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posted: 9/30/2011 6:00 AM

Old-fashioned front porches are new again

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  • While many homebuilders offer a front porch option, West Point Gardens in Elgin features a whole neighborhood of houses with front porches.

       While many homebuilders offer a front porch option, West Point Gardens in Elgin features a whole neighborhood of houses with front porches.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • U.S. Shelter Homes is one of the Chicago-area builders that offers several designs that feature a front porch.

      U.S. Shelter Homes is one of the Chicago-area builders that offers several designs that feature a front porch.
    Courtesy of U.S. Shelter Homes

  • The double-decker porch on the Princeton model is just one of the many porches at West Point Gardens in Elgin.

       The double-decker porch on the Princeton model is just one of the many porches at West Point Gardens in Elgin.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • The double-decker porch on the Princeton model is just one of the many porches at West Point Gardens in Elgin.

       The double-decker porch on the Princeton model is just one of the many porches at West Point Gardens in Elgin.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Front porches are the predominant feature at West Point Gardens in Elgin, a neighborhood that relocates the automobile to the rear motor court.

       Front porches are the predominant feature at West Point Gardens in Elgin, a neighborhood that relocates the automobile to the rear motor court.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Many who have purchased a ShoDeen home at Mill Creek in Geneva say they love the idea of having a front porch.

      Many who have purchased a ShoDeen home at Mill Creek in Geneva say they love the idea of having a front porch.
    Courtesy of ShoDeen Homes

 
By Sherry Giewald

The family sits out on the big front porch on their white clapboard house. Wicker furniture with colorful cushions add a cheery touch to the space, where a glider moves back and forth and a small table holds homemade lemonade. Falling leaves and pots of yellow and copper mums say autumn is here.

This is the stuff of Norman Rockwell, the famous illustrator of everyday life.

The scene brings back memories of the past, maybe of a better time, a more peaceful time and certainly a simpler time. It's that elusive something that many people yearn for -- yesterday.

In the middle of the 19th century, as cities grew larger and families began living in individual residences, people built homes with elaborate front porches. The family relaxed on the porch after dinner, kids played outside and neighbors strolled by and stopped to visit.

But in the mid 20th century, technology -- radio, TV and air conditioning -- drew people back inside their homes, and the old-fashioned front porch disappeared, replaced by patios and decks in the backyard and a small stoop at the front.

Today, as people search for more authenticity and connection in their lives, the new old-fashioned porch is regaining popularity as a gathering place for family and friends.

Those who purchase a ShoDeen home at Mill Creek in Geneva love the idea of having a front porch.

Some customers say they remember growing up when their grandmother had a big porch on her house, and they want to capture that nostalgic feeling, said Diane Durpatti, design center manager for ShoDeen Homes.

"When they look at our inventory homes, they say, 'Oh, I wish it had a front porch.' When someone comes to visit, and they walk up the stairs on to your front porch, it's so warm and inviting."

With the big front porch, people love to sit outside and watch the world go by.

Although John Sorenson doesn't have any stories of buyers who purchased a home with a front porch because it reminded them of their grandmother's house, U.S. Shelter Homes recently built a home in Glencoe with a charming front porch that the owners love.

Some of the builder's past communities also feature homes with front porches.

"While driving through some of these communities, I often see parents sitting on their porch socializing with neighbors or watching children ride their bikes," said Sorenson, vice president of U.S. Shelter Homes.

"I do believe a front porch adds a classic curb appeal to the home and thus gives the community a distinct architectural charm."

While many homebuilders today offer one or two home designs with a front porch at their new home communities, some feature a whole neighborhood of homes with front porches.

One of those neighborhoods is West Point Gardens in Elgin, which features homes with front porches and motor courts behind the homes, which presents an authentic, old-fashioned look.

"We have a pocket of neighbors that have sunset parties at each other's homes," said Pat Curran, president of West Point Builders. "They get together on someone's porch, visit with each other, and watch the sunset.

"The front porch really helps neighbors get to know each other. They talk about how much they like sitting and relaxing on their porches and watching the kids out front."

Some communities are more conducive to building homes with front porches than others, and it often depends on the setting, lot size and location.

Of course in an urban setting, homes scream out for a front porch while in a suburban community with large lots and big backyards, a front porch may not be as feasible.

For example, at U.S. Shelter's new Oak Ridge community, it's more about affordability and the size of the homes. In this serene setting of winding streets, the builder sees about one in four people choose a large, oversized front porch.

"Our homes at Oak Ridge have nice backyards and include a large deck in the back along with a good amount of open space compared with some other new home communities," Sorenson said.

"Homes on smaller lots with no yard or a small backyard lend themselves more to having a large front porch.

"While I believe the back deck is really the family gathering place for summer grill outs or casual social gatherings, the front porch is a visible welcoming transition point into the home."

Of course West Point Gardens offers a distinctive community layout and was designed as a neighborhood with front porches. "I think that it is attracting buyers to purchase a home from us," Curran said. "It helps the customer to include us in their buying decisions.

"The front porch is obviously one of the great features that helps create a neighborhood. People here love it."

West Point Gardens sits in a peaceful, serene country setting on the west side of Elgin. "The community has been very successful, and the front porch is a good feature that sets this community apart from others."

At Mill Creek, set amid the rolling hills of Geneva, the Stewart model in the Oakmont neighborhood features a wonderful wraparound front porch that offers plenty of room for a little bit of outside living.

With some designs showing smaller porches, it's important to buyers that the porch is wide enough to accommodate outdoor furniture, Durpatti said. They enjoy sitting out in the front yard as well as the back.

Today, with people spending more time at home and the interest in nostalgia and going back to the basics, the front porch -- a much-loved feature of the family home -- is back.

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