Jim Caruk Builds A Porch By Any Other Name

Who knew there were so many names for what most of us think of simply as a porch?  There's 'piazza', 'lanai', 'veranda' - even 'gallery' or 'portico'.  Regardless what you call it, your contractor can build it to your personal specifications (following local building codes, that is)! 


A porch can be a homeowner's private paradise.

Photo courtesy of Theresa Kowall-Shipp


No matter the name, the function of a porch is essentially the same and, if designed and executed well, this can provide not only an attractive addition to a home but, more importantly, outdoor living space!  The key to designing a porch or piazza is for the outdoor space to include some privacy; it should be a space where the homeowners can lounge, dine alfresco, and entertian, but also enjoy private moments. 

When celebrity builder Jim Caruk took on a porch project in the east end of Toronto, Ontario some years back, he was in the process of shooting his HGTV Canada series Builder Boss.  For him, as a both a builder and a TV personality, the scheduling was less than perfect.  His solution was to include the porch project as one of the episodes on Builder Boss; that’s where the learning curve began for Jim and his team.  Yes, they've built dozens of homes from the ground up, and fully renovated more spaces than Jim can remember, but this particular porch project proved to be a challenge when it came to the idea of what a porch - or should I say piazza - is or could be. 



Photo courtesy of Theresa Kowall-Shipp


The homeowner had worked with the original architect to create a design for a two-storey rear porch. She had fallen in love with the idea of a private outdoor space that spans length of a home when visiting Charleston, South Carolina.  (This style of porch is called a piazza in Charleston, and also in New England.)

But the design she was hoping for also had a touch of Canadiana. She combined the Charleston inspiration with the influence of homes that caught her attention in picturesque Prince Edward Island; in particular, she adored the stunningly symmetrical Georgian designs common in the area during the 1800s. She was a particular fan of PEI’s Government House (photo below), also referred to as Fanningbank, which is the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Prince Edward Island as well as where members of the Canadian Royal Family and visiting foreign dignitaries often stay while in Charlottetown. The property, which was designed by Yorkshire architect Isaac Smith and constructed between 1832 and 1834, is in the Georgian architectural style with echoes of the Palladian tradition, and features a main floor porch that wraps almost entirely around the building. For the homeowner, having a covered outdoor space like this was her dream, but for Jim Caruk and his team, constructing a piazza like that was a significant challenge.



Photo credit:  Wikimedia Commons


Most importantly, the outdoor living space had to serve both floors of the home. Typical to a piazza design, the porch would run the full length of the house and be wide enough to accommodate gracious outdoor living, with multiple doors leading from the home to the porch and stairs to the garden wide enough to be a statement in themselves. 

Building in Canada is very different than building in the southern US.  In Canada, structures need to be designed and built to stand up to the ever-changing elements. The country’s weather runs the gamut from rainforest-like wet to temperatures ranging from freezing to boiling!  But neither Caruk nor the homeowner was interested in compromising style for function.

The real sense of style, that old world charm that the client was looking for, came with the finishing. As Caruk indicated at the time, the difference was in the finish carpentry. He assigned one of his finish carpenters the task of cladding the pillars using composite lumber. The technique of beaded recessed panel moulding was done by hand using weather-resistant composite lumber by a craftsman who learned his trade in Russia through the apprenticeship system. The standards could not have been higher if it were inside a multi-million-dollar home. 



A porch can be a homeowner's private paradise.

Photo courtesy of Theresa Kowall-Shipp


The decking on the main floor was a composite deck material that mimics real wood, but it doesn't require maintenance. It was the material chose for the upper storey that was a bit of a surprise;  Duradek is reminiscent of old-world linoleum but made for outside use. The vinyl sheet membrane is waterproof and guarantees a dry space below, making sure that the lower level of the piazza is comfortable rain or shine. Along with the aluminium pickets that frame in the porch, the deck materials and the pillars create an outdoor living area equally suited to quiet solitary afternoons with a book and a glass of wine or entertaining on a grand scale. The homeowner tells us that she has hosted everything from tea parties to BBQs for 80 with the piazza design serving her well!



A porch can be a homeowner's private paradise.

Photo courtesy of Theresa Kowall-Shipp



Some of the design elements added by the homeowner that work particularly well include treating the piazza just as though it were an extension of the inside of the home. The space has been divided up into a seating area (living room) and a dining and cooking area with the BBQ conveniently located at one end of the piazza right off the kitchen. 

The accessories create a cosy resort-like feeling with full-length curtains at either end of the porch adding to the feeling of privacy. This piazza is like having a cottage or a resort right outside your back door.  Kudos to Caruk and his team for bringing this homeowner’s vision to life, even if he still says 'porch' when she says 'piazza'. 


For more information on Jim Caruk and his work have a look at Caruk-Hall, Custom Home Building and Renovations.


For more on indoor and outdoor living have a look at Country House In Lanaudière, Quebec

For another look at a traditional porch, you might enjoy A Journey Through Vancouver’s Heritage Homes

If you don’t have a porch, but perhaps a rooftop deck, then have a look at Heaven Above In Queen West Toronto

And check out Composite Decks By Canada’s TruNorth.



Theresa Kowall-Shipp is a TV producer, director and writer.  Her interest in home design grew from exposure to her family’s construction and architectural woodworking firm and producing or directing dozens of hours of design TV. 

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