by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
Decks, porches, balconies, verandas and patios are outdoor architectural elements that are often confused with one another. An explanation of their intended use, history and design allow for useful distinctions, although a certain degree of exception and overlap is unavoidable.
A deck is a large, raised wooden floor attached to the back of a house and contained by a perimeter railing for safety. Decks are rarely covered, and usually have a rough or informal look that is not integrated with the rest of the house's design. They are typically intended to be locations for large outdoor social gatherings, such as barbecues and birthday parties. Access to the deck may be from the ground through a stairway, or from the house through a back door.
- The word “deck,” in this context, is generalized from decks on a ship.
- The word “deck” originates from the Middle Low German word verdeck, meaning "covering."
- The first commercial boardwalk in the United States, which is considered a deck, was built in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
A porch is a wooden structure that forms a covered entrance to a doorway at ground level. A porch is typically located at the front of the house.
- Porches are often used as ante-rooms where muddy or wet clothes can be shed before entering the house.
- The word “porch” originates from the Latin word porta, which means “gate” or “entrance.”
- While many houses in the southern United States, as well as Victorian-style houses, have large porches suitable for social gatherings, most modern porches are too small for comfortable social use, and merely add to the visual appeal of the building.
- Porches are typically integrated with the house's architecture by using similar design elements.
A balcony is a platform that protrudes from the wall of an upper floor of a building and is enclosed by a railing. Balconies are often highly decorative, especially in wealthy or scenic areas. They are not designed as social areas but, rather, add an outdoor ambiance to the indoors.
- In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet famously courted Romeo from her balcony. The small balcony design typically associated with that scene is often referred to as a “Juliet balcony.”
- Balconies can be large enough to resemble decks, but they do not provide access to the ground.
- "Balcony" originates from the Italian word balcone.
- Balconies can be made from wood, iron, stone, and many other masonry materials.
A veranda is a long, roofed, open gallery built around a central structure and supported by pillars. Verandahs are often long enough to extend around the front and the sides of a structure. Their origins are uncertain, but they are known to be a hybrid of East Indian and European styles. The purpose of the verandah is social, although in a more relaxing, everyday sense than is the case of a deck or patio.
- "Verandah" is alternately spelled “veranda.”
- Verandah appears in Hindi and several other native Indian languages, although it appears to be an adaptation of the Portuguese and Spanish baranda.
- Australia and New Zealand have their own unique style of verandah. Some verandahs in these countries are roof-like structures that surround commercial buildings, often on every floor. Their purpose is to provide protection from the sun.
A patio is typically a paved, roofless surface adjoining a residence that is generally intended for dining and recreation. These open-air living spaces are at ground level and are usually made from cement, stone, slate, or a combination of these materials.
- "Patio" originates from the latin word patere, meaning “to lie open.”
- “Patio” is Spanish for “backyard” or “back garden.”
- In Australia, a patio often refers to any kind of outdoor verandah or balcony.