I didn’t grow up lazing away hot summer evenings on a spacious and shady front porch. (Those evenings usually found me, along with my sisters, weeding in the world’s largest vegetable garden, with 100-foot rows that stretched on into eternity…) As an adult, however, I’ve fully embraced my porch obsession, and I hope my next house will have a plethora of porches. Besides being an outside room, and providing the perfect space for a visit or time with a good book, a porch can completely change the look of a historic house. It is an element that can add a touch of cool elegance, style, and charm to an otherwise plain house form. The porch is also one of the less expensive items to update about a house, and given the weathering porches are subject to, updates (or maintenance) are often needed.
One of the tasks of my day job (which is sadly not Gardens to Gables…) is evaluating and charting the changes made to historic buildings, and trying to tell the story of how, why, and when those modifications occurred. Porches possess the power to transform the facade of a dwelling, and can throw the casual observer for a loop – and one of the most common remodelings I encounter is that of Victorian period houses altered with Craftsman-era porches.
The 1920s ushered in a period of home building in America that would be unsurpassed until after World War II, and one of the common house forms across Kentucky was the accessible, affordable, and straightforward bungalow. Many aspects of the Craftsman style, often associated with bungalows (a bungalow is a house type, while Craftsman is an architectural style. Bungalows don’t have to be Craftsman style, but many are), found their way onto older homes. Especially the solid, geometric forms of the bungalow porch.
This house in Owensboro (which may have been designed by architect Albert J. Killian, but that is a story for another day) originally had a one-story , frame, Neoclassical wrap-around porch. I imagine that the idea of a brick porch seemed very attractive to the homeowner in the 1930s, when faced with the needed repairs for the original frame porch. And it is a sturdy, handsome porch, and the statement it makes about the melding of two very different styles – Queen Anne and Craftsman – caused me to slam on the brakes and hop out of the car. Its height, and the massive battered piers, as well as the solid brick balustrade, tend to overshadow the details on the facade. But when you really start looking – then you begin to see (and appreciate) all of the pieces of the puzzle – and especially how a porch can transform the look of a house. So with Derby almost upon us, here’s to a good porch and a tasty mint julep!