The most public room of a private dwelling and most likely the most visible focal point of any Victorian home was the front porch. The porch of days gone by was something to behold allowing the occupants the opportunity to get closer to nature, yet never far away from the comforts of home.
There were various components to a Victorian porch that made it stand out. Today our idea of a porch might be a simple deck with a roof overhead while Victorian porches were a work of art in themselves. Over the next while this blog shall provide the readers with an overview of Victorian homes, their components and the intricate details that made them “something to behold”.
This blog is meant to be a resource for those that are seeking to build or restore a Victorian Porch in Canada. The site deals with the various components of the Victorian Porch in detail. Whether you are looking for traditional wood porch posts or maintenance-free plastic gingerbread and porch trim, you will find lots of valuable information here.
These are brackets that hold the cornice in place. Modillions hold up the corona, and are sometimes used on cornices as well. The brackets are often paired.
Perhaps one of the most asthetically interesting components of the Victorian Porch is the Gingerbread bracket. The brackets are applied beneath the Spandrel or directly beneath the Beam, if a Spandrel is not used. They are centered against the side of the Posts. Porch brackets ranged in design from fairly plain to elaborate as shown in the accompanying picture.
Picture: Courtesy of Bitter Girl
The Victorian porch floor was typically comprised of tongue & groove pine boards painted to match or compliment the overall structure. When renovating an existing porch, some may wish to keep to traditional buliding materials and do the replacement decking in wood as well.
For new reproduction Victorian porches it make sense from a maintenance and longevity standpoint to look at the newere materials offered. With the advent of recycled plastic and other man-made materials that offer virtually maintenance-free beauty, it may not be feasibleor even cost efficient to consider wood.
Companies like Correct Porch offer porch flooring systems that combine the traditional look and warmth of wood with the low maintenance of a composite. Their proprietary tongue and groove system is engineered to provide a historically accurate porch board that emulates the traditional lumber it replaces.
Photo: Courtesy of Correct Porch
Spandrels were one of the decorative accessories added to the Victorian porch to add “character” and make each porch unique. Spandrel was typically added to the tops of porch posts to create a screening effect and to soften the sharp lines of the posts and beam. The spandrel was primarily a decorative element, and early versions looked similar to a ladder running horizontally between the tops of the columns. Eventually the spandrel was expanded to include turnings, curved elements, and decorative fretwork. Because it is primarily decorative, spandrel designs were limited only by the designer’s imagination.
Photo: Courtesy of Bitter Girl
An example of an earlier style of spandrel looking more like a ladder, yet still a superfluous ornament typical of the Victorian porch.
The next component in the Victorian porch are the balusters and railings. These are the vertical supports that form the inner structure of the railings that typically surrounded the porch. Like the porch posts, these balusters or spindles were typically turned although they were sometimes cut from flat-stock wood using a pattern. The “cut” balusters were referred to as “sawn” balusters.
The word baluster comes from from balaustra, “pomegranate flower” (from a resemblance to the swelling form of the half-open flower) and when multiplied as would be used to support a handrail on a porch they form a balustrade. The balusters on a porch were typically 32″ to 36″ in height and were al well most likely painted. Today’s technology allows for this component to be manufactured in non-wood materials for ease of maintenance-free enjoyment.
The first picture shows three types of ballusters manufactured by a wood shop in Canada. From left to right they would be a “turned” style baluster, a straight style baluster, and a aptly named a “pregnant” style or “pot belly” baluster.
Photo: Courtesy of Hoffmeyers Mill
The second photo is an example of a sawn style baluster on a Victorian porch.
Photo: Courtesy of American Eagle Construction
Typically the posts that supported the roof on a Victorian porch were structural necessities made of solid wood and turned on a lathe to produce a “turned” (round) post that had greater “decorative” appeal. A turned post was typically more attractive than a plain square post. Theses Victorian porch posts were often called Porch Columns or Decorative Posts. They would extend from the porch floor to the underside of the porch roof supporting beam. they were typically placed uniformly along the length of the porch.
If someone were renovating an existing or building a new porch, modern building codes dictate specific spans between posts whereas the Victorian’s more likely relied on the overall visual appeal to decide placement.
A turned porch Post includes three segments: the top square, the turning, and the base square.
The top square is the unturned portion at the top of the Post. Its finished length allowed for the decorative components of the Victorian porch to fit entirely on this flat area.
The base square is the unturned bottom portion of the post and was where the handrail was fastened.
Where the porch terminated against a wall, traditinally a “half-post” was used. Simply this was a turned post that had been split down the middle. The flat side would rest against the wall with the “turned” side providing the needed asthetic appeal fo rthe porch.
They were typically painted. All-white was a popular and common choice however it was not unusual to see the posts painted in more than one color as in the photo. Photo: Courtesy of Marcus Trevino
Today if someone is looking to replace existing posts in a restoration project or is building a reproduction of a porch from days gone by, they will find that this essential component will typically cost more than they expected. The advantage of building completely new is that an off-the-shelf style can be used as there is no need to match an existing design. If someone is restoring an original home and needs an exact reproduction of an original post they will find that there are places that will turn them, but they are very expensive. Today’s builder or renovator has far more choice as to the materials used in the production of the porch post. Wood is still available but maintenance free options such as vinyl, fiberglass, even aluminum are gaining popularity.
In doing my preliminary research into building another Victorian era structure, a gazebo, I was surprised to find that turned posts can easily be the most expensive single component. Eight regular square posts at 8 feet length would cost around $25 each, while the same posts turned will run me around $150 each. If by chance I desired a custom design or had to match an existing post I have been quoted as much as $300 each.