I think it’s time we brought back the front porch. For too long, our garages have been growing, while our porches have been shrinking. We insulate ourselves and our homes to keep the outside world out and the inside world in and we become more reclusive and less social in the process.
Even going back as late as the 70s and 80s in my childhood, we would play outside with the neighborhood kids until the sun went down. The neighbors all knew each other except for that one house that was inhabited by the family that never seemed to participate in anything.
Those were the odd people, the exception to the rule. The hideaways who were either too busy or too disinterested in being a part of the neighborhood. They lived here, but their lives were elsewhere it seemed. Now those couples who were once the exception have now become the rule.
Porches Not Decks
I love a good deck. In fact, I just put a new one on the back of my house. You may be asking, “What’s the difference, really?” Well, a deck is traditionally on the rear of the house, or at the very least, in a more private location meant for the enjoyment of the inhabitants and their invited guests.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but as our society has changed, we have become more private in a lot of ways. Sure, we’ll Instagram pics of last night’s delicious bread pudding and share every single emotion on Facebook, but when was the last time we just sat down and talked with our neighbors? I’d venture to guess it’s not as often as our parents and grandparents did.
A deck is an oasis where we go to get some fresh air and get away from the inside world, yes, but it’s really just an exterior version of the home it’s attached to. The front porch is a wholly different place and experience.
Why The Front Porch Matters
In historic architecture, the front was an important part of the house. It served as a transition between the public space of the sidewalk and the private space of the home’s interior. It was a buffer zone where we still felt safe to sit, but passerby could speak to us or even come into without it feeling intrusive.
The front porch also provided safe place from the snowy cold in the northern states to the blazing sun in the south. It was tempered version of the outdoors that was always more comfortable and protected to sit.
The front porch was originally designed to be sat upon. Unlike the fake porch on some tract housing today, there was room for chairs and actually people instead of just being a holding place for Halloween or Thanksgiving decorations.
The front porch may seem like just another piece of architecture whose time has passed, like the formal dining room. But I think it’s more important.
In these especially divisive times where we surround ourselves with people who regurgitate our own believes back into our faces, we have become closed off to new ideas. The front porch is so much more than a place to enjoy the weather. It really is the place that shows us that our differences are so small and petty, and that those differences don’t matter as much as we think they do.
“How does it do that?” you may ask.
From your front porch, you see people as they truly are, not just a status update supporting their candidate or political ideal. On the front porch, passersby are people with feelings and worth, not just a label like conservative or liberal, gay or straight, rich or poor, Christian or atheist. They have name, and that name is neighbor. We are all people, and we all contribute to the society we have built.
I may be a Christian, but I’d be a fool to think that I wouldn’t benefit from some knowledge or assistance from my atheist neighbor and vice versa. And just because the yard sign in my yard promotes a different candidate than the one down the street, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be at the ready with a cup of sugar and a helping hand for those folks too.
The front porch makes those differences seem more trivial and less relevant to our daily lives. Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones once said, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
It’s up to me to keep reading those books, but meeting those new people and letting them shape who I am? That’s something that the front porch does better than anything else, and that’s why we need to bring back the front porch.
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
8 thoughts on “Bring Back the Front Porch”
This is, especially now, a timely article. With the isolation and social distancing of COVID we use the front porch to maintain connection to neighbors and family. Our porch faces east with 40 year old shade trees.
It is a shaded comfortable spot in all but the worst weather. The wicker furniture stays out year round. Being non-smokers we have a place for those that do.
My wife’s mother (83) lives with us and she is encouraged to get some air year round.
Many people have told us the house hugs us when we visit. We know that starts with the porch.
Love this. We are working to restore the front porch on our 1921 craftsman, which I imagine used to have a wood floor but has since been converted to a concrete mass. We are not able to remove the concrete, so are planning to install tongue and groove wood flooring over the concrete on wood spacers. Not ideal, but the best option we have. We are planning on using douglas fir, but am having trouble figuring out how to properly prep the wood so it lasts the longest. We are in coastal central California, so weather is pretty mild. Do we need to do any additional prep to the wood (such as soak the boards in a borate solution) or just oil or paint all sides/ends before install for maximum protection? Pine is significantly cheaper than the fir, but the internet tells me it is potentially not as stable as fir and may eventually cup. Thoughts? I have had such a hard time finding good info as most tutorials appear to be for more extreme climates.
Our home has two front doors (built in 1904) because of county road changes. The beautiful front porch and door, were at one time facing the county road. Many years later, the road layout changed. Hence the front door now goes to “pasture.” Pretty cool. Wish we had photos of this with the road!
I can’t imagine a house without a porch. In the 1860’s Greek Revival home (our family home – still in the family) that I grew up in, we had two porches, one on the front, facing East, and one on the South side. The South one was a little more private, but anyone who stopped by knew to walk around to the side of the house, and they would find us there.
When my husband and I acquired the 1929 house we now live in (33 years ago), the first place I remember using was the front porch, where I sat and nursed our first baby, age 3 months. I think the porch chairs were the first items to be moved in.
By the time the third baby came along, we had the porch fixed up with a gate across the steps, and bamboo shades all around, plus seagrass mats. The toddlers could then play there, and we didn’t have to worry about them running off down the street. Any time we wished, the porch could be completely opened up.
When the weather gets cold, everything gets put away and it is like everyone else’s porch, but in the summer, it becomes an additional room on our house. We call it a visit to China. Don’t tell anyone, but I have a cot out there, and most nights, on into the Fall, I sleep there. Even though all our double-hung house windows are fully open, it is still different sleeping behind the bamboo porch screens. Better than camping out, I think. The bamboo discourages mosquitoes, too.
I really feel sorry for folks who live with air conditioning and don’t get to feel the air change during the night. It is so wonderful.
Hey, keep the fun posts coming! And stop by anytime.
I think this is a great post, Scott, and very timely given the current political environment. I think it also speaks to the Christian’s need to be in the world (but not of it), as it’s so easy to silo ourselves into Christian-exclusive social circles. While I appreciate the extra living space, the original front porch of our 1914 American Foursquare was enclosed in the 1960s. My wife and I often talk about how we’d like to have the front porch back again, so it may be something we consider down the line!
Great post, Scott! I remember my mom and our elderly neighbor bemoaning the fact that the neighbors didn’t keep in touch with each other, and THAT was more than 30 years ago! I also remember my dear, recently departed neighbor telling me how the 3 old ladies in the neighborhood would each sit, each on their own front porches, 2 side-by-side and one across the street, and conduct their visits “long distance”! I’m afraid things will never be the same, but we can try, right? Thanks again for your wonderful website!
We appreciate this post so much more than you know. One of the reasons we moved into our current neighborhood in Spokane, WA is because of something we saw in “the porch culture”. We live In a historic district, parts of which are a little run down, but overall has kept its historic appeal to live with your community in the front of the house!
We love that more people are outside than inside, we love that the same dog walkers pass our house every day (a fair amount we know their names), and know the mailman. Why? Because if you sit outside for any length of time, you can either be the weird family that sits and stares at people, or the warm friendly family that annoyingly waves and talks to everyone! As weird as people feel at first…its interesting how after two years, we are one of a few houses in the neighborhood that the kids (and my extension families) seem to hang out around. All because of that inviting buffer zone, our porch.
We love the porch life! It takes a little adjusting and intentionality, but it’s the easiest way to be engaged and present in your neighborhood, and when you think about it, you really never left the house!
One added note to this long comment: We all parent and raise our families slightly different so it’s completely appropriate and healthy to have some ground rules. And it will be necessary when people naturally are drawn to the only house that doesn’t scream “get off my lawn” 🙂
If anyone’s interested, we might be starting a blog about “the porch life” and ideas to get engaged in your neighborhood.
Great comment Joel! Very much agreed.