I have porch envy. It’s not on a par with my garage envy, and doesn’t come close to my boathouse envy, but it is real.
For someone with porch envy, Southeast Florida is an OK place to live, because front porches are few and far between down there. In short, there is not much to be envious about.
Drop me practically anywhere else in the country, however, and my head spins at all the gloriously welcoming front porches to be seen. Color me green.
My porch envy is usually strong enough that I can hardly drive through the older sections of a town without turning my head this way and that as I ogle the offerings. I have actually been honked at for driving too slowly. And if I don’t get a good enough look the first time I’ll swing around the block again.
I’ve been known to park the car and take a walk if I see a whole block of old houses with their porches, not one of them the same, all proudly lined up along the sidewalk.
I’m not talking about a bit of a stoop, or a platform outside a door that’s barely big enough to hold a welcome mat.
I’m talking about a grand space, the width of the house, better if wrapped around a corner, covered with a roof and big enough to hold a few rockers, maybe a couch and even a swing.
It’s a sturdy, roomy transition from inside to outside, and just close enough to the sidewalk that you can chat with passersby and they can feel it’s OK to maybe slow down and visit, or maybe even sit down for a spell.
And the best ones are at a slightly higher elevation than the street, where the view from a rocking chair is better and the cars and other vehicles look less menacing.
In short, the kind of porch that stupidly went out of fashion for a while in the US. Can you believe it?
Yes, beginning in the 1840’s, the good old fashioned American porch reigned supreme for 100 years. They were a respite from the heat of the inside of the house, a safe social bridge or shared space between outside and inside for family, friends and acquaintances and a link to nature. Architects of the day loved them. They were the TV room or family room of the time. A link between the private inside and the public outside, they played a huge role in community building, offering neighbors a good opportunity to see and be seen and get to know one another.
But after World War II the porch went out of fashion. We simply stopped building them.
The wide, welcoming platform that was our link between the outside world and the inside world had no place in architecture anymore. Automobiles and suburbanization took hold. People rarely walked anymore. There weren’t even sidewalks in some areas. Air conditioning and television pulled folks inside and kept them there. Those who wanted outdoor spaces settled for ‘patios,’ nearly always at the back of the house.
Many of our postwar houses even allowed us to drive into the garage and go into the house without even using the front door. By and large we stopped getting to know our neighbors. Yes, we waved maybe, chatted over the fence perhaps and in some instances took it further, but that handy outdoor space, the porch, where we could invite someone you might not know all that well to come sit without actually inviting them inside, was gone. That was an important social lubricant. Having a porch meant you could invite someone to come sit without feeling you’ve been too forward, as bringing them inside might appear, and the other person, in the same fashion, could feel more comfortable in that outdoor space than they might feel inside the house.
Along about the 1980’s, fortunately, things began to change. We began to realize just how important those front porches were to our society and they started sprouting up here and there. The idea of building walkable cities sprang up too. The New Urbanism movement in architecture favored porches and some new, planned communities, Seaside, Florida, for one, actually required them.
I am happy to see porches making a comeback. Census data show that nearly two-thirds of new homes built in 2011 had porches, an upward trend that’s been going on since the early ‘90’s.
Meanwhile, I will continue roaming through towns large and small, eying the porches they offer.
When I see a really good one, this thought is always at the forefront: “I’d like to sit there one afternoon.”
Below are some of the nicer ones I’ve encountered.