by Dave Morris
Craftsman and bungalow homes have notably distinctive front porch design features and no Craftsman style home design would be complete without addressing front porch design details. I'll cover some of those details in this article.
The iconic American front porch was highly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement that began in the late 19th century in the United States. In fact, the front porch on your typical Craftsman or bungalow home gave the neighborhood a sense of congeniality and togetherness. It was common for neighbors and friends to join together on their front porches to hang out and socialize.
Craftsman Front Porch Painting by Leisa Collins Art
The Craftsman bungalow, arguably the most popular house design of the Arts and Craft era, has historical roots in British outposts in India where bungalows were built as one-story open air cottages with expansive wraparound verandas. That is where the word "bungalow" originated. It was a front porch design intended to allow a free flow of air that would keep the homes cool in the often oppressive heat.
Bungalows and their distinctive porches came to the United States via the English and American Arts and Crafts Movements in the late 19th and early 20th century. The earliest American bungalows were actually small Queen Anne style cottages, many of which were built in California between the late 1880s to early 1900s.
Through repeated revivals of the Craftsman style and a renewed 21st century interest in historic restoration, Craftsman bungalows have now claimed permanent status as a classic American architectural style.
Classic American Bungalow Front Porch Design (photo courtesy of j l t)
True to the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement, British leader William Morris and American leader Gustav Stickley felt that homes should be designed with elements of beauty and usefulness and constructed with enduring natural materials. Various types of bungalows were designed and built with that Arts and Crafts Movement philosophy in mind.
The very core of the definition of a bungalow is that it is "a low house, cabin or cottage of one or one-and-a-half stories". Most bungalows are Arts and Crafts style but only some of those are Craftsman style. In contrast, there are Queen Anne and cottage bungalows which fit the Arts and Crafts motif but they are not Craftsman.
Houses and porches of both the Craftsman style and the bungalow style fit under the umbrella category of Arts and Crafts style homes. The essential synthesis of the Craftsman style and the Bungalow style is, of course, the Craftsman bungalow house which has its own distinctive front porch design.
For the purposes of this article and our discussion of front porch design features for bungalows and Craftsman homes, I will concentrate on the components of traditional Craftsman bungalow porches.
All true Craftsman style homes feature amazing craftsmanship, exquisite use of wood joinery, and the integration of natural and local materials into the construction.
Craftsman front porch design is no exception to this rule and a good Craftsman style porch should be constructed with an extensive use of natural materials such as wood, stone and brick.
Typical Airplane Bungalow with Wide Front Porch (photo courtesy of j l t)
Bungalow porches are quite expansive both in length and depth and often appear larger in proportion to the actual size of the home. A typical Craftsman bungalow style front porch is usually from 8-10 feet deep so as to accommodate furniture and to function as an outdoor room.
American bungalow porches are positioned beneath front-facing or side-facing gable roofs supported by thick pillars or columns. Hip roofs are also common.
Often times the gable or hip roof is combined with an open pergola roof to offer a more natural transition from the outside to the interior of the home. This works especially well when the porch is adjacent to luxuriant gardens and outdoor landscaping.
Combination of Hip and Pergola Roofs (photo courtesy of j l t)
Craftsman style front porch design includes roofs that have wide eaves, support braces, and exposed rafters with protruding tails or rafter ends. These elements create a very distinctive look. Beam casing is also common.
Bungalow porches typically have beadboard ceilings consisting of handcrafted tongue-and-groove planks stained and finished to create a warm glossy or matte protective finish.
Another classic front porch design feature is the porch column. You can recognize them easily as they are typically rectangular, often tapered, wooden columns on top of stone or brick pedestals. Other materials may also be employed such as wood shingles or natural stone.
Craftsman Porch Columns with Under Eave Braces (photo courtesy of j l t)
In yet another style of Craftsman bungalow front porch columns, two or three or even four individual wooden posts are combined to form single structural columns to support the roof or gable section of the porch. Sometimes this is done together with decorative or structural brackets. You can see a typical example of this in the picture below.
Triple Style Porch Columns with Column Brackets (photo courtesy of j l t)
Craftsman style porch columns are so popular, you can find them incorporated into front porch design on various styles of more contemporary homes today. In fact, housing design and construction in many present day attempts to replicate the very neighborhoods which in the past were populated with Craftsman bungalows.
Modern Craftsman with Tapered Porch Columns (photo courtesy of j l t)
In the photograph above you see a modern Craftsman house with a porch that is adequately sized and is complete with well-built Craftsman style porch columns. It is open and roomy enough to include porch furnishings and to gather with family and friends and relax. An inviting front porch design!
Unfortunately, in many new housing developments today the designers and builders attempt to include Craftsman style porches but fail miserably because they make them too small and narrow and do a poor job of crafting the porch columns.
Knee walls and traditional balustrades are common on Craftsman bungalow porches. Typically, knee walls are constructed from local materials such as stone or brick. The can also match the material used on the siding of the house - shingles, clapboard, stucco.
Balustrades can range from simple square or rectangular balusters to custom made sawn balusters with decorative patterns. Note the typical balustrade knee wall in the photo below.
Wood Balustrade between Bungalow Porch Columns (photo courtesy of j l t)
When a craftsman or bungalow porch is fairly low to the ground it is not uncommon for knee walls and balustrades to be omitted all together. Modern building codes put a height limit on this and dictate that some type of railing or knee wall is required when a porch floor is 36" or more above the ground level directly below it.
Flooring is another distinctive front porch design feature. Like bungalow porch ceilings, porch floors are typically tongue-and-groove finished with stain or paint.
In keeping with the local sourcing ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement, wood used for porch flooring was normally harvested right on the property being built upon or from local or nearby land.
Douglas fir and cedar were common for balustrades, porch columns, and flooring. You may also encounter mahogany and cypress on older homes.
It should be noted that due to the extensive use of natural materials, especially wood, Craftsman porches require considerable maintenance. Today however, builders can opt to use composite products to not only minimize maintenance but also prolong the life of the porch.
These products are available for everything from porch columns to railings and flooring and more.
Clinker Brick Knee Wall and Porch Column Pedestals (photo courtesy of j l t)
An authentic Craftsman bungalow porch is not just appealing to the eye. It is also extremely functional and serves well as an outdoor room for relaxation and socializing. What this does for the quality of life in a residential community should not be underestimated.
Some might argue that the popularity of the Craftsman and bungalow architectural styles reached its height in the early 20th century. However, I have observed with my own eyes during my travels and photography across the United States that to this day home owners, renovators, remodelers and builders of all ages and locales enthusiastically incorporate the many features of Craftsman style front porch design into their own homes and projects.
Here's to a fantastic porch for one and all!
Dave and Mary Morris are the founders of Front Porch Ideas and More, a website for porch lovers. On their site you will find a wealth of information about designing and building a porch, porch decorating, and even landscaping the front yard. Dave and Mary travel across the USA photographing wonderful porches. They enjoy writing ideas to help you create a porch that you will enjoy.