In praise of porches

My next-door neighbor recently told me that she pretty much fell in love with her house at first sight. Why? Because it had the front porch of her dreams. “I’ve always wanted a wraparound porch,” she confided.

I didn’t have a fixed idea of a dream home when my husband and I bought our place 19 years ago. There were lots of architectural styles I liked, from Victorian gingerbread to rustic log cabin. But in the end, I’m glad we chose our classic Pennsylvania farmhouse with its many extensions and add-ons—one of them a big front porch. It’s not wraparound, like the porch next door. But it’s roomy enough for entertaining and for sheltering our many houseplants on their summer sabbatical.

The porch is charmingly asymmetrical—there’s more lateral space in the portion on the living-room side. We have Adirondack chairs and a matching settee out there, along with my mother’s porch glider and a midcentury wire chair my husband dug out of a Brooklyn dumpster. It was a rusty wreck that cleaned up well.

On the other side, in front of the family room’s bay window, is a bench glider that a friend gave us years ago as a housewarming present and a comfy metal chair from the 1940s or ‘50s. The two sides of the porch get light at different times of day, so we move back and forth depending on whether we want sun or shade.

The suburban ranch house I grew up in had no porch, but my grandmother’s house did. I loved sitting out there with her when I was a girl. Grandma had a triple-decker house and the porch was at the second level, so it was like being in the box seats at the opera. We got a bird’s eye view of the street scene below while enjoying our shared privacy.

My porch is likewise elevated, due to the pitch of the site and the structure of the house, so it offers a sense of seclusion amid the activity on the street and nearby ball field. Perhaps because of the porch’s height, we aren’t too bothered by bugs. In the front gardens you’ll be dive-bombed by no-see-ums and mosquitoes. But on the porch, there’s only the occasional fly. This is good news on evenings when we take our dinner out there on trays.

Of course, every stick has two ends, and the other side of the dialectic of the porch is maintenance. The porch is overdue for painting, and I’ve nominated myself to get the project going.

We’ve always had a contrasting floor color—green, initially, and more recently a deep russet red. But this time, we’re going monochrome. We’ve chosen a nice khaki color just a shade darker than the house for the floor and handrails; spindles and columns will remain white.

I don’t work as fast as I used to and I take plenty of breaks, so I’m allowing myself the rest of the summer to finish the front porch, a smaller back porch and the side-door landing. First task: Buy paint.



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