THE REAL DIRTT: A Great Porch Presents the Right Perch for Discovering Your Neighborhood … by COLLEEN BENNETT

May 5, 2017
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The historic 1914 Durward-Bowers residence features a prominent porch.

LA VERNE, Calif., May 5, 2017 — When I work with buyers, I always ask them for their list of must-haves – the things they absolutely can’t live without in their new home.

Often making the list these days – of course, it depends very much on the unique preferences of your clients — is a designer kitchen or a great room for entertaining, or roomy walk-in closets or a luxurious multi-jet spa in the en suite, or a beach-entry pool or outdoor pizza oven.

After hearing them out, I subtly suggest, “How about a porch?”

If you haven’t grown up with a porch, sometimes you just don’t know what you’re missing.

Especially these days when so many people spend so much time isolated in front of their computers, porches can serve as that gentle reintroduction or bridge to the outside, natural world.

Historic Porch

On the northeast corner of Kuns Park in La Verne, the Halvey family live in the Durward-Bowers residence, a two-story 1914 Craftsman which features a prominent porch. Not only were they looking for a significant older home seven years ago when they first moved to La Verne, but they were looking for a particular lifestyle that only a porch can engender.

“My husband said we really bought a porch with a house attached to it,” Michelle Halvey said. “He calls it La Verne’s living room because we get to watch the good, the bad and the ugly go on at the park.”

Mostly, it’s the former when the park-goers and picnickers have gone home for the day, leaving the couple to listen to the rustle of the wind through the deodars. Indeed, from their porch they enjoy an unimpeded view of La Verne’s oldest tree, a massive carob tree that dominates the park.

“The park gets busy on weekends, but in the evening, it gets quiet and we love it,” Michelle said.

In the morning, they’re back on their porch enjoying breakfast, listening to the town slowly wake up.

Of course, it’s not just the Halveys that have a predilection for porches. For many, porches invite the exploration of the outdoors, but from the safety of a secure, friendly and familiar place.

City of Trees, PhDs and Porches

Robert Gable, emeritus professor of psychology at the Claremont Graduate School, said a return to porches symbolizes a search for novelty that surfaces in 30-year cycles.

“It’s no different from shifting hemlines or the cuffs on a man’s pants in fashion,” he said. “In architecture, the range of salient features are limited, so we’ll go back and recycle them.”

Similarly, Irene Goldenberg, professor emerita of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience in Los Angeles, said the porch provides a safe place for social interaction outside the family.

“People want a soft, permeable boundary between themselves and their community,” she said. “They want an entry or way to connect with the rest of the neighborhood, if only to evaluate their lives in terms of a larger system of values.”

However, Robert Winter, author of “The California Bungalow” and an architectural historian at Occidental College, believes the rediscovery of the porch simply represents the public’s response to an environmental crisis.

“People are afraid of the cancer-producing sun and the breakdown of the ozone layer,” Winter said, “so they want a roof over their head when they’re outside.”

Architects and builders, whose task is to translate these opinions and trends into people-friendly projects, have their own views on the cultural shift toward porches.

For many of them, porches allow people to fall back on traditional elements. Especially during uncertain political or economic times,  nothing quite communicates stability like a prominent porch.

“I once read,” said Mary Perera, the proud owner of a porch-greeting Craftsman in Claremont, Calif., that the demise of the neighborhood followed the introduction of two things: air conditioning and TV, because people stopped sitting on their porches—visiting with neighbors, rocking and talking, waving to people who walked by, watching their children—and neighbors children—play, and breathing the air, watching the seasons change, and not being at the mercy of electric devices.

“I feel that way, too!”

Windows on the World

Gina and her two sons, Anthony and Nathan, enjoy a break on their Third St. La Verne porch.

In a sense, porches have become observation decks for anxious parents who want to keep an eye on their kids while also giving their children an independent space to play, explore and grow on their own.

Interestingly, many architects accustomed to designing houses for adults are now taking their directions from kids.

Peter Calthorpe is a San Francisco architect and designer of the pioneering pedestrian-pocket town of Laguna Creek Ranch near Sacramento, which features several styles of porches in parklike neighborhoods.

Said Calthorpe: “If you think about the way kids are, they’re very much involved in porch and front-yard-type activities. They hang around doorways and passages.”

So, if you’re looking for a home that offers a sheltered and protected passageway from the indoors to the outdoors, consider adding a porch to your list of must-haves.

It will be a great way to immerse and introduce yourself to your new neighborhood while doing it in a space and timeframe that puts you at ease.

Another Third Street home in La Verne features a welcoming porch.

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