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Old-House Online » Old-House Tips, Restoration Stories, & More » Gardens & Exteriors » How To Design a Bungalow Porch

How To Design a Bungalow Porch

Bungalow porches offer a warm welcome. Whether you're building new or renovating an old porch, learn its history and ways to replicate this outdoor room.
By Jennifer Sperry | Photos by Blackstone Edge Studios

    A multitude of Arts & Crafts details, such as a gable lattice and tapered columns, help layer this inviting front-entry façade.

    A multitude of Arts & Crafts details, such as a gable lattice and tapered columns, help layer this inviting front-entry façade.

    “What would a bungalow be without its porch? A cottage perhaps, but certainly not a bungalow,” write Diane Maddex and Alexander Vertikoff in their book Bungalow Nation. The bungalow is an easily recognizable house style for its low-pitched roofs and open floor plans, and yet another prominent feature is a welcoming porch. The reason why the porch is such a trademark item stretches all the way back to the home style’s origins in colonized India.

    According to Bungalow Nation, British traders and colonists in India transformed native peasant huts, called banggolos, into their own hybrid shelters, complete with a thatched roof, central living room, and airy veranda. The Anglicized name “bungalow” stuck, and in the late 1800s, bungalows began appearing in British seaside resorts, where the leisure-oriented and low-cost design was appropriate.

    Again, in America, the house type was first promoted as a summer cottage, but in a serendipitous twist of intentions, it caught the eye of architects and developers aiming to reform the nation’s housing movement. Bungalow aesthetics fulfilled the ideals of William Morris, leader of the Arts & Crafts movement in England, who asserted that homes should contain only things of utility and beauty. They also suited Morris’s American counterpart, Gustav Stickley, who, in response to Victorianism, called for simple, artistic houses that reflected democratic middle-class values.

    Decorative flared columns support the gabled front porch,  complete with exaggerated soffit overhang.

    Decorative flared columns support the gabled front porch, complete with exaggerated soffit overhang.

    Spurred by the popularity of the American Arts & Crafts philosophy and Stickley’s Craftsman movement in the early 1900s, the bungalow emerged as a singularly American home type exemplifying the value of handcrafted features. And in response to the industrial era, part of the bungalow “philosophy” denoted the need for a garden, a personal slice of nature. In this vein, the porch performs two roles: It extends the modest living spaces and bridges the gap between indoor comfort and outdoor Eden.

    Position & Layout

    Massive column supports faced in river stone help ground the porch’s  overhang, while an eyebrow beam casing invites both sight lines and light.

    Massive column supports faced in river stone help ground the porch’s overhang, while an eyebrow beam casing invites both sight lines and light.

    In American bungalows, porches are traditionally tucked under a side-facing gabled roof or underneath a dedicated front-facing gable. Depending on the geographic region, they range in substance and style. In California, for example, pergolas (typically vine-covered) provide cover instead of a full roof, and in chillier climates such as Minnesota, porches are restricted in size to a modest portico entry. But in general, bungalow porches are expansive and introduced by a set of wide stairs. They are large in proportion to the building’s stature and generously deep.

    “At 4′ to 5′ deep, some new porches are so shallow that you can’t even sit on them,” says Thom Greene, principal of Greene & Proppe Design in Chicago. “They are purely aesthetic. But an authentic bungalow porch should be at least 8′ to 10′ deep to ensure that it is functional as well as charming.”

    More than just a decorative element, a true bungalow porch is no less than an outdoor living room, outfitted with furniture and even artisan lighting (choose from Arts & Crafts, Craftsman, and Mission styles). “Layouts really run the gamut,” says architect Michael Klement, principal of Architectural Resource in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Some have just enough space for two chairs, and others have plenty of room for loveseats, full sofas, rocking chairs, and more.”

    Design Components

    Bungalows showcase craftsmanship, texture, structure, and attention to detail, and the porch is no exception to these standards.

    The bungalow porch is topped by either a roof or pergola—new old designs sometime combine the two for the best of both worlds. Typically the roof is housed under a front-facing gable and is supported by thick pillars or columns. More commonly, the supports are composed of battered (tapered) wooden posts atop substantial pedestals of brick or stone. These posts can even be broken up into twos, threes, and fours.

    Simple tapered columns bookend the front door outside.

    Simple tapered columns bookend the front door outside.

    Both the indoor and outdoor spaces of a bungalow are designed to envelop the occupant, notes Klement. “These buildings were emotional and physical shelter. When you sit inside a bungalow porch, you should feel embraced.” Many bungalow porches feature solid wall enclosures crafted from brick, stucco, clapboards, shingles—often the same material used in the home’s cladding. Balustrades are common, too, and range in composition from simple square balusters to custom-sawn balusters showcasing decorative motifs.

    Some bungalow porches lack walls or balustrades entirely. They are open to the surrounding garden and tend to be lower to the ground. Sometimes benches, chair swings, or planters double as “loose” boundaries.

    A classic bungalow ceiling of tongue-and-groove beadboard is ideally stained and varnished. “The glossy wood is not unlike a piece of furniture, warm in tone and earthy in feel,” says Greene. Similarly, wood flooring should also be tongue-and-groove but stained or painted.

    Materials & Maintenance

    Cased beams and simple railings help to frame a front porch sitting area, while an oversized picture window invites the outside in.

    Cased beams and simple railings help to frame a front porch sitting area, while an oversized picture window invites the outside in.

    Historically, Douglas fir or cedar would have been used for rails, posts, columns, and flooring, but other long-lived woods such as mahogany and cypress are options. A contractor using these woods today needs to prime all cuts, cautions Greene, or the wood will wick up water and begin to rot in two to five years.

    Painted wood columns and balustrades require regular and, for some owners, somewhat daunting maintenance, prompting architects to investigate PVC options. Greene consistently uses Azek PVC products for columns, balustrades, and moldings. Turncraft Architectural specializes in architectural columns, posts, and railings, and recently introduced square Craftsman columns (tapered or straight; smooth or decorative panels) in expanded cellular PVC with matching pedestals and newel posts.

    Thanks to foot traffic and the elements, flooring requires a fresh coat of paint or stain as often as once per year. In response to this onerous upkeep, PVC porch flooring has gained in popularity, particularly as new advancements have addressed expansion and contraction issues.

    To appear authentic, PVC flooring must mimic tongue-and-groove boards and be dimensionally authentic. Greene recommends Aeratis, whose Classic line offers tongue-and-groove boards (31⁄8″ wide) in three colors that can be left as is or painted. Aeratis’ Traditions line is specifically designed for paint (no priming needed).

    Another option is the composite flooring designed specifically for covered porches. A blend of 40 percent recycled plastic and 60 percent industrial waste wood fiber, it is available either in solid colors (no paint required) or factory primed for the application of a topcoat.

    The bungalow reached its height of popularity in the early 20th century, but bungalow “fever” is still apparent today. As existing versions are lovingly restored and new renditions faithfully constructed, the style’s coveted porch is still an ever-present feature, greeting visitors with distinctive warmth and uncompromising style.

    Published in: New Old House Spring/Summer 2013

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