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Searching for the perfect front porch

A place to make summer memories that reconnect us with our cities

front porch
My place in the shade.
Artazum/Shutterstock

I grew up on a cul-de-sac in suburban St. Louis, in a subdivision that offered a handful of variations on the same Colonial Revival home. I remember circling the cul-de-sac on my red Schwinn, reading my neighbors’ floorplans from the street. The living room of one house might be where the dining room was on the other, someone may have opted for a pair of columns over shutters to frame their first-floor windows, but no one—no one—on my street had anything resembling a front porch.

Our front door opened out into what was basically a glorified front step, a small cement slab centered on a slightly larger cement slab. But even if we’d had a real, actual porch, there wasn’t much reason to sit there. The view was always the same: an empty sidewalk, an empty street, the rumble of a garage door as a neighbor slid a car out of the driveway. Even spotting the presence of a resident in the front of a house was a rare occurrence, something that would only happen if you caught someone mid-stroll to the mailbox or while mowing the lawn.

For the first 18 years of my existence, nearly all my outdoor sitting happened in private, in locations that were neatly obscured from the street. Lush pergolas, multi-level decks, screened-in patios—these mullets of suburban life were the fortresses we built around us to enjoy the warm weather in isolation.

Accordingly, most of my summertime social interactions took place around chain store furniture sets, sitting on woven plastic cushions that left the equivalent of grill marks on bare thighs. Sure, when I got older there was the odd afternoon spent on a tapestry-enshrouded couch inhaling various substances while watching skateboarders sail down a leafy college town street. But by and large, I never spent much time on porches.

Even before I left St. Louis, I’d find myself fantasizing about wide, wraparound porches, the ones with creaky painted floorboards, festooned with ferns. But it wasn’t just the idealistic Victorian porch, complete with rocking chair, that I so coveted. As I visited bigger cities like New York, I gazed in admiration at the pure utility of stoops, which are basically like stadium seating for the sidewalk. What an amazing gift to sit somewhere and watch the city go by, I marveled, yet be so close to home you could easily duck inside and refresh your cocktail.

It took me 16 years of living in Los Angeles, navigating midcentury carport entrances, hillside homes only accessible by stairs, and a maze of impenetrable privacy hedges, to find my own place in the shade.

The family that built my 105-year-old house wanted an extra-deep front porch for practical reasons, of course. The dark, cavernous space protected the living room from the glaring sun and served as a cool respite during intense summers pre-air conditioning.

Back then, the front porch served as both functional ornamentation and free entertainment. It was a place to gossip with neighbors as they walked to the trolley at the end of the street. To catch a bit of news from those commuting home from downtown. In an era before the internet—before radio, even!—the porch was a window on the world.

As I sit on my own porch a century later, waving to a neighbor heading to the subway, or watching a family dart by on bikes, I realized what I really wanted all those years was not only a sidewalk-adjacent open-air living room, but a place where people were actually using that sidewalk.

After a lifetime of searching, I finally have the perfect porch. Now all I need is the perfect porch swing.