I’m not exactly outdoorsy. In fact, I’ve been known to say I don’t really like outside. I don’t consider this one of my finer qualities; I’m actually quite ashamed of it. But when I am outside I often find “too” words popping to mind. Too hot. Too cold. Too sticky. Too buggy. Too windy. All of that changed when I bought a house with a front porch.
Nearly every house in my neighborhood has a front porch, and a few have ones that wrap around the side as well. I’ve never lived in a house with a front porch before, and while I found it charming when I saw the house for the first time, it wasn’t a selling point. Its biggest attribute, as far as I could see, was sheltering people who were standing at the front door fumbling with keys and bags (me) and those who are waiting to be let in (everyone else). Also, packages would not be left in the elements.
While those things did turn out to be true (and handy), they are not even the icing on the cake. They are more like the plate a three-layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting sits upon, because having a front porch is delicious, though it took me a while to realize it. The swing lured me out there first. I was waiting for one of my boys to be dropped home and took a book out to wait. I discovered that few things are better than sitting in a porch swing, sipping a cool drink and pushing the ground gently with your toe. It probably trips some infantile trigger of rocking chairs or cradles. Porch swings are undeniably soothing. With some practice, I found I could lie on my swing and push the chain that holds it with my foot, keeping the rhythm going while I read. Which is code for until I fall asleep.
The porch provides shelter in a different way than the house. It’s still private—I notice that strangers hesitate on the walk and don’t step up until invited—but it’s open to the neighborhood. I can hear the birds in the tree on the east end and the rustle of squirrels in the dry leaves that should have been cleaned out at the start of the season. I hear, too, husbands and wives negotiating chores and errands and the hum of mowers and the clip of trimmers.
Even in the worst heat, the front porch is cool. On the stickiest day, there seems to be a breeze. It may be the thick stone walls that serve as fortress as well as bar and bench. It is the perfect spot for friends. Four vintage wicker chairs discovered at a tag sale for $100 provide easy spots to stay and sip, but with the swing and the wall and garden seats and chairs dragged out from the house, well, it’s fit for a party. And I do like outdoor parties.
Go Outside and Play
One of the things that made my porch inviting was a little décor. I have to say, sometimes I think things go over the top in this area. It’s still outside after all. But after I found my wicker porch chairs, I realized that the space, which was entirely stone and concrete, needed softening. My friend and landscape designer Patrick Kappelmann suggested a vintage urn filled with annuals by the stairs, a rug and hanging ferns, which provided a little more privacy and some much needed green. It’s not outside pretending to be inside, but it’s much more comfortable.
Pull Up a Seat
You want people to feel as if they can sit and stay a while. One of my favorite outdoor images is a Slim Aarons’ picture of a pool deck scattered about with colorful cushions. I love old cast-iron and aluminum chairs and tables with their faux bamboo and trellis designs. Need something up-to-date? Sleek and simple outdoor furniture is available in every price range. I picked up some great modern tables at Ikea. Do keep the feel consistent with what’s happening in the house. It’s outside, but it’s still the same house and the same owner.
It is nice to have some sort of rug to define the space. I’ve actually seen this concept created in rock or stone on patios and it’s quite winning. Indoor/outdoor rugs are available in nearly any color or pattern. As I said, I like outside to feel like outside. I chose a very inexpensive natural grass rug from World Market for my porch. The idea was to replace it every year, but—as it’s covered—it’s holding up well for year two.
Bartender, Fix Me a Drink
Nothing interrupts the pleasant idyll of drinks outside more than having to walk all the way into the house to refresh a cocktail. You don’t need an outdoor refrigerator or sink to set up a bar. (Though it’s swell if you have one.) Large aluminum buckets, Lucite tubs and colorful trays hold ice, chill bottles and offer snacks with style and durability. Don’t overthink it. Being outside is more relaxed, anyway. Flatware standing at the ready in glazed pottery is charming.