Porticos not only look nice but can serve a porch-like function

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Photos: Philip Beaurline Photos: Philip Beaurline

You want a porch. But you’re afraid of commitment. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life with a whole deck hanging off the front of your house? Getting cold feet is understandable.

Perhaps a portico is more your speed.

“Generally I think of a portico as purely shelter for a doorway, whereas a porch is a space where you have chairs and tables and other items,” says Anne Mark, an architect for Johnson Craven & Gibson. “But I think they certainly can each serve a similar purpose.”

Amabel Shih of Dalgliesh Gilpin Paxton Architects agrees. She said porticos can even have seating in some cases.

So how do porticos play against porches, pound for pound? Local architects ponder the pressing questions.

Are porticos just for fancy houses?

The short answer is no. As long as the design is consistent with the rest of the house, porticos are for everyone. “In almost all cases, there is a way to add a portico that makes sense with the house,” Mark says.

True, porticos include columns, and columns can be fancy. But Shih says different types of columns, such as a square as opposed to ornate cylinders, can relate to most styles. Her firm has even added a portico to a garage.

“You need to think about the style of your home in terms of its architecture,” Mark says. “You need to balance it with the mass of the house. Hopefully the architect understands the style of the home, whether Craftsman or Georgian or modern, and works within the parameters.”

What do I get out of it?

Porticos denote a doorway and give you a place to set things down while opening your door without soaking your slip-ons, according to Mark. Porticos also tend to look nice, Shih says, so they can crank up your curb appeal.

Aren’t porticos hard to install?

Putting a small addition on your home at an entryway might be easier than you think, according to Shih. Adding mass to the front of your home is often easier than removing things, and the addition can solve architectural bugaboos, like a stairway that’s too close to the door. The portico can include a bump out, Shih says, and build a buffer between guests and intimate spaces like bathrooms as they arrive in your home.

Mark says porticos can, however, present some structural concerns. “You are clearly going to have to look at the relationship to the windows if you have a second story or the roof if you have a one-story house—and how it then relates to the street or how one enters the house,” she says.

Will a portico add value?

This is a tough one to answer, Mark and Shih agree, since porticos don’t offer the tangible benefits of, say, an upgraded kitchen or bathroom. But Shih says front elevation on a home is important, and buyers will see that immediately as they approach the property. Adding a structure like a portico also gives you the ability to add other functional areas, she says, like a space that can work as a mudroom.

Mark says porticos are all about the curb appeal. “I’m not sure what that value would be, but in some cases it might be a lot,” she says.

Porti-code

But really, what is a portico? By most definitions, the common feature of Greek architecture is a porch-like structure supported by columns positioned at an entryway. It’s not as deep as a porch but
can have limited living areas. “Portico” can also refer to a covered walkway supported by columns.

Suffice it to say columns are key, and the different types of porticos are defined by the number of columns used to support them. One-column porticos are known as henostyle, two columns are distyle, three columns are tristyle and four supports denotes tetrastyle.—S.G.

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