built four porches on their home on a 100-acre horse farm in rural Georgia. There is a dining porch, a sleeping porch, a cooking porch and a screened porch that has antique wicker furniture, an old-fashioned bench swing and a flat-panel television hidden behind rustic wooden doors over a stone fireplace. That porch is for watching college football.
“We live on the porches here. One moment we’re on one porch, the next moment we’re on another,” said Mr. Scarborough, the 69-year-old president of a real-estate development firm in Columbus, Ga., who raises Tennessee Walking Horses on the farm.
Decades after it began disappearing from the American architectural landscape—felled by the advent of cars, air conditioning, and the backyard barbecue—the porch is back. In June, the Census Bureau reported that 63% of new single-family homes completed in 2013 had porches—up from 42% in 1993.
“The wealthier we feel, and the more feature-rich we desire our homes to be, the more likely they are to have a porch,” said
marketing research director of Home Innovation Research Labs, a subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders.
After a 2008 remodel and expansion, more than a quarter of the living space of the Scarboroughs’ 5,400-square-foot home on a lake is pure porch. Even the pool house has a porch, with a convex ceiling designed to cast back heat from the stone fireplace on chilly nights. Despite their custom light fixtures and electronics, the porches abound in nostalgia—from the reproduction ball-and-bell beds on the sleeping porch, to the ceilings painted “haint blue”—so-called for the Southern superstition that the blue-green color keeps haints, or spirits, away, along with mud daubers and other pesky bugs.
“We wanted it to look like something that had always been there,” said the 66-year-old Mrs. Scarborough, who declined to say what they spent on the home expansion by the Historical Concepts architectural firm.
More than an exercise in nostalgia, the return of the porch signals a deep need for social connection, according to Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture and a pioneer of new urbanism. Mr. Stern made porches the hallmark of homes in Celebration, Fla., the master-planned community he helped design for the Walt Disney Company in 1997.
“The porch friendlies up the house,” said Mr. Stern, who describes it as “a place between the privacy of the house and the public world of the street.”
In the luxury-home market, porches are being designed as fully functional outdoor rooms, with everything from built-in stereo speakers and ambient lighting to solar and wind-activated awnings. Cage-like screens have been replaced by fine mesh made of bronze or vinyl-coated aluminum, designed to disappear from view while softening glare. Some homeowners are installing radiant-heat panels in porch floors and ceilings to make them habitable year-round—with furnishings that wouldn’t be out of place in any well-appointed living room.
As porches have grown in popularity, “deck” has become the new four-letter word of high-end home design. “We never use the word deck, it’s a pejorative term; we always use the word porch. It could be any covered outdoor space,” said Stephen Vanze, a partner in Barnes Vanze Architects in Washington, D.C. “We probably do 50 to 60 projects a year—almost all of them have a porch involved.” Unlike an uncovered deck, which is stuck onto the exterior of the house, he explained, a porch is a well-designed outdoor room.
Mr. Vance’s partner,
designed a 6,500-square-foot shingle house with three curved porches stacked one atop the other overlooking the Potomac River for
and his husband,
The main porch wraps from the front door to the back garden, with tongue-and-groove mahogany floors, ceiling fans, rocking chairs and climbing roses winding up its pillars.
The porch friendlies up the house.
“It’s absolutely a room that we use like every other room, where we spend evenings and sometimes mornings,” said Mr. Michael, the 52-year-old owner of Occasions Caterers, who declined to say what they spent on the 2007 house. The couple often throw parties on the porch, which is almost as large as the living room beyond a set of French doors. It’s the setting for their annual Fourth of July cookout, which drew 125 people this year. A second porch is set off the master bedroom; the small top-story porch has just enough room for three or four people to sit with cocktails “and watch the bats fly around,” said Mr. Michael.
commissioned Mr. Barnes to create a striking contemporary house overlooking the Potomac River Valley.
“We felt comfortable doing something completely different,” the architect said. At first glance, you don’t notice Mr. Weller’s front porch, which is tucked under the second story of the house and shielded from view by a long, built-in ipe wood bench. A wall of windows behind the porch collapses accordion-style to create one large living space, merging the porch with the living room. An identical set of glass doors at the opposite end of the house opens onto a back porch covered with a cedar and painted-steel pergola where the family often eats.
“The whole first floor is basically open on both sides. It almost feels as if the house is on stilts,” said Mr. Weller, a general partner of New Enterprise Associates. He described the cost of the 2013 stone, stucco and cedar house as “in the millions—somewhere between 10 and zero.”
Paved in Maryland bluestone, the porch has a 12-foot-high ceiling with embedded stereo speakers and a large stone fireplace, where Mr. Weller’s young sons toast marshmallows for s’mores, or watch the skies for blue herons and eagles. A bike trail winds in front of the house, and occasionally strangers will wander up to the porch to say hello. A visiting architect from Argentina ended up sitting down at the porch’s white oak table and sharing a bottle of wine with Mr. Weller.
For many porch-owners, getting to know one’s neighbors is part of the appeal.
“The worst thing that happened to the U.S. was the invention of the electric garage-door opener: It shuts down behind you and people don’t come out,” said Rick Massie, a 63-year-old real-estate developer who lives in Jackson Hole, Wy.
In 2011, Mr. Massie and his wife, Debbie, bought a 4,100-square-foot vacation home in Coronado, Calif., on San Diego Bay for $5.9 million. The back porch, which runs the entire length of the house, opens on a public park, with the beach and the ocean just beyond it. Mr. Massie calls it his “10-acre backyard.”
“We love seeing people and families—all that drew us to the house,” he said. The Massies also enjoy seeing, and hearing, Navy aircraft. The porch sits near an active runway of Coronado’s Naval Air Station. “Some people would say it’s noise, but we call it the sound of freedom,” said Mr. Massie.
The porch has been the setting for two weddings, large parties for military families and Thanksgiving dinners. The Massies have installed solar shades to blunt the porch’s full southern exposure. Until then, the family had to eat their turkey wearing sunglasses. Now that their children and grandchildren are getting older and visit less frequently, they have put the house on the market for $8.8 million.
Porch ownership has its headaches: constant sweeping and the occasional uninvited guest. Not long after
built a 35-foot-long mahogany porch off the kitchen of her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., a squirrel broke in through a screen window.
“He was sitting on the counter with a peach in his hands,” said Ms. Mofield, a 45-year-old attorney who stays home to raise her five sons.
Her 1800 home, known as the Pineapple House for the three pineapples carved in its antique front gate, had a classic colonnade porch when she and her husband,
a urologist, bought it in 2005 for $1.785 million. She added two more during a major renovation in 2010 by Fivecat Studio Architecture.
“Other architects were saying, ‘You should do a patio,’ ” Ms. Mofield said. “I don’t really want a patio. I don’t really want a deck, either. I want a porch where we can sit, we can eat, we can watch the pool.”
In addition to the long back porch overlooking the pool, where the family eats many meals at a big marble-topped table, there is a side porch with a set of rocking chairs where Ms. Mofield can wait for the school bus or have “dog play dates” with passing neighbors. Although she recently upgraded the outdoor sound system, the rocking chair remains her favorite amenity.
“That’s the nice thing about a porch—it’s wonderfully familiar,” said Mr. Stern. “You don’t have to take a lesson. You just put a drink in one hand and a book in the other, and there you are.”