Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products

January/February 2006                                Volume 45,  Issue 1


Sitting on the Front Porch
How An Old-Fashioned American Icon is Faring in Neighberhoods
by Ned Lawrence

One hundred years ago, cities and towns in the United States were formed in compact, diverse neighborhoods. This pattern began to change with the influence of the automobile and the rise of zoning and modern architecture. After World War II, a new system of development began replacing traditional neighborhoods with a hodge-podge of mixed uses which today we call urban sprawl. As a result, the majority of people now live in suburban communities built in the last 50 years. 

According to New Urban News, a significant movement is occurring today that is a backlash against a landscape dominated by strip malls, automobile-oriented commercial buildings, and subdivisions deprived of individuality or character. Called “new urbanism” and articulated by a growing number of architects, planners and developers, this movement is based on principles of planning and architecture that work together to create human-scale, walkable neighborhoods.

New urbanism is best epitomized by a growing number of successful, people-centered new towns, villages and urban infill projects called traditional neighborhood developments, or simply TNDs. Fostering a return to life less rushed, more simple and relaxed, New Urbanism and TNDs represent a way of life—towns where families can live, work and play; communities with a sense of place; and an opportunity for social engagement. 

The emergence of TNDs has brought back the front porch with dynamic energy. Finding sales and marketing success in the core of new urbanism, developers and homebuilders around the nation have discovered a public hungering for a home with old-fashioned amenities. A recent National Association of Home Builders’ study ranked the front porch as one of the top-ten design elements that influence purchase decisions by consumers in new home construction. Another U.S. Census Bureau study of outdoor features in single-family homes shows the number of porches nearly doubling between 1992 and 2004.

Composite Building Materials for Today’s Front Porches

Today, there’s a broad range of new materials and designs for building porch elements that reduces the need for that annual painting chore. An impressive array of composite wood materials for designing and building porches are available, including any application that can be made from milled wood-columns, balustrades, porch railings and posts, decking, and all manner of architectural ornament. 

According to industry sources, the growth of composite millwork has been explosive over the last decade in all architectural genres—especially residential construction, renovation and restoration. Composite wood products are particularly suited to exterior applications such as porches.

The Historic Heights Neighborhood in Houston, Texas

Since 1998, Tricon Homes Inc. has been contributing to the revitalization taking place in the turn-of-the-century traditional neighborhood in the Historic Heights area of Houston known for its stately Victorian-style houses. Carrying on this Victorian tradition, Tricon builds more than 100 mostly Victorian-style homes every year. Ninety percent of these Victorians now feature Tendura front porches.

“Our buyers love Houston’s inner city for its style, slower pace and sense of tradition,” Tricon’s president and chief executive officer Tristan Berlanger said. “They tell us that our front porches are one of the main reasons they decided to buy a Tricon home. Porches give them a feeling of nostalgia, a social gathering place, and the sense of a quieter time. Without hesitation, I would say that porches are one of the keys to our success.” 

Munger Place Historic District in Dallas, Texas

Declared “The City Man’s Home” in 1905 by founder, developer and cotton gin manufacturer Robert S. Munger, Munger Place became the first deed-restricted neighborhood in Texas. Just minutes from downtown Dallas by carriage, Munger Place was an authentic TND where homes had to be two stories, cost at least $2,000 and no house could face a side street.

Recognized today by the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, Munger Place is the largest collection of Prairie-Style homes in America, consisting of 250 households. And what is a staple of this style home? Well, not surprisingly, the all-American front porch.

Jeff and Sharon Van Buskirk own and operate Heritage Building & Remodeling of Dallas, Texas. Munger Place Historic District is also their home. The Van Buskirks recently completed two historic renovations in Dallas. Both homes feature our porches and were selected to be on the Munger Place Centennial Celebration Tour of Homes in April.

“With the enormous popularity of TNDs—like Munger Place—we have found a hunger among remodeling homebuyers for historically—and dimensionally—authentic porch materials,” Jeff Van Buskirk said.

Ned Lawrence is president of Tendura of Troy, Ala.


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