Do Porches Still Serve a Purpose?

When was the last time you sat a spell and chatted with your neighbors?

House party: Porchfests bring neighborhoods together for live music. (Shutterstock)

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When I say “front porch,” tell me what your mind conjures (and please, no references to Don Knotts, Andy Griffith, or their cockamamie town of Mayberry). I’m guessing your answer may include a mention of chilled sangria, a swing, a lounging dog, and the scent of hydrangeas.

Most of us, it seems, hold shared thoughts about the idyll of front porches and the pleasure of killing time there as a breeze rustles the nearby branches. We do so love — and romanticize — porches. Whether we actually use them as they are intended is another matter. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Originally, porches had a singular mission: provide a space that shields homeowners from the sun while allowing them to enjoy the outdoors. Mind you, this relates to the late 1880s, before we had air conditioning. Or cars. Or, for that matter, large-screen TVs on which to watch The Bachelor. We tended to stay home, with few options in the way of entertainment. It was regarded as a sign of status to laze prominently out on one’s porch where others could envy our privilege. Seriously.

Even today, I hear people mooning over their long-ago porch-sitting days, although I figure most are embroidering their memories. It was a “comfortable perch from which to become a contented observer … to savor what is sweet about home,” a writer recently reminisced in Southern Living magazine. Surely true. It was also a place to get eaten alive by bugs unless you had the luxury of screens.

For a while, porches were in fact associated mainly with the American South. Not so much anymore. Since they can be part of various architectural styles — Victorian, gothic, farmhouse, colonial — porches are now popular almost everywhere. The last U.S. Census found that 65 percent of single-family homes built in 2020 had a front porch.

Typically, builders’ fanciful literature will boast that a porch enables you to engage with neighbors — ostensibly one of their most charming features, but only if you like your neighbors. Many of us aren’t so eager to chit-chat over a wall with the folks next door, who for all we know are eyeing our Chinese takeout.

Of course, there are outliers. I don’t know any of its members, but an organization called the Porch-Sitting Union of America has a quarter-million of them who are devoted to … well, you know. My personal theory is that most porches nowadays are cherished chiefly for their aesthetic appeal; they don’t get sat on often, or maybe not at all. Annette Boprey, administrator of the Porch-Sitters Facebook page, told me that, at its core, “the porch is really a state of mind.” Among its main virtues, Boprey said, is that “it’s a place for passing along family wisdom.” Which is a very fine thing if your childhood was a very fine thing.

For my money, one of the best uses of porches today is seen in Porchfest, which began in Ithaca, New York, and has spread to more than 100 towns across the U.S. It’s generally a lively one-day affair during which amateur musicians perform from porches scattered around town. According to Andy Adelwitz, co-organizer of the Ithaca Porchfest, “It’s a celebration of the artistic community. It’s democratic, not curated. It includes everything from kids choirs to metal groups to banjos. And it goes on, rain or shine.” So, it has come to this: the porch as American bandstand. Hurrah!

 

In the May/June issue, Cable Neuhaus wrote about the unstoppable rise of the color pink.

This article is featured in the July/August 2024 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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Comments

  1. I like to sit on my small front porch early in the mornings drinking my coffee. My dog likes to stretch on the rugs and we enjoy the quiet.. People out walking their dogs smile and call out “Good Mornin'”..
    I grew up in Chicago and we had a larger front porch with a swing where my grandparents sat at the end of the day.. I sat with my friends on the front porch talking & laughing as kids do. When my friends stopped over we usually sat and talked on the porch at the end of the night also. Enjoying dusk at the end of the day is peaceful and allows time for just thinking…
    Nostalgia ? Maybe …

  2. 6/29/2-24 I am lucky to have a small but delightful front porch. In the spring, summer and fall it is adorned with hanging baskets of bright pink geraniums, Boston ferns, and coleus plants. The rocking chair and sofa-sized glider are a plus. I have read a countless number of books and newspapers there. (Yes, I still subscribe to PRINTED and delivered newspapers…MUST have printed!) There are so many folks walking their dogs. My neighborhood was mostly seniors not long ago, but now a few homes serve families who have very noisy children. Anyhow, my “little oasis” is very important to me. I would never in a million years consider living in a home that did not have an old fashioned front porch. Karen from Cleveland, Ohio (1961)

  3. We use our front porch a lot to sit outside and enjoy the peace and quiet of our rural country setting. Nothing but the cattle grazing and little traffic on backroad 550 feet away from the porch. I would not own a home without a front and back porch.

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