Inspired House
 (June 2005)

Porch Appeal

by James M. Crisp

If there’s one icon of American architecture, and one that calls to mind a more leisurely time, it’s the porch. I grew up in the South, where porch sitting is a part of the culture. Even now, some of my most peaceful, introspective times are spent sipping coffee and looking out over the river on the porch of a guest house I stay at when visiting family back in rural Louisiana.

A porch is a great place to take in a view, watch your neighbors, observe weather changes, or just keep an eye on the outside world. It serves as a transition point between the inside of a house and the great outdoors. It can give you shelter without forcing you inside. It can create distance where you want some – from a busy street, for example. And it can function beautifully as an outdoor room.

Over the years, as I’ve designed homes with porches, I’ve asked myself what makes one porch more pleasing than another. Why do some porches invite gathering and conversation, while others don’t? What is it, exactly, that makes a porch sittable? I’ve learned that attention to certain design principles and practical matters will point you in the right direction if there’s a porch in your future.

What Makes You Want To Put Your Feet Up?

Porches are nice to look at, and that’s part of their charm. Of course, different styles appeal to different people, but for a porch to be visually pleasing, it should adhere to a few basic design principles:

Appropriate scale is critical. A porch should never do battle with a house. It should be visually subservient to the main structure and not over power it.

Proper proportions provide balance. Vertical components should always appear appropriate to horizons. Posts, for example, should look substantial enough to be carrying the roof. Sometimes, this means making posts larger than what is structurally required.

Style is never arbitrary. Everyone has a favorite porch style. Some like simple stone structures, while others prefer elaborately detailed porches with gingerbread trim. Whatever you like, the details of your porch should always be dictated by what already exists. Formal columns will look out of place on a simple, spare farmhouse. Likewise, a grand, formal home will not be enhanced in any way by a contemporary, featureless porch. An exact match is not always necessary, but visually the parts should blend to read as a whole.

Views are something to aim for. The location of your porch may be predestined by your site – or your desire to look out onto your street – but if there is a choice, it is always best to focus on a view. Remember, the porch is a place where you can connect to your surroundings. If no view is readily available, creative landscaping or a strong focal point, be it an arbor, tree or garden bed, can be just as effective. I like balustrades because railings provide a sense of enclosure and protection. But if you have a particularly stunning vista, and the distance to the ground isn’t too great, you can do without railings and really open the view.

Size makes a difference. I’ve seen very narrow porches attached to some newer houses, but they don’t look appropriate – and they certainly don’t look comfortable.

When designing a porch, I like to make it at least 9 feet deep. Some say that 6 feet is adequate, but I like 9 feet because it gives you enough room for large chairs and even a small dining table and chairs, while leaving room to pass. I know there isn’t always space for such a deep porch, but another option is creating a bump out on a corner that can work as a larger, more comfortable gathering point.

Lighting is more important than you think, so consider how you will use your porch. If it is just for sitting and talking, low levels of ambient light will suffice. If there is to be a corner for reading or eating, task lighting will be needed. Sconces and recessed can lights that are rated for exterior use can be installed in porch ceilings and walls. Consider multiple switches as well as dimmers for flexibility.

Don’t forget that a porch impacts interior space. Adding a covered porch can cut down substantially on the natural light that enters adjacent rooms. One way to solve this problem is to include skylights or leave some roof sections open. Finally, since a porch is a transition space, it is smart to design landscape lighting so that it leads pedestrians comfortably from the walkway to the porch.

Public and private spaces need to be determined. Do you want your porch to be approachable and neighbor-friendly? Create a large and prominent entry to the space, use open lattices, provide good lighting – all of these details make people want to step up and take a seat. A more enclosed porch that keeps people from looking in will make the space more private. You can also gain a sense of enclosure by using trellising, closed spaced columns, or shutters.

(end of excerpt)

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What Our Clients Say

I have been working with Jimmy Crisp and his firm for over 10 years. He has transformed our 240 year old home and property and we continue to work with him on multiple projects. His sense of style, creativity and attention to detail is unparalleled. We renovated and expanded our main house, built a large barn and guest house, a wine cellar, pool area and our current projects include a pergola, stone house addition with a game room, pool house and gym. I trust Jimmy implicitly and depend on him as I live in a different state than my weekend home. He is a wonderful collaborator, always respectful and truly takes the time to get to know you, your lifestyle and your taste. Our home has been featured in "O Oprah" magazine and is also home to many events. I hope we can keep working with them for the next 20 years!

We had a wonderful experience with Crisp Architects. We wanted a pool house the reflection our love of Italy and food and we totally achieved this. I would highly recommend Crisp Architects. They were wonderful to deal with and we love our pool house. Would love to use them again for a future project.

Jimmy designed our home, from the ground up, and he and Lin Chamberlain built it. We could not be happier. It was a wonderful and easy experience working with them, and the result is a great, comfortable, and charming home. Jimmy and his staff were at all times helpful and responsive, and Lin and his crew were the same. The house was built on time, in spite of difficult conditions (unseasonable ice, and cold) and it is solid, warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and easy to live in. Jimmy was and is flexible and responsive in his approach to our needs, while maintaining a wonderful design aesthetic that is garnered many complements. I highly recommend Jimmy for any project.

I found Crisp Architects' website many years ago, forging our dream of hiring Jimmy Crisp to design our hypothetical addition to our small house built in 1785. Ten years later, with a comparatively small budget than their norm, located across the river, in Orange County, New York, I wrote an email to ask if we were worthy. Almost immediately, I was treated to a personal phone call from Jimmy Crisp, and began to feel the kind, white glove treatment they naturally provide. From that first conversation, to where we are today at mid-construction of an incredible addition and renovation that Crisp Architects designed, I cannot say enough about the entire team and level of expertise. They are not only the sweetest people, but they are true experts in their trade, and particularly with historic architecture.
Communication with Crisp Architects is immediate, reaction to your ideas is open minded and responded to with honest, valuable feedback, usually adding a new way of thinking to consider. My husband appreciates how Crisp successfully blended our old house architecture with the addition so beautifully, and how the team remains engaged with you and the project until its completion. We could not be more thrilled and we only hope to be able to hire them again for additional building on the property!
Never once did I feel like we had the small project across the river, and they have kept us in our modest budget. We love Crisp Architects!

Crisp Architects are a wonderful team headed by James Crisp. They listen well and then go off and create a beautiful plan. Remodeling can be very stressful but with Crisp Architects as your partner you can be sure all the details are taken care of. We could not be more pleased with results.

Jimmy Crisp and his team did an outstanding job designing our screened in porch, expanding family room, and new kitchen. Jimmy's plan provided us with an improved indoor and outdoor living space that better accommodates the way in which we live, and in addition, allows us to maximize the use of our home. Jimmy and his team could not have been nicer and more professional as we progressed from the early stages of this project through the construction phase. I will not hesitate to use Crisp Architects in the future.

We hired Crisp Architects to design and oversee the renovation of our 100 year old barn and carriage house home. Their design was respectful of the historic nature of the house while bringing it up to date with all the necessary modern conveniences. I have nothing but positive things to say about our experience with Crisp Architects from the level of service of every employee to the beautiful end product. In fact, since our renovation, we have been asked several times to include our home in the Historic Homes Tour in our area.

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