- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Gina Gaspin refers to the front porch of her Takoma Park home as her window to the world — and the world’s window to her.

She’s not alone.

Front porches — a throwback to the days when neighbors chatted regularly and families enjoyed lazy summer evenings sipping lemonade outside or watching the children at play — are making a return.

Longtime homeowners and new home buyers are discovering the values of a porch. They appreciate the connection to the outside world that comes with spending time on the front porch.

A front porch was one feature Ms. Gaspin looked for before purchasing the 1928 bungalow that she and her family have enjoyed for almost 30 years.

“I have a deck in the back, but it’s something about a porch that brings life to the community and makes you feel not so secluded,” says Ms. Gaspin, whose house on a hill gives her a nice view of all that’s going on in the neighborhood, especially from her large front porch.

Historians say the front porch began to disappear shortly after World War II. Families started preferring to spend time in the privacy of their back yard on a patio, and later, on decks. As a result, more homes were being built without porches.

The number of new homes being built with front porches is gradually increasing, however.

Numbers from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) show that between 1992 and 2005, new homes built with porches went from 42 percent to 53 percent.

Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president of research at NAHB, says during that same time, the figures rose from 25 percent to 47 percent of newly built homes in the northeast United States.

“Overall, front porches are generally found in rural or suburban areas,” Mr. Ahluwalia says.

Some new home communities are designed around the premise that front porches evoke a certain neighborly ambience. Many of the homes in the Kentlands in Gaithersburg, for example, were built with front porches.

Known as a neotraditional, new urbanist community, Kentlands “is a unique community that acted as a model for the many builders around the country who came to see it,” Mr. Ahluwalia says

Front porches of varying sizes and styles highlight the pedestrian-friendly neighborhood of narrow streets, recreational activities and regular outdoor festivals.

Alan Warsaw of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in Bethesda lives in the Kentlands.

He says he has enjoyed sitting out on his custom wrap-around porch with rounded columns and ceiling fans.

“Front porches add so much more to the house,” Mr. Warsaw says. “Down south, people often sit on the porch and communicate.”

Modern amenities might seem foreign to the classically simple idea of a front porch. But they are creeping in.

While Ms. Gaspin says life can’t get any better than sitting on her porch swing on a summer evening, Mr. Warsaw asserts that there’s nothing like sitting out on the front porch on a nice summer evening with the wireless laptop.

“Tradition is good and the front porch has changed with how we used it,” he says.

Robbi Kimball of Long & Foster in Silver Spring says that some homeowners like the inside-out feeling of being in the outdoors with the birds and flowers, but sill being close enough to visit with family and listen for the teakettle.

“Takoma Park folks in particular like the relaxing feeling of sitting on the porch, visiting with neighbors, enjoying their gardens and watching local children play,” Ms. Kimball says.

In fact, Ms. Gaspin says that a neighbor who saw her family enjoying the front porch was so inspired that he had his home renovated to add a front porch.

“I can’t stress how much a front porch really adds to the house in this increasingly isolated world that we live in,” Ms. Gaspin says.

Porches can also add value to a home when it comes time to sell.

Mr. Warsaw says that on average, a front pouch can add 3 or 4 percent to the resale value of a home.

Ms. Kimball agrees that porches can increase a home’s selling price. This is especially true, she says, with porches that feature exchangeable windows and screens that can function as a sitting room or playroom.

She advises sellers to keep the front porch spruced up and looking good.

“In this buyer’s market, the porch needs to be in very good condition. It needs to say to the potential buyer, ‘Come on in, relax. You need to be here.’ ”

In addition to increased neighborhood socializing, front porches serve another important purpose.

“Probably the very best security any neighborhood can have,” says Ms. Kimball, “is people sitting on the front porch, watching the sidewalk and the street, watching who comes and goes, and confidently saying to police, ‘I know my neighbors, and that person does not live here.’ ”

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