The Front Porch Returns: a pandemic-proof living space extension

When we were approached earlier this year by homeowners of a 1970’s bungalow in Toronto’s East York neighbourhood to create a modern front porch, we knew this was a unique opportunity. For so long, outdoor renovations have typically focused on the backyard but, over the past year the front porch has made a comeback.

Why? Over the pandemic, families have been wanting to find new ways to make the most of their property. And during a long period of isolation, we’ve seen families stroll their streets for daily walks, gathering outdoors for weddings, birthdays, and graduations.  For this family with two young children, their lack of direct backyard access inspired the creation of a well-designed front outdoor space, which also cleverly modernized their home.

But the impetus for this front porch was more than just a response to the pandemic. A new front porch also boosted the property’s curb appeal, increased the homeowners’ ROI and created a beautiful extension of their home.

We explored several design options and materials for the project and ultimately decided that pressure-treated wood offered a modern and complementary aesthetic to their home. Using MicroPro Sienna for the entire build, we created a unique design that is seldom seen for front porches. During a year where building materials reached unprecedented highs, this material was also a fraction of the cost of other wood products (such as cedar), keeping the project within the homeowners’ budget.

Six-foot distancing made comfortable

Our first challenge was designing a solution that responded to the slope of their property. We created a multi-level front porch to account for the various elevations, which in turn offered an opportunity to maximize their space and create a warm welcoming to their home. We designed the first landing to be exactly six feet long for social distancing, giving the homeowners and their guests confidence that they can safely interact with one another. This first landing has been used all summer as a stoop by their family to sit and chat and as play area for the kids to do puzzles and play with their toys.

Designated zones for every need

As the front porch spans two levels, we also wanted to create a design that provides flexible opportunities for a myriad of uses. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen how important it is for spaces to be flexible for every member’s needs. A kitchen counter has become an office desk. A living room is also the gym. It was important for us to take these new ways of living into account and bring this level of flexibility to the front porch.

The various nooks can serve as a dining space, kids’ zone, a place to take calls while working from home or a raised planter garden. Now, mundane tasks become more exciting when they can be done outdoors, giving each family member more options for every moment.

With carefully curated furniture and greenery, the homeowners’ modern sense of style completes the vision. The lounge space on the top level becomes a comfortable oasis complete with a bright yellow loveseat bench, a colourful outdoor rug and a coffee table. As an extension of their living room, kids can do their homework, or parents can socialize with their neighbours while keeping an eye on the kids through the window.

Opposite the lounge area is a secluded nook that can be imagined as anything from a reading chair to a dedicated raised herb garden. With the homeowners’ kitchen located past the front door, the raised garden provides convenient access to fresh herbs and produce.

A design that’s both private and welcoming

 High exposure can be both a challenge and an opportunity. Creating a front porch that serves as an intermediary space between public life and one’s private home was central to the design. While creating an open and inviting environment for outdoor living, we were also tasked with balancing the family’s privacy to create a truly functional place in the long run.

Both levels of the porch feature high partitions to maintain privacy and create intimate environments. Since a front porch is highly visible to passersby, we built horizontal wood partitions creating a fence-like enclosure. This was important as kids were doing homework or virtual school from the front porch, and the parents took work meetings all day. At the same time, the front porch is welcoming and comfortable, allowing homeowners to greet people and invite them over to a safe and spacious outdoor setting.

Becoming a permanent cornerstone of a neighbourhood, a front porch can be an entirely functional and design-forward space. A perfect spot to create an outdoor oasis, host special moments and form new connections. Regardless of a pandemic, it’s due time we rethink front outdoor spaces. The front porch is finally back and it’s here to stay.

Alex is the owner of Anex Works and has a background in landscape architecture and design, choosing wood and metal to produce unique creations. Anex Works is a Toronto-based team of multi-disciplinary craftspeople that excel in working with architects and designers to implement their vision across everything from art installations and custom-built furniture to outdoor wood working projects such as porches, decks and arbours. 

Photography courtesy of MicroPro Sienna