A portico is an area with a roof by the front door of a home. Either columned or roof-only, porticos are places to prepare for going out or coming in from the elements. The roof allows one to open an umbrella before stepping into the rain. It gives a guest a place to brush off the snow from their coat before entering the house.
Porches and porticos are generally thought of as two different things. “Porches” are attached outdoor rooms for serving lemonade to guests while gently rocking away a fine summer’s day. A portico is a spot to pause that allows for transitioning from outdoors to indoors or vice versa.
Columns and a roof are the typical design elements of a portico. The Greek and Roman classical architecture dominates the portico look, but there are many variations within that aesthetic. Roof-only porticos (without columns) are usually installed over side doors. Porticos are meant to reflect the lines of the home’s roof, using similar materials and the same triangular or rounded roofs (or “rooves” – both spellings are correct according to Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary). Matching the smaller portico roof to the home is an important way to blend it in with the house’s overall appearance.
A portico also adds architectural interest to the home and sometimes is meant to increase the grandeur of a home’s entrance. The most world-famous portico in the United States has to be the North Portico of The White House. The White House Museum calls it the “President’s front door.” http://www.whitehousemuseum.org/floor1/north-portico.htm
Perhaps the most-recognized portico in the US is at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s famed residence in Virginia. Don’t remember what the West Portico looks like? Sort through your loose change. The West Portico Steps are depicted on the backside of a nickel coin.
Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s Virginia estate, has a grand portico of 8 columns that looms 2 stories overhead. The portico is on the rear of the house and it opens up to lovely wide views of the Potomac River. Another portico at Mt. Vernon acts as a connector between the home and the separate kitchen building (imagine – an entirely separate building for a kitchen!).
Your portico need not attach an outbuilding to your house nor be as breath-taking as the ones at these grand estates. Porticos are meant for practical purposes, after all. The best way to get the most out of your portico is to ensure the entry way is clear and is well-lit. Partially or fully enclosed (one or more sides of the area the roof covers has a wall) porticos can block the sun too much, and a dark portico can seem gloomy and foreboding at night. Next, make sure the footing is sound, even in inclement weather. Pavers with a bit of texture for shoes to grip are a good idea. Work with your contractor to find a portico that’s perfect for that place you call home.