Why the porch? We take a peek at the porch’s humble history

Architecture can be a fascinating field. Who among us, after all, hasn’t googled, “What on Earth is a flying buttress?” Packed with weird terms and whip-smart solutions to problems you probably didn’t even imagine existed, the art of meeting architectural needs has been around since the stone age and continues to adapt to modern human lives as we plunge into the future. Where did the porch come from in all of that, and why is the oak porch such an iconic British building feature? Oak Porches UK takes a closer look.

Where did the oak porch come from?

We all know at this point that an oak porch is a convenient ‘pre-room’ in the house. With a low-front, it typically frames the ‘real’ entrance, and allows someone entering the building to pause, reflect, and transition their mind from ‘street’ to ‘inside’. You’ll find them on a ton of different structures- from churches and other religious buildings, through to government buildings and, of course, the humble home. The porch can be small, or almost a full room (and even structure) by itself. It can share a roof with the main building, or it can have its own roofline- and in some Victorian and Queen Ann architecture, it’s own elaborate collections of towers, turrets and gargoyles. In short, the porch is a beautiful, versatile and practical way to make a building transition seamlessly to the interior.

What are the oldest porches we know about?

Given this sensible, bracing nature, we can easily speculate that the ‘porch’ has been part of fixed buildings since man first started building cities instead of camps in which to sleep. The ancient world does, in fact, back this speculation up, too.

Perhaps the most famous of ancient porches are those used by the Ancient Greeks. Persopolis shows us clusters of palace buildings with distinct signature porches you just can’t miss. The most memorable of Ancient Greek porches, however, will be the ‘wrap-around’, continuous column porch they used in almost all temples- a look so iconic we associate it immediately with the ancient greeks! Of course, this sun-soaked porch was perfect for ancient Egyptians or Greeks, but not so ideal in rainy Britain.

So, there are different types of porches?

Most definitely, yes! With an architectural feature as common and widespread in use as the porch, it’s not so surprising that you find loads of different porch styles. After all, the porch isn’t just there to be decorative- it serves a vital function too. So it’s important that it not only fit the style of the building, but get the job done, too.

There’s no real need to learn all the different porch types out there, but here’s a few you’ll commonly encounter:

  • Screened-in porches/Arizona rooms: This type of porch is iconic of Arizona, hence the alternative name, but you’ll find it anywhere where it gets hot and bugs are a nuisance. Something like a sun porch, but with light mesh panels instead of glass, it serves to allow the people of the house somewhere to sit and enjoy the cool evening breeze without being tormented by ‘chiggers’ and other pests.
  • Portico: The Portico has a very Italian/Roman look and feel, redolent with columns and arches to create the iconic shape. A portico lets folks enter and exit the building. Where it is raised and enclosed so inhabitants of the building can use the area, but you cannot enter the building, it’s called a Loggia.
  • Verandahs and wrap-around porches: A veranda is a very, very long porch that takes up the entire frontage of a building. They have an Antipodean/Colonial African flair to them, and you’ve probably seen them attached to large hotels or restaurants where outdoor eating is offered. Wrap-around porches take it a step further and wrap around 2 (or more) walls of the structure.
  • Sun Porch: This is a common type chosen here in Britain, as it both heats the house without the need for electricity and provides a pleasant sitting area to enjoy the garden no matter the weather. They sometimes call this feature a Florida Room. It’s a glass-enclosed porch, something like a more specific conservatory, that offers light, heat, and warmth to those within.
  • Rain Porch: This is probably what you most commonly think of as ‘just a porch’. Basically, an area that can be enclosed or open at the sides, where the roof extends far beyond the building, providing shelter from the rain or inclement weather as you perform tasks like place bags down, look for and use keys, and so on. It keeps you dry, comfortable, and clean as you prepare to enter a building

Why are oak-framed porches so iconic in Britain?

We’re surprised how often we’re asked this, but it is true- oak porches and the UK go together in the popular imagination. Why is this? The answer lies in the oak itself.

The British climate is notorious as a difficult one- any building materials face cycles of almost constant moisture exposure, offset by occasional harsh dry spells. This means damp, mould and fungus weakening construction is a constant worry, plus expansion and contraction issues. Weight-bearing structures must carry heavy snow and ice loads, too. Oak is pretty unique as wood goes. It’s incredibly dense structure makes it resistant to pests and shrink/expand cycles. It actually gets harder as it ages. And it’s far, far less likely to suffer moisture- or rot-induced structural weakness than any other wood. Look up in any British or Continental church, and you’ll see oak beams that are centuries to literal millennia old, still supporting the masonry around them. Oak porches are built to last- there’s a good chance they’ll outlast the rest of the building, to be honest!

Oak-framed porches are a British tradition throughout history, and the humble oak porch has been a part of mankind’s building repertoire since we first started building cities at all. Why not celebrate this legacy today, and let the Oak Porches UK team help you pick out the right oak porch for your home today?