A look through pattern books of pre-war houses is a reminder that most homes of the period had only one porch, at the front, typically 8 feet deep. Back then, the front was a more desirable location for outdoor space. A front porch invited visitors and allowed for chance encounters with neighbors and friends. The backyard, on the other hand, was utilitarian with a garage, and even earlier, a stable or barn.

James Wentling BEFORE

Post-war designs reversed that arrangement, with the garage in front and a usable porch in back, for more privacy. In that transition, we’ve lost the real porch. Often, that space is now only 5 feet deep and lacks steps, railings, and the other features that made the porch a fine place to spend time. Consumer tastes, however, have caused us to hang onto the front porch, even if it remains merely decorative—and puny in size.

New urbanist trends and planning initiatives have encouraged builders to return to the historical standard, where the front porch is once again usable, and the garage is set back to emphasize living space over automobile storage. Well-detailed front porches are promoted as a requirement of traditional neighborhood designs.

James Wentling AFTER

It’s a step in the right direction. But good porches can be made better with strong design elements—distinctive columns and railings, masonry bases, upgraded roof lines, and steps with handrails. In model homes, appealing seating and dining setups and a porch swing help integrate the porch into the home design, add curb appeal, and enable potential buyers to imagine living life there. A workable front porch isn’t just a nostalgic touch. A good one will reel in buyers.