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Scripps Howard News Service
In Woodbury, Minn., Theresa and Mike Corcoran and daughter Maddie hang out on their front porch, a recent addition reflecting a growing trend.

Sitting out front is back in

Builders add more porches as focus in suburbs shifts to neighborliness

Scripps Howard News Service
The front porch on the Corcorans’ home was added three years ago. The builder that handled the work said it’s a project that has become common.

Sara Maves says few days go by without her meeting someone new in her neighborhood, thanks to the time she spends on her front porch in Chanhassen, Minn.

“Sometimes it’s just a wave and hello, sometimes we engage in a conversation,” said Maves, whose family moved into the newly built house last October. “We have definitely introduced ourselves to other people just by being out front.”

In Chanhassen and other suburbs across the country, homeowners like Maves are turning away from the garage-dominated facades of the stereotypical suburb and embracing the old-fashioned front porch.

U.S. Census Bureau figures show that 63 percent of the houses built in the Midwest last year had porches, up 50 percent since 1992.

Meanwhile, the share with decks – typically out back – has fallen from 41 percent to 32 percent.

The trend is transforming the notion of the suburban neighborhood.

“We had suburbs getting so sprawled out with those big lots, it was almost unfriendly,” said Bloomington, Minn., architect Teresa St. Amant. “Heaven forbid you should see or talk to your neighbors.”

Not all the porches in the bureau’s figures are front porches, but metro homebuilders and city planners say front porches definitely have made a comeback.

Before air conditioning, front porches used to serve the very basic function of keeping people cool in the summer, said John Adams, a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Geography, Environment and Society.

“Once you get air conditioning, who needs one? Then people start thinking they’re kind of neat and realize they miss being out talking to their neighbors,” Adams said.

Builders, too, have noticed the trend.

“It’s a change from the way our suburbs developed around the back of the house,” said Matthew Schmidt, whose family owns and runs AMEK Custom Builders. “You would pull in your garage, go inside and if you wanted to hang out outside, you went to your deck in back.”

Schmidt believes front porches fit into homeowners’ larger, altered view of their houses since the recession.

“They see their houses as places to live, to be part of a community, not just something to buy and sell,” he said.

St. Amant said front porches reflect a nostalgic interest in traditional home design and encourage interaction and a sense of community. They’re also part of an effort by builders of suburban subdivisions to create neighborhoods.

Cities are welcoming the trend and spurring the increase by modifying setback rules to make porches easier to build on new homes or add to existing ones.

“Along with sidewalks and trails, front porches are part of what city planners are envisioning for large-scale developments to create true neighborhoods,” said Mike Devoe, president of Ryland Homes, which built Maves’ house.

A front porch also can make the garage a less prominent feature, another objective of city planners.

“It creates a more pleasing streetscape,” Devoe said.

Schmidt said much of AMEK’s recent work with front porches has been adding them to existing homes.

About three years ago, the firm added a large front porch on the Woodbury, Minn., home of Theresa Corcoran as part of a renovation of its exterior.

“When my kids were little, I just had a stoop where I could sit and watch them play,” Corcoran said. “We didn’t really have a place where people could come together.”

Corcoran said her family’s use of the porch has evolved.

“We like it as a place to sit as our kids come and go with their friends and for neighbors to stop by,” she said. She and her husband, Mike, have coffee out there on weekend mornings.

Maves said she and her husband, Brandon, are happy to hang out on their front porch.

“We like to sit out there in the evening, sip a glass of wine and watch our kids play with the neighbor kids,” Maves said. “It gives us a spot right out front where people can gather.”