Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The return of the front porch

By Dick Hirsch

For years the front porch was virtually absent from contemporary home design, supplanted by the patio or the deck which were located far from public scrutiny in the seclusion provided by the backyard.

But I sense things are changing. I drove down our old street a few days ago and found that front porches of various configurations and sizes had blossomed on a number of homes. When we left about 20 years ago there was not a single front porch. Each home did have a concrete stoop with a wrought iron railing and three steps leading to the front door. Although sometimes children might sit there for a brief interlude, the stoop was merely an entry point, a passage leading from ground level to the house. The stoop never contributed any style to the appearance of the building. A front porch, however, creates additional living space and provides more opportunities for observation and socialization.

The front porch began to fade from construction plans during the suburban building boom of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. It is difficult to cite a specific reason; there were many contributing factors. Budget constraints would surely be one; it cost more to frame and a build porch than to have a stoop.

A more compelling reason may have been the desire for privacy. The new homeowners focused their attention on the backyard instead of the front. Relaxing moments were spent there. Homeowners might at first place chairs on the lawn and later decide to add a patio or deck, with direct access from the house. Thus was created a back porch, a place removed from the mainstream, where one could be undisturbed.

While the front porch encouraged casual contact among neighbors and passing strollers, the back patios or decks, being out of sight, emphasized isolation. The front porch seemed to provide an open invitation to passersby from those sitting there to exchange a few words and perhaps be invited to stop and take a seat on the porch. It was a seasonal living room, an especially welcoming place during hot, humid weather. Another factor contributing to the demise of the front porch may have been the availability of home air-conditioning.

I haven’t had much experience with front porches and maybe that is why I’ve always been intrigued by them. When I was very young my grandmother lived in an upper flat on a block long street on the west side and one of the attractions of a visit there was a chance to sit on her second floor front porch and look down on the passing scene. In addition to that, until recently I had just two specific memories of porches I sat upon. One is at the Hotel Lenhart in Bemus Point on Lake Chautauqua, where the rocking chairs on the big porch are all painted in bright primary colors. The other is in New Jersey where my college roommate lived in an historic home with one of those great wraparound front porches, the kind that encompass the entire front of the building as well as most of one side. When I visited he was well equipped with rockers and, as old grads we rocked, had a cold drink and reminisced.

I added a new chapter to my front porch experiences a few weeks ago, sitting with my wife, Lynn, on what may be the longest, most famous, front porch in the US. It is at the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan. I had seen pictures in brochures but no photograph can portray the scope and the panache of that porch, looking down upon a lush expanse of lawn and gardens.

I paced from one end to the other. I measured it at 660 feet, but even if that estimate was a little generous, the porch is easily the length of two football fields. I did not count the chairs, mostly rockers, but there are plenty. We spent most of the time sightseeing on the small island, but reserved two interludes for just sitting, chatting and rocking. I realize that fitness advocates stress that it is advisable to keep moving, that the sedentary life is frowned upon. But, hey, a little time spent on that front porch---or any front porch---can provide some restorative benefits. Between jogging, walking, cycling and other activities, some occasional porch sitting must have its advantages.

Coming soon: the enduring appeal of the rocking chair and the important role it can play in a physical fitness regimen.



Post a Comment

<< Home