Whether it’s for reading, entertaining or simply keeping up with the neighbors, a front porch – for many – is a most inviting retreat. Not quite inside but not quite out, a porch offers shelter from the rain, a place to work a crossword puzzle, a cozy spot for unwinding after a long day. Porches of many styles are found on homes of all ages including new houses, as many homeowners long to become better connected to their communities.
The best old porches have been lovingly cared for or restored, and the best new ones reflect the architectural style of the house and look as if they have always been there.
In the summer it’s a joy to come across an attractively decorated porch. American flags, colorful pillows, railing planters packed with flowers and dining tables topped with vintage linens all help create what one homeowner called “an outdoor living room.”
Then again, upkeep and renovation can be costly. Theft of furniture is not unheard of, which is why some homeowners secure it to railings. Privacy may become an issue. A street-facing porch is not a private backyard deck.
Still, porch fans say the positives outweigh the negatives. Good conversations can take place here. Family memories made. A new or updated porch adds curb appeal.
Cost-wise, on an existing porch, you can spend a few thousand dollars to replace railings and porch decking, said Mike Washington, president of Ivy Lea Construction of Tonawanda.
“Adding a new porch, from the ground up, can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 depending on materials and size,” he said.
If the porch is structurally fine, you can spruce it up for a couple hundred dollars with a fresh coat of paint, he added.
Even small porches can offer plenty of charm, as can second-story porches beloved by many Buffalonians. You don’t have to look far to spot some stylish porches. Turn to Page F5 to see some we came across.
The only thing missing from a recent visit to Marc and Susan Carpenter’s front porch was a parade on the nearby street. Early Americana is the theme here, with white wicker chairs, red cushions, a collection of flags and vintage decor. Most everything is original on this wraparound porch, including the pillars, floor and front door. Last year some of the wood spindles on the railing needed to be replaced because they had rotted.
It turns out that parades do indeed go by this Lockport home.
“The July Fourth parade goes by our house every year, and we always have a party on our front porch. We’ve had people take pictures of the porch, and a lot of times they’ll take pictures at Christmas,” said Susan Carpenter, a retired teacher’s aide who likes to decorate the porch with an early Americana/patriotic theme for paradegoers and participants. At holiday time, it’s a wintry display of items such as an old-fashioned sled.
“The porch was what sold me on the house,” said Carpenter, who has been in the house 24 years and did not grow up with a porch.
How often is she out there?
“How about every single day?” she laughed. “Every day when the weather is nice we sit on the porch. I’ll have my coffee on the porch. At 5 p.m., I’ll have my cocktail of wine. We entertain on the porch. It’s very pleasant to sit out there and read the paper. I find it to be very quaint. I’m very comfortable there,” she said.
An 8:15 a.m. phone call from a reporter did not come too early for Susan Carpenter. She was already out on the porch – enjoying that cup of coffee.
Bridgitt Borek recalls back when her two daughters, Allison and Madalyn, were old enough to walk home together from their elementary school. Borek and her youngest, son Andrew, would wait for them on the front porch. Her kids are now 20, 17 and 13, but the memory remains.
While watching for his sisters, Andrew would always place his foot in the same spot on the base of the painted wrought-iron railing, eventually wearing down the finish.
The 7-by-15-foot porch on the 100-year-old home is big enough for two matching wicker chairs and an old school desk chair.
“Conversation is key. It has to be cozy enough that you can have a conversation” Borek said.
Striped cushions are accented with splashy floral pillows. Borek, chairwoman of last weekend’s Lockport in Bloom garden tour, has decorated the porch with two big urns planted with Vinca vine, coleus, miniature petunias and ornamental grass. A flat-back container filled with silk flowers hangs on the front door. A handmade grapevine swag hangs above it. An American flag, patriotic buntings and a birdhouse painted by her daughters also can be found here.
Borek, who has run twice in the Niagara Falls International Marathon, said she notices people’s front porches when she’s out running.
“That’s the whole fun of running – to see your surroundings. It’s not about the exercise; it’s to see what’s around. When I run I look at everything,” she said.
For her own porch, she likes to tie its decor to her garden.
“The porch flows with the garden. I try to bring the garden up onto the front porch. When the colors change in the garden, then I’ll change the pillows and what’s in the urns – according to the colors in the garden,” she said.
Visitors to this West Delavan Avenue home during next weekend’s Garden Walk Buffalo will have more to admire than the rose hedge and front and back gardens created and cared for by Jeff Wilson and Luis Martinez.
Their second-story porch is an oasis filled with tropical plants and annuals, a dining table with chairs, colorful umbrella and flags, a pair of cushioned Adirondack chairs, a settee and a grill.
There’s another second-story porch on the house next door. And the next house. And the next ...
“These were all built as doubles so they have second-story porches,” said Wilson, who has participated in Garden Walk Buffalo for eight years and works at Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
“It’s a lovely vantage point – being east-west. Even though we face north, we can watch the sunset and sunrise. Even though we have a street light out front, we can see some things in the night sky. We can actually see some fireworks over the trees ... and sit out there and hear the Bidwell concerts. It carries over the houses,” he said.
As for its decor, we are not talking a couple plants here and there but rather an entire population of them in pots, railing planters and hanging baskets. On the porch, there are more than 20 of them. Some have special meaning. All add even more color to this already colorful space in the sky. Bougainvillea, mandevilla, hibiscus and fuchsia are among the tropicals found here.
“All those plants create a screen. If I’m sitting out there, I can watch people’s reactions down on the street. Unless I speak up, they don’t realize somebody is up there because they can’t see through all the plants. It’s just a natural screen,” Wilson said.
It’s also breezy on the porch, another bonus in the heat. A roll-down screen on one side acts as a wind screen when need be and also provides additional privacy. Wilson said they sometimes bring out a second smaller umbrella rigged up with curtain panels if the late afternoon sun gets too hot.
During the winter the tropicals – some of them 10 years or older – go upstairs to the southern-facing window of what used to be servants’ quarters.
“It’s perfect during their dormant period,” Wilson said.
The Elmwood Village home of Matt and Kelly Lincoln is the story of how to re-create a perfect porch from the past. When the couple bought the house in 2000, there was no porch. There was a concrete stoop. But blueprints – now framed and displayed in the kitchen – revealed the original porch, and the Lincolns went from there – adding a 27-by-11-foot porch four years later.
“It’s not an exact replica, but it’s close,” Matt Lincoln said.
Weekend mornings and evenings are especially pleasant on the porch. It’s a favorite summer spot for the Lincolns and their two children – Kyra, 9, and Jack, who turns 7 today.
“Eating dinner out here is a highpoint of their day,” Kelly Lincoln said.
The porch features a mahogany floor and oak ceiling. The couple landed the teak-framed furniture with sage-colored cushions on summer clearance. The round table and chairs at one end are used for dining, crafts and games. Roll-down shades add privacy; a gate at the top of the steps matches and connects the front railing structure. Nice for a house with children and a dog.
“There is something to be said for the social aspect of a front porch. You’re engaging in society,” said Matt Lincoln, an owner of Prolift, a forklift dealership.
What you’re not doing? Coming home, closing the door behind you and sitting in front of a television or computer screen.
“I always say that many people know more about Brad Pitt than they do about their neighbors,” he said.
Not when you have a front porch.