June 2 2011 12:00 AM

201 Lathrop St., Lansing


Property: 201 Lathrop St., Lansing

Owner: Jennifer Grau and John Ruge

Assessed value: $30,700

Memorial Day marks the unofficial
beginning of summer — the best time of year to enjoy a truly American
architectural form: the front porch. The front porch was popularized
during the century following the Civil War. Porches are an outside room,
an extension of the house where people congregate and interact with
passersby. Porches promote community and are an invaluable feature of
Lansing, particularly the east side neighborhoods where porches are the
most prolific.

East side resident Jennie Grau feels
fortunate to live in a 2012 centennial house at 201 Lathrop St. that
features an ample front porch. She is once again enjoying that privilege
after the porch was damaged beyond repair last summer when a car
crashed into it. The newly reconstructed porch was completed this week
and is a near replica of the original with some modifications to
accommodate modern building codes.

The new porch that fits flawlessly with
the overall aesthetic of the house is a testament to Grau’s
determination and her builder’s — Carleen Davis, owner of Grace at Home —
commitment to superior craftsmanship. As a house with its front porch
removed can easily become a neighborhood eyesore, a house with a
beautiful porch like 201 Lathrop is an attractive piece of eye candy. 

Front porches fell out of favor following World War II. Post-war south Lansing and much of East Lansing contain tudor-, colonial- and ranch-style architecture that rarely includes a front porch.

Many houses in pre-war neighborhoods had a front porch but at one time, but for one reason or another — expense, maintenance — it was removed. Porch removal is more common than you might think. Drive down any street in one of the east side neighborhoods — I’d venture to say only about 70 percent of homes have a front porch. At one time, nearly all of them would have had a porch.

Porches today, particularly on an early 20th-century house, are rarely the original. Many have been modified over the years due to material availability and building codes. Reconstructing a porch, like the one at 201 Lathrop, is a great opportunity to correct architectural details such as columns, balustrades and sprindels that aren’t in keeping with the original aesthetic of the building. Prior to the porch collapse at 201 Lathrop, the balustrades didn’t quite fit the original architecture of the house. The porch reconstruction allowed the opportunity to replace the balustrades with better suited ones.

Porch reconstruction can be incredibly rewarding and challenging. According to Davis, one of the greatest challenges at the 201 Lathrop project was working with modern building codes. Many of the original details of the porch are no longer available in the same materials as stock products in today’s modern home improvement stores and required custom design with results worth the extra time and expense.

The front porch has gained popularity in recent years and is experiencing a resurgence — both the reconstruction of porches on existing buildings and new construction. Common errors are building a porch that is either functional but not aesthetically pleasing or aesthetically pleasing but not functional. A functional porch is at least six-feet deep. Anything less than that is too narrow to allow for chairs and people to fit comfortably. A great porch is proportional to the overall building and is typically between a range of eight to 10 feet. 201 Lathrop is a perfect balance of aesthetics and function.