The Irresistible Lure of the American Front Porch

If you want to build community and attachment to where you live, scientists and neighbors agree: a front porch is just the ticket. (Melody Warnick)

After more than a hundred years of inordinate fondness, Americans at the middle of the twentieth century discarded the porch as old-fashioned, obsolete, and valueless – until a blend of conservation and revival began to restore it to a place of honor and utility. The porch will never be what it once was, but neither will it vanish. Instead, after 150 years of yawing from ubiquity to rejection, the porch will hold its place as a standard element of domestic American architecture, and we will all be the better for that.

Michael Dolan

During the last decades of the Twentieth Century, outdoor life shifted away from the fronts of the houses. Before WW II, even fairly humble houses had front porches where people spent part of their free time. Upper-middle-class houses frequently had side porches. In the half-century after the war, family leisure gravitated to back yards,  which are now routinely equipped with decks or patios. In other words, private areas behind the houses have been upgraded, while public areas facing the streets and sidewalks have surrendered much of their social importance.

Philip Langdon

We thought that the point of requiring porches on the fronts of houses was for environmental reasons – to cool the air doing into the house. We realized after the houses were up that everybody saw the social component of the porch – it status as the important in-between space separating the pubic realm from the private realm.

Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk

People like the image of a porch; it takes them back to simplicity, it conjures up the symbol of ‘I want to go there,’ and the porch takes them there.

Niedra North

For author Michael Dolan, if an American porch is really to be an American porch, it has to have some Americans on it. Latter-day porches often honor that principle in the breach. Instead of serving as community-oriented  centers of conviviality and welcome, these porches stand, with their perfectly-placed rockers and adroitly-arranged tchotchkes, as illustrations of the hospitality folks would extend if only they weren’t so busy being busy, and if only being sociable didn’t intrude so much on their private lives.

He believes that if more houses had porches more people will have the chance to sit on them.

It that were the case, he continued, in time, as it had been for him with his older neighbors when he moved to the neighborhood, the first names would come, and then the friendships – and if not friendship, then neighborhood cordiality, that pleasant state in which you and the guy next door know one another well enough to say hello from the porch or to invite one another up to sit in a rocker or the glider.

Bringing Hospitality Back to Your Porch

Simply put, the front porch is too good an idea to be allowed to slip away, even if the hospitality we display is more theoretical than real.

– Michael Dolan

The good ol’ American front porch seems to stand for positivity and openness; a platform from which to welcome or wave farewell; a place where things of significance could happen. 

– Dan Stevens

Make your front porch a part of your home, and it will make you a part of the world. 

– John Sarris

My porch represents what I want my house to be: sheltering and communal, private and welcoming, a quiet vantage point from which to greet the whole world.

– Melody Warnick

Inspired by these books:

The American Porch, by Michael Dolan

This Is Where You Belong, by Melody Warnick

A Better Place to Live, by Philip Langdon

I can’t emphasize this enough: If you like the idea of loving where you live, of being a better neighbor, or anything remotely connected, you MUST check out the work of Melody Warnick. Follow her on social media. Buy the book (above). Sign up for her newsletter on her website. Peruse the website for other articles she has written. What Warnick writes about will inspire you to embrace your own community – and perhaps discover that the place where you live right now . . . is home.


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