The main purpose of a portico is to shelter guests from the elements as they stand on the doorstep. Beyond that utilitarian goal, however, a portico also offers the opportunity for self-expression. A well-designed portico complements the style of the house and adds a finished look. When done on a large scale, a portico can double as a cozy outdoor room, complete with a place to sit or gather.
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A common design for a portico is that of two open columns topped by a roof. The roof may be gabled, flat or arched, depending on the home's style. This type of portico is the least expensive and is also very versatile. Use Roman columns, for example, for a formal home, or rock columns for a rustic cabin or Craftsman bungalow.
An enclosed portico, such as a Tudor style porch, has solid walls for an intimate, sheltered porch. The portico is typically finished with the same materials as the home for a unified effect. Add lighting or windows to avoid a gloomy, oppressive feeling.
The balcony portico, a variation on the column portico, has a railing installed to the flat roof of the portico. This type of portico makes sense primarily when a window or door sits directly above the entrance door. Otherwise, a balcony portico is nothing more than window dressing.
A driveway portico extends well beyond the perimeters of most porticos to cover a circle driveway. These porticos work well with large, casual homes and provide shelter from heat and cold as guests emerge from their cars. A driveway portico requires more structural support than other types of porticos and usually requires the expertise of a contractor.
A garage portico is a decorative ledge or canopy that sits over the edge of the garage. Although a garage portico offers shelter and shade to motorists, its primary purpose is often a decorative one. Garage porticos may be a solid material, or even a trellis decorated with vines.