After falling out of vogue, the front porch is back in style
By Sara Bruskin
The happy family reclining in rockers on the front porch may seem like a dated, Rockwellian image of the quaint home life—the kind that was presumed extinct for a while. Fortunately, we can’t attribute that demise to crumbling family values, because the front porch itself fell out of vogue in the 1950s and ’60s, when increasing traffic made street views less desirable, and air conditioning and television drew people indoors.
Although nudged into temporary obscurity, front porches saw resurgence in the ’80s and ’90s. Mark S. Quéripel, principal architect of Boulder’s MQ Architecture & Design, says that the once-defunct home addition “has made a comeback in today’s home designs.”
It isn’t just the traditional Victorian, Craftsman or farmhouse-style homes that feature them, either, Quéripel says. “Many of the designs today are hybrids of traditional styles; they express the simpler detailing and cleaner lines of their more contemporary counterparts. Even the mid-century modern home designs that are so popular today reflect this ‘contemporizing’ of the style,” he says. “In the vast majority of these various designs, a front porch will be a major part of the home’s entry.”
As homeowners embrace the rocking chair’s natural habitat once again, houses built during the porch-less years frequently come up wanting. Boulder resident Peggy Doyle is among those who were left pining for the nostalgic comfort of a front porch. “I always grew up with a front porch,” says the Pennsylvania native, “from my childhood to our last house in Philly before we moved here. It’s a great place to sit and visit with neighbors as they pass by. It’s a noncommittal social scenario, just a quick wave hello or ‘Come, sit, have a glass of wine!’”
Despite the fond memories and social opportunities that come with a front porch, the Doyles ended up buying a house without one. “It seemed as if a good number of houses that we were interested in, for price and location, didn’t have front porches here in Boulder. So we really didn’t have a choice.”
Rather than miss out on the neighborly space, Doyle came up with a creative solution by turning part of her front walkway into a sitting area. “I never really thought about using the area to the side of our driveway as a porch,” she says, “but grabbing an old beat-up Adirondack chair out of our neighbor’s trash gave me a start with a great chair, and I added on from there. The walk had plenty of room, so I bought a bench, too, since having just one chair is not very inviting.”
After Doyle painted the chair a cheery blue and added a few potted plants for ambience, she had an alternative to her more closed-off backyard. “We have a back deck,” she notes, “but it’s a very small, private backyard. It’s nice, but the front area is just an additional sitting area. My husband and I like to have a place to sit out front as we get our bikes out of the garage and put on our shoes and helmets to get ready for a ride. All our neighbors are welcome to come and sit here, too, whether we’re there or not.”
For others who miss their childhood porches, creating a makeshift one can be fairly simple: patio furniture, folding chairs, hammocks, umbrellas and other items can create a communal gathering area in front of a home. If lawn is your only option out front, set down a different surface to define the space—flagstones, gravel, bricks or even a pebble mosaic, if you’re extra ambitious. Doyle used indoor/outdoor area rugs in her porch space.
Just be careful not to make your porch area too enviable. “My neighbor who had the chair in his trash pranked me and stole the Adirondack chair back and put it in front of his house. They can borrow it, but they can’t have it back!” Doyle jokes.
Since both humorous and actual thievery are risks for items in the front of a house, don’t use furniture that’s dear to you—or take security precautions if you do. Thrift stores are great places to find furniture without investing too much money, so you won’t be aghast if something does disappear.
However you assemble it, a faux porch can be an inviting space for family, friends and neighbors. “Beckett, the 9-year-old next door, uses our Adirondack chair the most, and we’re happy he does,” Doyle says. “Both my husband and I have fun conversations with him all the time.”