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Front Porches Enjoy Upswing in Popularity

February 27, 1992|JENNIFER LEVITZ

It's a warm Saturday morning on this residential La Costa street. Neighborhood children Chris and Bobby Rilling practice Rollerblade maneuvers in the driveway of the yellow Normandy-style house where they live. Parents Beverly and Larry Rilling sip coffee on their front porch swing, occasionally pausing to wave to neighbors or give the boys the thumbs-up sign.

In a time when most house-owners seek the privacy of back-yard decks, or 6-foot front-yard walls, the Rillings are enjoying the once familiar and much-loved feature of the family home: a real honest-to-goodness front porch.

"We sit out here all the time," Beverly said. "Neighbors come up to chat and watch their children playing. The kids skate and yell, 'mommy, look at me.' "

"In fact, I have gotten so used to having a front porch that when we built a cabin I had to add a porch and a porch swing," she said.

So popular is the Rillings' porch, said Beverly, that residents across the street are making plans to add a sitting area to their front yard.

The idea of a porch is one that many people remember with fondness from their childhood, but push aside when it comes to making outdoor expansions in their own home. For many, a porch seems too costly, or too small-townish for a '90s style home.

But having a traditional porch is not the only way to get that "part-of-the-street scene" feeling. Among Southern California variations on the theme are front courtyards, open-air room extensions and simply-defined front-yard seating areas.

"There are simple ways that people use their front yards to create a space in which they can languish," said Shawn Kelly, a landscape architect with Roger Deweese and Associates in Del Mar.

"A patio, for example, does not even have to involve building materials," he said

For a patio au naturel, Kelly suggests marking off the desired sitting area in the front yard with plants or lattice work. The ground within can then be swept and compacted to create a patio floor.

"Patio" furniture can include huge stones for sitting, a fixed table with movable chairs, garden seats or more comfortable backed chairs, he said.

Kelly said that while homeowners often use brick and tile to create patio floors, less expensive white concrete caps can also make an ideal floor for a heavy-use patio.

The caps, which are generally used for masonry walls, cost as little as 20 cents each for a 12-inch by 14-inch unit. "Many people think patios are a high-cost project," he said. "But I built a patio for myself out of cap units when I was a student."

For the do-it-yourself patio builder, Kelly recommends using throwaway wood to mark off the area. Next, he said, "fill the area with sand, compact and moisten it, and then lay the cap units down."

Often, plants, more than materials, define a patio, Kelly said.

"For that Nob Hill look, I usually recommend clipped hedges," he said. "Want the 'Out of Africa' look? Go for giant bird of paradise plants."

So enthusiastic about becoming more a part of his Cardiff neighborhood, landscape architect Ralph Stone actually "pulled his breakfast room into the front yard."

French doors from the white stucco house open directly onto an uncovered patio. Wall seats allow him a view of the neighborhood, and the neighborhood a view of him.

"I wanted to take advantage of my neighborhood and enjoy the outdoors at the same time," said Stone, principal architect at Ralph Stone and Associates in Solana Beach.

"People are always surprised when they come over," he said. "Everyone says, 'What a great idea, I never thought of adding on in my front yard.' "

Not only does a front yard outdoor room provide views to the street scene, but it "opens up" the house.

"The breakfast area looks larger from the inside, and the house looks larger from the outside," he said.

Stone said outdoor room extension can be simple, with concrete floors and no surrounding walls; or more elegant with a shade, and a continuation of floor tiles used inside the house.

"My family just thoroughly enjoys sitting out here," he said. "And I find it much more interesting than sitting in the back of my house."

To make the room look like a natural extension of the house, Stone suggests constructing the perimeter walls in a material similar to that of the house. The walls of his own outdoor room match the white stucco of his house.

Of course, some people like the idea of viewing the street scene, but aren't too crazy about being spotted by every neighbor who wants to chat.

This is where "revised" courtyards play a role, according to Todd Cure, principal landscape architect with Earth Sculpture Design in San Marcos.

Signs of traditional courtyards can be seen in many high-end neighborhoods: 5-foot tall walls, wrought-iron gates and ornate fountains.

But a much simpler style of courtyard can make the house more a part of the street scene while still allowing for some privacy, Cure said.

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