Windows To Your Home’s Soul

Front porches are more than the backyard decks of yesteryear. In the days before suburbanization or air conditioning, these inviting covered outdoor spaces were shady places to rock away an afternoon sipping iced tea, mind a baby napping in a carriage and wave to or chat with neighbors passing by. Children played jacks or traded baseball cards. Moonlit evenings, the front porch swing provided a setting for romance.

Like Norman Rockwell paintings, front porches tug at the heart and stir up feelings of nostalgia. They also gush with curb appeal. Mostly built or restored for aesthetic reasons these days, front porches, and often wraparound porches, some with gazebo or turret-like bumpouts, are making a bit of a comeback on new shingle style construction and as columned porticos on colonials.

In communities like Sea Cliff, characterized by older Victorian homes with gingerbread trim, “buyers are always lured by the charm of a front porch, especially when it is all decked out with old fashioned white wicker furniture,” says Terry Sciubba, broker owner of Sherlock Homes Real Estate. “Also, a front porch can be considered extra seasonal living space.” Many homeowners use their porches from spring to fall.

imageJoseph Scarpulla, a Huntington-based architect who has incorporated front porches into many of his home designs, says they are an “aesthetically pleasing element” and a “traditional home feature that people find nice.” They are also practical: porches provide a protected entry as well as a convenient spot from which to watch the kids board the school bus.

Porticos, some with balustrades and a railing edging a deck above, break up the facade of a colonial with enticing detail.

In Brightwaters and Huntington Village as well as neighborhoods with quarter-acre or smaller lots, front porches foster a welcoming sense of community. At the end of long driveways on two-acre lots, the appeal is more aesthetic, Scarpulla says. Porches are also the perfect way to enjoy views—and feel the breeze—of the ocean, the Long Island Sound or the serenity of a pond.

Vic Araco, an owner with his son, Jeff, of Decks Only in Greenlawn, said porches have “become fashionable” again. The new porches are maintenance free, he said, as opposed to wood porches on older homes that may have sagged or rotted out.

Lou Pagnutti, owner of Commack-based Decks Unique resurfaces about 15 to 20 older front porches a year, replacing the original tongue and groove floorboard with similar looking, but mold, splinter, stain and rot-proof resin-based, composite materials like Trex. Growing up in Hicksville, Pagnutti recalls, “You lived in front of the house, you lived in the street and your parents sat in the front and watched you.” As suburbia boomed, the pendulum swung towards backyard privacy but these days “a lot of newer houses have front wraparound porches or at least a portico.” Several of his neighbors have added front porches or porticos.

On the porch of a new, blue-sided home the Araco’s construction company built in Dix Hills, raised panel columns made of a fiberglass composite called TimberTech were used instead of wooden column posts along with a white vinyl railing. A reverse gable roof adds drama over the double front door entrance, balanced by a gable to one end and an architecturally appealing octagon-shaped gazebo at the other.

“The goal is to build not only a pleasing porch design, but something that will last a long long time minimizing the need for maintenance and its associated costs,” Araco says.

The new porches also include green features and utilize recycled plastic and sawdust from reclaimed wood with a distinctly wood-like appearance. Traditionalists, however, still stick to “natural” wood products for the porch, deck and railing. Options range from less pricey pressure-treated lumber to cedar, both of which require regular surface finishing, to exotic woods such as redwood, teak and cypress that need only an oil treatment to prevent natural wood graying.

The comeback of the front porch has not taken away from the allure of the backyard deck. Araco says there’s “a fine line” distinguishing a porch from a deck. “If you put a canopy over it, it is more of a porch,” he says. If that awning is retractable, it is a deck. And when front porches wrap around a home, connecting to a backyard deck, it provides homeowners with the best of both outdoor living spaces.

Now is the Time to (Re)Design that Front Porch

Although autumn is a time for thinking more about indoor projects than exteriors, October is an ideal time to venture a front porch (re)design. For one, contractors specializing in exteriors tend to be more available since the bulk of their projects are behind them. And, more importantly, the project is happening while the homeowner is mainly inside, not interacting with the area, the ground is ripe (if things need to be dug or set) and best of all, it will be complete and ready come spring when it’s time to enjoy, rather than struggling with the details during the prime season.