The covered platform near a house’s front door has been called many names: porch, portico, veranda, stoop, lanai, piazza. But whatever you call it, this architectural phenomenon is distinctly American.
It was the New York native Andrew Jackson Downing who helped popularize the front porch as essential to American homes in his 1841 landscape gardening treatise. Houses on rivers such as the Hudson and the Connecticut would benefit from two fronts, he said: the riverfront, of course, but also the front porch facing the neighborhood.
Only so many of us live on rivers these days, but the front porch is much more common. And it’s still true, as designer Andrea Houck says, that “creating a welcoming home begins at the front door.”
If you have a long porch, or a wraparound porch, for example, then you can welcome guests with multiple seating arrangements. But even if all you have is a 5-square-foot space off to the side of your townhouse’s front door, you still have room for style; just choose your furniture and accessories well.
Have a seat or two
The foundation of all porches is a place to perch and watch the world go by. “If it’s a long porch on a Craftsman-style house or even some of the Colonials, have a seating group of chairs by the door,” Houck says. Or one can just rock solo on a smaller porch.
Just as classic as the rocking chair is the porch swing.
“People still love the swing. That’s very Southern,” says Houck, who grew up in North Carolina.
If you can’t hang a swing, try a glider sofa.
Another option is a space-saving bench. “At the end of the porch, you can add another bench in another direction,” Houck says, to create two different seating areas.
Victoria Neale, an interior designer in Washington, agrees that creating different zones is the way to go. When doing so, she says don’t forget a cocktail or tea-style table to set drinks on. A decorative stool may double as a drink stand and extra seat.
The next layer to a cozy porch is a rug. Rugs “help ground the area ... in the same way you’d plan a living room,” Houck says.
Make sure you choose an indoor/outdoor rug, which will be designed to hold up to mildew and leaf dust. Houck says Moroccan-inspired accents and rugs with geometric designs can help modernize Colonial-style houses.
Don’t have room for a rug? “For smaller spaces, a doormat can add style,” Houck says.
Light it right
Neale’s essentials for every front porch are “a door painted in a great color, a door knocker and plants if possible,” she says in an e-mail. “Also, a hanging lantern if there is room.” Moravian Star pendants are a popular choice. Tip: Some lighting companies will design a tighter seal if you let them know the fixture will be hung outdoors.
If you don’t have the height for a pendant, Houck recommends a flush-mount with some personality. Whatever the style, make sure all lights are UL-listed to be waterproof outdoors.
When it comes to the door, especially if you have a small porch, “a gallon of high-gloss paint in a fun color, like eggplant, can spruce up a front door and make a big difference,” Houck says. (But take your architecture into consideration, Neale cautions. A funky orange might not work as well for your traditional house as well as red, green or blue.)
Each exterior choice, from color scheme all the way down to the house numbers, is a chance to welcome guests and preview a home’s interior style.
New door numbers and hardware can go a long way toward freshening the entry without costing a fortune, Neale says.
Add some greenery
Every porch can use “a couple of great pots – either larger pottery planters or metal or cast stone, and put small trees in them, maybe something in a topiary style,” Neale said.
“I normally place pots on either side of the porch or entry – as large as will fit,” Neale says.
Crown a winning porch with a wreathed accent. “I usually have a seasonal wreath adorning my front door,” Houck says.
Or for a more colorful option, greet guests with a lavender wreath. As Houck says, “creating a welcoming home begins at the front door.”