to frame the house as well as the garden. The arching limbs shape and define the surrounding outdoor living space with a little help from a low curving Continue reading

Understanding Color for Your New Home

Color Wheels Within Wheels

This week I’d like to introduce Guest Editor Natalya Anissimova, a designer with a degree in physics. She offers an introduction to the color wheel —  and how it can help you personalize your new home.

Different colors can be created by mixing the three primary colors – Red, Yellow

Color wheel by Ittenand Blue. Secondary colors are the simple mix of primaries – Orange [Red + Yellow], Green [Yellow + Blue], and Violet [Blue + Red]. When the primary color is mixed with a secondary it becomes a tertiary, for example, Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange. Thus we have the 12 color wheel – there are 3 primary colors, 3 secondary and 6 tertiary colors.

The color wheel, especially it’s ‘pocket’ version, which you can buy at every art Continue reading

Door News at PCBC and More

Making an Entrance

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland the doorway is a sticking point — the heroine is either too big to squeeze through or too small to reach the handle. Well, if we added today’s wide array of entry door choices, as demonstrated at last week’s PCBC (Pacific Coast Builders Show) in San Diego, Alice could have entered Wonderland in a flash no matter what she ate or drank…then again maybe it would have taken a lot longer just to decide which door to open. In any case door choices are expanding. Here’s a quick run-down, prompted by my tour of the PCBC exhibit floor. Loewen now offers their series of aluminum-clad

1A 2013-06-05 12.04.13

glass doors in “Candy Apple Red” as shown in this sliding bi-fold unit. It’s one of many new colors included in their latest palette of architectural finishes, Continue reading