Outdoor Spaces: What is a Veranda?

Characteristics and History of the Veranda

woman on veranda
Woman sitting on deck chair on veranda. Getty Images

Quite simply, a veranda is an open gallery, cloister, porch, or portico, sometimes partly enclosed, along the outside of a residential building. Verandas seem to have their modern roots in Australia, where they first appeared in colonial buildings during the 1850s. Incorporating an architectural style known as Victorian Filigree (or just Filigree), residential buildings in Australia and nearby New Zealand, along with commercial buildings (especially hotels), featured verandas with decorative wrought iron screens, cast iron "lace" (filigree), or wood fretwork.

"Perhaps the greatest invention known to man is the verandah, prevalent in the southern states of America and much beloved by the Victorians in England, and still a vital room in hot climates, where it can be used as a bedroom in the hottest months," writes David Stevens in his book, The Room Outside: Designing Your Outdoor Living Space. He continues: "It is a delicious halfway house between inside and out, where you can relax in a pool of shade, preferably with a drink, while contemplating the baking heat a few feet away."

Verandas Around the World

Spanish colonial architecture, including the Mission Revival style popular in the Western United States during the early 1900s, often incorporated verandas -- on the exterior, and in some cases, along some of the interior walls of courtyards. Some of the more elaborate homes of the period were built so that every room opened into a courtyard veranda.

In New Orleans, the Creole Townhouse prominently features verandas, as do other buildings in the area. Probably the most popular style of architecture in the southern city is the aptly named Creole Townhouse style, with buildings constructed of brick or stucco, elaborate wrought iron balconies, and verandas.

These iconic buildings make up most of the city of New Orleans' famed French Quarter and Bourbon Street.

In Africa, many of the early colonial houses were built with large verandas, which allowed home dwellers to keep cool during the heat spells of the region, entertain guests, and oversee their fields. The Omani Arabs also have a variation on verandas in coastal climates, with palace architecture featuring verandas with high ceilings being throughout the East African coast.

On cruise ships, veranda rooms are those that have covered private balconies often with a small outdoor dining set. They are favored by guests who like a view, an upgraded room, or are prone to motion sickness and need some fresh air and a view of the horizon. Usually, they cost more than cabin or stateside rooms, which are toward the center of the ship.

Veranda or Verandah

Veranda comes from the Hindi word varaṇḍā, the Portuguese word varanda, is possibly related to the Spanish word baranda. The French word, veranda, was borrowed from the English. It is generally accepted that the word as used in England and in France was brought by the English from India. Synonyms include porch, gallery, terrace, balcony, patio, and lanai.

If someone tells you the outdoor living space at their home that looks suspiciously like a balcony or porch is a veranda, it is:

  • Possibly historical or architecturally significant, like one of the Creole Townhouse-style dwellings in Louisiana.
  • Newer, but designed by an architect who is familiar with the features of a veranda or incorporated her/his client's desire for a veranda into the design.
  • Called a veranda by someone who has no idea what they are talking about, but heard the word at some point and latched onto it because they believe it sounds romantic or highbrow. If so, they probably spell it as verandah and make a point of telling you so. Smile, be courteous, accept the mint julep or lime rickey being offered, then prepare to ask your host about the architectural history of his or her veranda.

    Verandas in Pop Culture

    The word is popular for names of restaurants; hotels; pets; as a baby name for girls; lines of outdoor furniture and accessories, fashion; a band called the Verandas, a singer named Veranda; and is the name of a home, lifestyle, and garden magazine. Perhaps you have heard of:

    • Murder at Veranda House (Texas Heroines in Peril) by Cheryl Bolen
    • Veranda: The Art of Outdoor Living by Lisa Newsom
    • The Houses of Veranda by Lisa Newsom
    • Light on the Veranda by Ciji Ware
    • Carmen's Veranda, a 1944 short animated musical film by Terrytunes about an opera-singing, red dress and stiletto-wearing cat named Carmen.