My Front Porch and Why I Love It – Volume 1

A front porch wasn’t necessarily on the “must have” list for our house when we were shopping in 2015. But, as we looked into housing, it moved further and further up the list. The house we bought has a full length porch on the front. It is long and it is DEEP. It’s about 12 feet from the edge of the porch to the front of the house. The depth is a critical component. Last summer was our first summer in the house, and in April I bought two red Adirondack chairs. And then I got a rug and a table. I sit out here pretty regularly, now.

Front porch with two red chairs
The porch in question

Some observations:

How much shade matters. My paternal grandparents are Dutch. I am…white. I have to wear sunscreen if I’m in the sun for more than 20 minutes. If I go to a restaurant with a patio, it is very important that we sit under an umbrella (because who wants to get sunscreen all over their hands right before eating?). I refused to sit on the patio at Red Cow in the North Loop until they got umbrellas. If you look back on the history of the porch, the whole point is to keep cool during hot weather. Before A/C, being in the house on a muggy 80 degree day was hell. The full roof on our porch is really key to my enjoyment and it’s what separates a porch from the lesser, more disappointing deck. It keeps the temperature down, and eliminates the risk of sunburn (And it’s not just fair skinned people, it turns out – nobody likes to be hot). That is, until about 4:00 in the afternoon – it’s a west facing porch, and the sun gets low enough that the roof doesn’t help anymore. Last year, I just took that as a cue to go inside. But I really like being out here. I considered adding a deck on the back so I could still sit outside during this two hour window. It turns out, there are a whole line of products available to add temporary shade to your porch. I’m probably going to buy and install this later this year.

The conversation. There are a couple of types of conversations on the porch. Nonverbal – waving to neighbors across the street on their porches is standard. Because they’re further away, that’s all that’s required. Brief – A “How you doin'” is offered to strangers on the sidewalk, but only if there is eye contact, or they speak first. Side note: As I write this from my porch, I was informed that the correct response to this is not “good” but “blessed.” Extended – I know some of my neighbors better than others, so a 5-10 min conversation isn’t uncommon with someone who is walking a dog. I’ll say that the 45 minutes I spent talking to the mayoral candidate who came to the house specifically to talk to me was probably an anomaly, but it felt so perfect. Overheard – these are the best. On a nice evening, my neighbor across the street becomes progressively more philosophical and enthusiastic as he (I’m assuming) drinks. He believes in God and I can tell you why. The renters next to me hate their landlord because he doesn’t keep the yard up. I can’t say I blame them.

The view from the porch

It’s not boring. Because I have a house with a porch in the city, I don’t have a good sense of the alternative. But if I had to guess, if I was sitting in a back yard in the burbs, the view and soundtrack would not be nearly as varied. Some people’s cars work way better than others. The relationship between vehicle speed and noise is very very noticeable. Bicycles are, for the most part, really really quiet. The two-way stop at the end of my block should probably be a four-way, given the great confusion when two cars arrive at the same time. There appears to be a direct correlation between renting in a duplex and ordering delivery. Did you know there is alcohol delivery now? There is a crushed plastic bottle in the gutter in front of my house that people keep running over when they park. But I only think to pick it up AFTER it is under their car. Plants grow too quickly when you don’t want them, and not quickly enough when you do. Smokers have an excuse to go outside for a few minutes every few hours. My cat desperately wants to join me outside. But, he won’t sit still, and then he’ll just want to go in again. I feel kind of like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. The glow of a laptop screen attracts mosquitoes after dark…

 

 

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17 Responses to My Front Porch and Why I Love It – Volume 1

  1. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary June 14, 2017 at 12:21 pm #

    Great article! I love front porches, although I have never lived in a house with one of my own. It’s interesting for me to reflect on the variations of the porch concept, both in housing of a similar age and newer housing.

    Seems like most early 20th century housing in Minneapolis has front porches, but many are fully enclosed with windows or screens. I can appreciate the benefits of this, but I don’t think it seems as sociable or open to the neighborhood as a fully open porch.

    As you mention, the deck is less attractive because of the lack of shade. But it also nearly always located in the back, often inside a fenced-in back yard. It is inherently less social. Although front porches have become more popular lately, they tend to be skimpy little things that you couldn’t easily put a table and chairs on. I assume builders make this choice to allow more light in through the front windows.

    One final thought is an observation I had after a new single-family, stock-suburban subdivision was built near my parents’ house when I was in high school. (Bridgewater Heights in Dundas.) Decks were an optional/premium feature that most of the homeowners hadn’t installed yet. So it was extremely common to see them grilling, gathering, etc in the driveway or in the garage with the door open. Although this isn’t as idyllic as sitting on a front porch, it had much of the same purpose — they could be partially outside, watch their kids riding bikes on the street, etc. It’s kind of cool to see how people make their own front porch given the right motivation.

    • Hannah Pritchard
      Hannah Pritchard June 14, 2017 at 1:09 pm #

      The “snout house” garage / driveway as front porch is totally a thing! That’s why this product exists.

      http://www.lifestylescreens.com/

      And, I agree about the windows/screens making them less porch-like. In MN, it means you can enjoy the space for a longer duration. But, any screened in porch I’ve ever seen seems to act as indoor/outdoor storage rather than a living space. If you fill it in TOO much, it ends up just being a poorly insulated room.

      • Jenny W
        Jenny W June 15, 2017 at 9:24 am #

        I should take some photos of my screened-in front porch! Very much an actively enjoyed space. One of our first purchases was a rocking chair, and a table set. Perfect for eating dinner, or lounging and reading a book.

        It definitely is not as conducive to chatting with neighbors, but the lack of mosquitoes makes it worth it for me. Also, the cats are in love with their porching time 🙂

  2. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD June 14, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    Our old house did not have a backyard. It was a corner lot with the house set far back. The result was that we spent all of our time in the front. We had a big deck on the front and were always completely visible to the neighbors. While at times I wanted privacy (can’t I just read a book without everyone saying, “Hi”?), for the most part it was a Good Thing. We knew all the neighbors with dogs and toddlers and everyone knew us. Our ice rink was in the front yard, right against the sidewalk so even in the winter people would gather on the fence to chat.

    Our new house has a beautiful screened porch and cozy patio, but I do miss the opportunity for chance encounters.

  3. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller June 14, 2017 at 1:54 pm #

    I am jealous of your porch.

  4. Andrew B June 14, 2017 at 4:23 pm #

    We’ve had a house with a screened front porch for the past 9 years and it has become one of our favorite places in the house. Being on busy E 38th St there is always something going on, characters walking by, neighbors to wave and chat with.

    About two weeks ago we moved to a new rental with a deck in the backyard. It’s so quiet and not entertaining.

  5. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson June 14, 2017 at 9:05 pm #

    I’m so glad you wrote this, I’m totally on the front porch bandwagon. Almost 10 years back the home we bought lacked a front porch, but it was in a neighborhood we wanted, the neighborhood had sidewalks, close parks and trails, and near family.

    When it came time to replace our roof two years back I knew it was time to add the front porch to our 1940s post-war story-and-a-half that I wished it had. I had already put in a back yard patio with fire pit, and also a pergola off the side of our house with a deck and growing vines, but everyone uses the porch much much more because of the great shade, great weather protection (rain happens!), and we’re able to watch the neighbors pass by.

    • Rosa June 16, 2017 at 11:30 pm #

      we have a big back deck and i hate it. i’d love to rip it out and put in a screened porch. There are so many reasons not to love a deck – rain, snow (we have to shovel it to get out our back door), mosquitos, sun…

  6. Serafina Scheel
    Serafina June 15, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

    The front porch is my second-favorite feature of out house, after the soccer court in the basement. Love greeting neighbors.

  7. Ben June 15, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

    The front porch, ours is screened, is definitely my favorite room of our house, but we don’t have a soccer court in our basement. It gets afternoon sun, so I push it’s usage in the cold season.

  8. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman June 16, 2017 at 8:45 am #

    The whole “front porch to back deck thing” kind of mirrors the switch away from alleys too, and it happened about the same time. I know a lot of people buy homes based on location, but stuff like that can sway a decision. You look at the Leivitown houses and none of them really had porches, I wonder if it was dispensed to reduce the cost of building, or if the type of people moving out had no interest in them. It figures that the people moving to the suburbs would be the type that would value privacy over sociability.

    The neighbors next to me actually use their front yard some, but they’re the exception. Above a certain age (about the time you can get your drivers license) the only time you see most of the people in my neighborhood out front is when they’re mowing their lawn or walking to their car.

    • Matthew Steele June 16, 2017 at 9:05 am #

      I think there is some truth to the inversion of front and back yard uses. Personally, I’d much prefer a house with a garage on a back alley, even though it is far less convenient when packing kids into the car. But in neighborhoods with alleys, the backyards seem to be landscaped as a much more intimate space between the house and the garage, often with lush shade gardens, patios, fences, nice lighting, and other features.

      Meanwhile – on my block at least – the front yards become the recreation zones for the kids of the neighborhood. Without driveways, the grassy front yards make a continuous stretch of play field for the kids on the block to throw a football, and all the people playing in yards or walking on the sidewalk are protected by a relatively full row of parked cars on the street and mature boulevard trees. It feels so safe, social, and active in our front yards.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary June 16, 2017 at 6:44 pm #

        I agree about your description of front yards on blocks with alleys. On my block, except for a single lot with a fence on one end of the block, the front yards are like a long linear park.

        I think in many communities, when alleys are not available, the front yards end up getting all the unsightly characteristics of alleys, put front and center. Garbage cans and pickup, RV storage, lots of parked cars, etc. We clearly care a lot about the aesthetics of the front of our homes; realtors talk about “curb appeal”, and zoning code regulates the size of the front yard, attractiveness of front facade, etc.

        So why would we want to use it for the least attractive parts of the property?

        • Monte Castleman
          Monte Castleman June 16, 2017 at 8:26 pm #

          Cluttering up the part of the house that’s not used (the front) > Cluttering up the part of the house that is used (the back), Ease of egress by car > the front looking pretty. Things do look ugly on trash day, but for the most part a bunch of cars stored outside is mainly a thing of the inner ring suburbs where garages weren’t built with today’s needs in mind. If you drive down a random street in the newer part of Shakopee there’s very few cars stored in driveways (or for that matter the street). Given the choice people really want to keep their cars inside where they’re free from burglary, vandalism, or the elements.

          It’s true that making houses fancy in front has descended into architectural parody, the “Houses of Too Many Gables”, but I wonder how much of that is to make it look attractive on real estate brochures and city planning commissions vs how much buyers would actually want if the cost was a line item. Also with a trend towards 3 car garages I’m not sure how that would work out with an alley arrangement while still having some semblance of a back yard.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary June 16, 2017 at 10:48 pm #

            I think my thought process is more: cluttering up your back yard is a personal choice, that usually affects only your household. The public doesn’t see it, and often your neighbors don’t see it with high privacy fences and shrubbery. I think it’s fine to have relative freedom for how to use it.

            Cluttering up your front yard creates a negative externality for your neighbors, and should be more heavily regulated.

            And as I mentioned: clearly we do care about the aesthetics of the front yard in a lot of ways. We care about grass height, weeds, facade maintenance, exterior lights, etc. And yeah, as you say, that well-intended concern about appearance in front has taken us to some wild places with McMansions.

            As for outer-ring suburbs’: probably fewer cars outside, although I tend to notice the excessively large front yard driveways even without cars parked on them. When developers are building greenfield subdivisions, there is no excuse for this. If attached garages are demanded, build them in back, and let the front be a front porch instead. There are two new homes in Richfield that do this. If I were building a new home in a greenfield area, I would love something like this.

    • Rosa June 16, 2017 at 11:32 pm #

      was it in Bowling Alone that the author dredged up a bunch of interviews with people who were THRILLED to get out of the Old Neighborhood and into a bland suburb full of strangers? So much joy at your in-laws and cousins and the parish priest not being all up in your business.

      But I’d bet the difference had more to do with the invention of air conditioning than anything else. The porch is for getting out of the hot house, mostly.

  9. Matthew Steele June 16, 2017 at 9:02 am #

    Great article.

    We built a front porch about 3 years ago, after it was recommended by our architect as a way to improve the curb appeal of our 1920s story and a half. And wow, did it ever improve the look of the house. But, most importantly, it’s something we use whenever possible. We will eat dinner out there even though it lacks space for a table, we’ll read out there late into the evening, etc.

    I’d suggest people look at doing a porch if they are doing other exterior work. Our zoning code has specific setback exemptions for open front porches, so you can build out from the front of your house a bit. It’s something that many handy folk could do in a series of long weekend projects: Maybe hire a contractor to do the footings, framing, and ceiling envelope. Then the homeowner can do a series of projects for the finish work such as decking, railings, etc. Whatever you do, fabricate your own railings rather than using something that looks like it belongs on a suburban deck! Finally, I’d recommend an outdoor ceiling fan – it’s great at keeping bugs away. We love our porch.

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