Porches make for the perfect gathering spot
Before the advent of social media and smartphones, a porch served as a place for socialization. People would stroll through the neighborhood after dinner and visit with neighbors taking in the evening from their front porch, trading stories about their days while enjoying a mild summer’s eve or a crisp fall night.
While nightly porch talk may be a thing of the past, a porch still exhibits a certain neighborliness — a welcoming facade that gives passersby a glimpse into the home and the lives of its inhabitants. It’s a link between two domains — public and private — and softens the passage from interior comforts to the world outside.
“A porch is friendly,” says architect Leslie Saul. “It reaches out to nature. It’s a transition space between your home and the wild outdoors.”
And while a porch doesn’t have to be fancy to serve its purpose, there are plenty of ways to make it a true extension of your home while allowing the natural world to blend in.
Add elements of nature
A porch must hold up to rain, sleet, snow, and ice — especially in New England — so using moisture-resistant materials is a must.
Saul, who as founder and president of architecture and design firm Leslie Saul & Associates in Cambridge, Mass., is familiar with the region’s unforgiving weather patterns, and recommends using flooring materials like slate and ipe, a durable Brazilian wood similar in appearance to mahogany.
Not only will these sturdy elements withstand snowstorms, torrential downpours, and hazy, humid summers, they “build on that concept of bringing the outside in,” Saul says.
Using stone accents is another way to pay homage to Connecticut’s landscape. Joshua Smith, an interior designer who splits his time between Litchfield County and New York City, points out that the state is famous for its gorgeous stone walls. If you have access to natural stone deposits, he suggests leaving the bricks behind and using foraged stones for architectural elements like fireplaces.
“This special touch will tie in the tones and textures of the natural surroundings and create a cohesively blended setting,” Smith says.
A three-season affair
If you want to enjoy your porch for at least three seasons of the year, a fireplace will certainly help.
“East Coast mornings and evenings can get cool, and a fireplace is perfect for warming the soul and creating magical moments,” Smith says.
A screened-in porch makes humid summer nights more bearable — no bugs — and affords the opportunity to swap the screens for storm doors and windows during colder months. Don’t forget to include a ceiling fan so you can enjoy your porch on hot and hazy summer days.
And you’ll want to create “zones” in a screened-in porch to savor each moment of fall, spring, and summer, Smith recommends. He recently worked on a porch that featured a zone for outdoor dining and entertaining, a homey living area made for lounging around post-swim, and a spot for rocking chairs, ideal gazing at the sunset and taking in the vistas of the changing seasons.
Let there be light
Smith suggests leaving breezeways unobstructed and raising the ceilings to let in natural light and fresh air.
Skylights amplify the view while letting in soft, filtered light, Saul adds. Between skylights, screens, and storm windows, the porch becomes a functional space where you can tackle your to-do list while appreciating your surroundings. Adding outlets has been a popular request for porches lately, Saul says: “People love to be out even when they’re working. It’s a space people want to hang out in, and we need to accommodate that.”
She’s even installed a TV in a porch. It’s the best of both worlds: You can enjoy your shows and your sports without forsaking the view.
Another modern ask in porch design is lighting. “[In the past], we didn’t really think about [lighting],” Saul says. Now it’s not uncommon to incorporate pendant lights, sconces, and uplighting for both function and beauty.
Smith concurs: Lighting can be especially stunning if the porch features a fireplace.
“To create a beautiful ambiance once the sun has set, add lighting at all levels by combining lamps, sconces, lanterns, and spots to illuminate the fireplace,” he says.
Smith adds that ambient music can serve as the perfect accompaniment to Mother Nature’s own symphony. If your porch is equipped with outlets, install Bluetooth-enabled speakers to fill the space with your favorite melodies or amp up an evening of entertaining.
A porch may technically be an outdoor space, but that doesn’t mean you should forego your sense of interior style.
“Choose furniture with patina, so that a little extra weathering from the elements will only add to the charm,” says Smith. He also suggests painting or staining the floors to exude warmth; bringing in potted plants, trays, books, and candles; and baskets with extra blankets and pillows to turn the space into an “irresistible retreat.”
Rugs can be tricky as they are prone to fading, and you will need to consider how they hold up to mildew and moisture.
Shades or curtains can serve two purposes: To create privacy when you want it, and to cut down on sun glare when you need it. Billowing curtains let the outdoors in while maintaining solitude, as do woven wood shades, Saul says.
If all this porch talk has you longing for one of your own — or you’ve decided it’s time for an upgrade — Saul has a few pointers to consider.
Pick out the location: Will it be right out front? Off to the side? And think about how you’ll use your porch. Will you serve dinner out there, perhaps make it an extension of your living room or home office?
These two decisions will help you settle on the scope of your project — and the right budget — that will result in a porch that suits your needs … and maybe a few wants.