What Is a Porch?

Everything you need to know about this outdoor feature

Outdoor porch with brick floor and white hammock hanging between wall and column

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Never underestimate the power of a porch. Present in almost half of new single-family homes, this outdoor essential is the perfect mix of form and function.

Not only does a porch offer a convenient space for couriers to leave packages and guests to enter your space, but it can also give your home some serious curb appeal. And, when the temperature is just right, it's an ideal spot to kick back and relax.

But, as often as we see and step on porches, we rarely think about where they come from. Why are porches so popular? Are there different types of porches? In fact, would you even be able to describe what a porch is? Turns out, there's a lot more to porches than meets the eye.

What Is a Porch?

Generally, a porch is a covered area that is attached to the entrance of a building. A porch typically has open sides and offers an easy transition between the indoors and outdoors.

"A porch isn't just a covered front door," says Sylvia James, an interior designer at Home How, a U.K.-based home improvement site. "It's an architectural feature that can be found on both sides of the house, wrapped around the entire structure, or at one corner. Their basic function is to provide shelter for people entering the house when it's raining or just when they need a place to enjoy the outdoors from the front of the property."

To help enhance your design knowledge, check out our comprehensive guide to porches.

Where Did Porches Come From?

Though the style of porch we know and love today was created about 125 years ago, you might be surprised to hear that the concept dates back centuries. It all started with the portico, an architectural feature-slash-status symbol in Ancient Greece.

From there, various countries gave the portico their own spin. For example, during the Italian middle ages, the portico took on the form of a loggia—or a roofed, outdoor hallway.

Eventually, the porch phenomenon made its way to the America in the 1700s and became a beloved fixture a century later. Why? Research suggests that the Industrial Revolution made it a lot easier to produce parts needed for a porch. Plus, thanks to the rise of leisure time, porches became the perfect place to hang out and enjoy the beautiful weather.

white sands design build porch ideas

White Sands Design/Build

What Are Different Types of Porches?

Of course, porches have come a long way since their ancient origins. In fact, the typical porch has been reimagined into a number of styles, satisfying a bevy of abodes. Since each type of porch has its own differences, we're breaking down the basics below:

  • Portico

    Reflective of its Grecian roots, a portico is a small, covered area right in front of a home's entryway. More times than not, a portico is supported by columns.

  • Rain Porch

    Want to turn your porch into an extension of your home? Fortunately, a rain porch has enough room for a seating area. Generally, this style has a roof extension that lets rain water flow away.

  • Back Porch

    Though porches are typically found in the front of the home, some dwellers might love the idea of a back porch. Think of it as a covered deck.

  • Lanai

    Lanais might be all the rage in Hawaii, but they have plenty of global appeal. By definition, a lanai is an enclosed porch. Unlike sunrooms, a lanai typically boasts a concrete floor and is situation on the ground right next to the home.

  • Loggia

    Want to take your indoor-outdoor living to the next level? Prepare to fall in love with the loggia, which is basically a covered outdoor corridor. Commonly used as a fancy word for porch, loggias can be found on both the ground floor and upper levels.

  • Screened-in Porch

    Decked out with a screened closure, a screen porch can be enjoyed year-round. Some people even refer to this style as a sun porch or Florida room.

  • Wraparound Porch

    Make the most of your outdoor space with a wraparound porch, which flanks at least two sides of a home. But, wait, isn't that the same thing as a veranda? Well, not quite: Verandas boasts an open-air design.

What Are the Characteristics of a Porch?

Nowadays, porches come in many shapes, sizes, and styles. However, they do have a few things in common. According to James, it all boils down to the roof, sides, and entryway.

"The roof protects the rest of the house from weather and is supported by columns, walls, or other outside supports," she says. "Open sides provide a clear view for those standing on a porch, which also allows a breeze to enter the home."

Specifically, James says that at least 50 percent of a porch's area should be attached to the house, and the ceiling should be supported by the home's foundation. (Otherwise, you might be dealing with a deck or patio.)

But, above all else? A porch should offer direct access from the home's interior to the great outdoors.

Open patio with outdoor dining table overlooking hill in sunlight

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Porch vs. Patio

The terms are often used interchangeably, but there are technical differences between a porch and a patio.

A porch is usually a covered space that serves as a transitional area, protecting the front or back entry to a home. It can be rather utilitarian, offering a place to prepare to leave or arrive home (like an outdoor mudroom) or storage for outdoor accessories or tools. Porches can also be used for relaxation or social gatherings, depending on the size of the porch.

Porches can receive direct sunlight as the sun shifts throughout the day. But they are almost always covered, so they are not typically sun-drenched spaces.

A patio is usually a large, paved space used for cooking, dining, and entertaining outdoors. Patios are usually left open to the sky (or uncovered, in other words), so they're an excellent option for those who want to enjoy direct sunlight all day. Many people add outdoor umbrellas for shade to their patios to make the space usable even during hot days.

  • Attached to the house

  • Provides a transitional entryway to the house

  • Has a roof structure

  • May be adjacent to the house or detached

  • Floor surface is often paved

  • Usually open to the sky

How to Decorate a Porch

Porches might offer endless curb appeal and convenience, but they're also a great way to show off your personal style. If you're looking for some inspiration, check out these three fail-safe tips for decorating your porch, or check out more porch ideas.

Defy Gravity

Want to make the most of your small portico or rain porch? Sometimes, the only way to go is up. Designer Kelly Shannon took this setup to new heights—literally—by adding hanging planters to the porch. (The pigmented blue railings are a nice touch, too!)

k shan design porch

K Shan Design

Add on the Accessories

As this porch from Ursula Carmona of Homemade by Carmona proves, you don't need to limit your design style to the confines of your walls. With throw pillows, planters, and a cool striped rug, the blogger turned this outdoor area to an extension of her home decor.

porch ursula carmona

Ursula Carmona of Homemade by Carmona

Beautify the Basics

Just because you want to keep your porch decor to a minimum doesn't mean it has to be boring. With patterned tiled flooring and bright pink wall, this pared-back porch from White Sands Design/Build is big on style.

porch white sands design build

White Sands Design/ Build