Saturday, May 8, 2010

Houses in My Neighborhood: The Front Porch

I'm amazed at the number of people in my neighborhood who totally ignore a treasure right under their noses.

I'm talking about the front porch.

The front porch is a buffer zone between the big, bad world outside and the comforts of home inside. It's where you stop and take a moment, metaphorically and physically, to gather yourself as you go in or out.

Even if you enter and exit your home through an attached garage or a side door, your front porch is still what faces the world. As such, the porch should be a welcoming spot. It should have a front door painted a color that makes you happy. It should have a welcome mat to stop the dirt from coming inside. It should have a functioning, handsome porch light. Even if it's not much bigger than a welcome mat, your porch should announce to the world, "Enter here! Come in!"

And, if you are lucky, your front porch should function like an outdoor room, with space to relax and watch the world pass by.

The front porch is the perfect place to sit at the end of a busy day, watching the light drain from the sky. It's an ideal place to while away a weekend afternoon with something good to read and something good to drink. It's the place you can hang out, watching the neighbors stroll by with their dogs and children, where you can be part of the scene but not in the middle of things.

A good front porch is a blessing.

Why then, do so many people neglect their porches?

Why do I see so many that look like this:

There's not a stick of furniture on that porch! Not a chair, nor a table, nor even a handsome potted plant. There's just a little cluster of frightened-looking, undersized and unrelated garden things huddled at the right-hand end:

Or look at this poor thing, below. It has two or three ugly terra-cotta pots, only one of which seems to be holding a measly little plant. It has two cheap plastic chairs with a plastic table stuck between them, and chair pads stuffed into seats that clearly weren't made for them. There's yards and yards of empty space on this porch:

And look at this place. The front porch on this house is bigger than my entire apartment when I first left college:

Yet the one, single thing on the porch is a lonely potted palm.

What a waste of an opportunity!

Even a tiny front porch can be an attractive place. Look at this one, below. It's not much bigger than its wicker chair and welcome mat, but look how the colors sing and the bright flag announces "This is it! enter here!":
This porch is a little bit bigger (but not much), with room for two wicker chairs, a welcome mat, and some potted plants. Yet everything--from well-chosen paint colors to comfy furniture to plantings that flank and emphasize the door--says, "This is a well-loved home! Come in!":

This is one of my favorite porches in the entire neighborhood (below). A clearly Victorian look, a tight color scheme of red/white/blue, a lot of comfortable seating, and terrific plantings make this home a knockout:

On the right side are two rocking chairs:

And on the left are a Victorian-style wicker chair and a wooden bench. Everything is perfectly executed planned out and supports the patriotic, gingerbread-y look of the house:

Wouldn't you love to be invited to spend an afternoon here, sipping something cool and eating something yummy? I sure would!

Alas, even when some homeowners attempt to decorate their porches, their efforts fall short. Like this:

It's a nice thought, to have the director's chair sort of be the same green as the front door (above). But the single chair is too flimsy and too small to carry the entire porch. A porch the size of the one above could easily accommodate two heftier chairs, or a two-person bench and another chair, not to mention a small table for drinks and such.

Here's a house that tried to get it right, with a park bench flanked by two chairs and some flower pots here and there. But the park bench is visually too spindly. It should be something beefier. (It's also splintery--a definite no-no!) The flanking chairs are no better, and they scream Cheap Chairs From the Drugstore. They're just not nice enough for first impressions. There are two nice concrete pots with something growing in them, but then there's also a green plastic pot right from the garden center.

Those weren't made to be shown off, people. Those are to carry your plant home until you can transfer it into something nicer. K?

Oh, this porch makes me want to cry! And then get busy decorating. These lucky people have a porch as long as some seagoing yachts, and yet it's under-decorated, with only two wicker chairs, a lone bench, and some Sparkletts bottles:

A porch this big and fantabulous can support two, or even three, groupings of furniture before it begins to look full. Picture big, fat painted wood chairs, a sturdy cocktail table or two, some sisal or indoor-outdoor throw rugs, and some huge plants in huge ceramic pots. Since it's a ranch house, imagine something ranch-themed on those big, blank walls, like a couple of woven horse blankets or a wooden yoke for oxen or some farm tools? It's just a blank canvas waiting to be filled in!

This pocket-sized front porch (below) is halfway there. It has a charming, multicolored rose clambering up the white woodwork. It has a really cute, built-in seat, like an outdoor inglenook. And each side of the porch is flanked with purple statice, a nice complement to the hot-colored roses:

To really pump up the porch's charm, however, I'd add a well-padded bench cushion in an indoor/outdoor fabric like Sunbrella. I'd put a big mirror or at least a white-painted, empty, ornate picture frame on the blank spot on the gray wall. And I'd buy some chunkier street numbers to replace those sort of flimsy ones.

Here's another almost-there porch. It's got a great color scheme and some very nicely sized, comfortable furniture. But the porch light and street numbers are undersized and should be upgraded. The holiday lights around the windows and shutters must go. And I'd think seriously about taking the plants out of those mismatched terra cotta pots and planting them in the dirt. Or, if not that, I'd replant them in four ceramic pots that relate better to the color scheme:

Here's another thing that baffles me: Why do people put their outdoor furniture in such odd places? I really doubt anybody is going to tromp through the dirt to get to this chair. If you sat there, you would be fighting the landscape light and the agapanthas for a place to put your feet!:

If you sat on this bench, you'd have nothing to protect your head, you wouldn't be in the shade, and the lack of anything substantial behind your head would probably make you feel like you were about to pitch backward into the flowerbed!:

Oh, lordy, this is one hot mess:

Outdoor furniture has come a long way since the plastic, stackable chair and the scary chaise that can pinch your fingers. And stylish, eye-catching furniture for your lawn and porch exists at every price point. Just look at these beauties.

A recycled-plastic two-seater:

Beautiful Parisian cafe chairs:

Vintage, lovingly restored porch gliders in high-impact, powder-coated paint colors:

Squiggly, solid-piece plastic chairs in candy-apple red:

These cheery numbers have a matching teensy table:

These ubiquitous motel chairs were an integral part of the American landscape in the mid-20th century:

Even wooden chairs in cheerful colors can go on a front porch, so long as they're protected from direct exposure to sunlight and moisture:

So, please, folks, show your front porch some love. Not everyone has a place as grand as this:

But your little bit of Heaven out front deserves some thought and attention. Just imagine how you could perk up your porch by starting with a cutie-pie chair like this:

Or a handsome, classic bench like this:

Or, for those of you with petite places, these wonderful folding cafe chairs and tables are made for you:

Then, add a potted plant or two, a couple of toss pillows, and break out the iced tea. I'll be right over!

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