front porches

The front porch, that shaded darling of New Urbanism. Decompression chamber and threshold between the kick-you-in-the-shins workaday world and the sanctity of home. Preferred lookout post for hard-working dogs.


The porch – as an intermediate space, even a sphere of ‘civil society’ – was the symbolic and practical place where we learned that there is not, strictly speaking, a total separation between the public and private worlds. Our actions in private are not merely ‘private,’ but have, in toto, profound public implications.” Front Porch Republic

Reasons why I rarely sit on my porch:
1) Our porch faces a gloomy north.
(However, I don’t see my neighbors on the opposite side of the street, who face sunny south, using theirs much either.)
2) My porch was built when horses still clopped down the street but now overlooks rows of parked cars or, alternatively, cars whizzing by at curse-inducing speeds. Not much enticement in either case to sit for a spell.
3) Who sits for long anymore unless it’s in front of a screen?

Barry Berkus of B3 Architects and Berkus Design Studio in Santa Barbara: “New urbanism has been promoted as the great answer to housing needs and urban sprawl. But it’s not for everyone. Before air conditioning, there were reasons for front porches. People in summer would sit on porches until the house cooled down. That’s not the way people live today.”

John McIlwain, senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute: “Expect future new urbanism projects to include more rental, high-rises and open spaces, but fewer single-family homes.” (Chicago Tribune, “New Urbanism: Old-fashioned design in for long run,” 4/1/12.)

So is a porch a useless, anachronistic waste of space? Not at all. Maybe people have lost the knack for porch life, but cats, dogs, and plants haven’t. For plants, the shadier aspect the better, to keep colors vivid as long as possible on ephemeral spring bulbs like Dutch iris brought out for display at peak bloom.




And I’ve noticed a definite correlation between the number of pots on the porch and the amount of time I want to spend there.

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6 Responses to front porches

  1. I wish we had a true front porch, ours is the kind which exists only to get you to the front door. Two steps and a landing. Of course that hasn’t prevented me from cramming a container or two onto it.

  2. hoov says:

    We don’t have a porch to speak of either, just a chair under the trees by the front door, but it gives me a place to collapse when exhausted and hot from gardening. Cuddles likes to hang out there and watch for the boy (dog) across the street.

  3. shirley says:

    Hey Denise, interesting thoughts here. The only time we sit of out front is when the 4th of July parade goes by the house. BTW, have you tried growing Hermodactylus tuberosus the snake head iris? It’s a Mediterranean species with amazing black & green flowers, I think you’d like it.

  4. Denise says:

    Loree, I like the way our porch cools the front of the house — but not a concern for you in Portland!
    Hoov, sounds like you’ve been working way too hard!
    Shirley, the snake head iris is definitely on my radar. Thanks for reminding me.

  5. Les says:

    Most of the houses in my neighborhood were built in the era when electricity was still relatively new, so no AC, and generous front porches are the norm. Most still use them to some extent for sitting and enjoying the cooler weather, but once high summer gets here everyone is inside. One quirck of many houses here, including ours, is a second floor sleeping porch over the front porch. It is more enclosed but had screened windows on three sides and is long and narrow so that a series of single beds or cots could be accomodated. These days nearly all of them have been converted into extra indoor space, ours is my wife’s office and craft room.

  6. Denise says:

    Les, a screened-in sleeping porch is an idea that needs reviving. What a grand summer night’s sleep that would be.

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