Our house to be has a front porch. It is a starting and finishing place for visiting. It is the place where visitors will enter the house and where they will depart, lingering for the final words of conversation. It will be a place for sharing.
The front porch is not too assuming. It is 10 feet by 12 feet. The roof is the same material as the house but mostly it is made from the left over parts of the house roof. The rafters are not fancy wood, just stock 2 x 12s, The floor will be the same as the other decks. The beams are glulams because they were cheap. We used 6 x 6 posts rather than the originally planned logs because they were available. It may be one of the coolest places in the house.
We have a porch primarily to show people where the front door is. Because we needed to make the house face the road but it was not possible to make a front door face that way too unless we overtook part of the garage. I needed to make the front door look like the place to go rather than the (wo)man door at the middle of the garage where you drive up. A welcoming path to a porch seemed to be a good way to mark the front door.
One of the houses we considered purchasing this summer had the world’s smallest front stoop. You could tell it was not just a tack-on by a builder at the end of the project. Someone actually added it. Its stupid ways to use stairs to enter a house really stood out in my mind. Three people on that stoop would topple off, two would topple if one sneezed. If the person inside opened the out-swing storm door to welcome you would be knocked over in the snow. I still have not figured how that was supposed to work.
I wanted to do better than offering a postage stamp to stand on while whoever was inside rushed to grab the front door and then knocked you off the stoop trying to welcome you in. I gave us a porch. I grew up on the South and houses are supposed to have porches. Besides, there is no reason to make your guests stand in the snow and rain if you can find a way to put a roof over their heads.
I designed the porch so that we could take advantage of its roof during those many days here in Northwestern Montana when rain is the weather for the day, or days, or sometimes even weeks. It is why our forests are so lush. It rains here. No matter how gorgeous or fancy or “designed” your deck is when it rains it is a deck and you get wet. With a porch you can sit out protected by the roof and watch it rain. I placed the porch and door in relationship to each other to maximize the access to the front door at the same time keeping the space where chairs could be placed as open as possible.
In a decade or twelve when we have recovered from building this house, I am going to put screen up and have a screened-in front porch. Along with rain and lush forests we have very healthy mosquitoes.
One of the important things about a screen porch is the door. It should be slightly wobbly at the outer two corners, top and bottom. It should have a sliver handle with two screws showing top and bottom. The screen should sag a bit although it need not have garnered that aged look we call patina that is actually rust. The most important thing about a screen door is its slam. It should not have a silent, Adjustable Air Door Closer. When someone runs out the door to play the door should wobble a bit and then slam shut so hard that it bounces back from the frame with a final wobble.
When I was young we would go to visit my Dad’s family who lived on the Chesapeake Bay before it was crowded or polluted. Their house sat low to the ground. My grandfather who was a contractor built it. It was an odd house but its oddness came about because the house emerged organically from left over materials and time from his various construction projects. The best thing about the curious house was a very large screen porch with a concrete floor. It must have been at least 20 feet by 20 feet. The screen started at chair rail height and went to the celing where it ended under deep overhanging eves. One side was attached directly to the house. The other three sides faced the Bay, the trees and the dirt driveway. Each of these sides was lined by large boxes with lumpy pads made from oilcloth on their tops. It was my job to run around and store the pads in the boxes when a strong, fast-moving storm came in off the Bay.
On those slow days when the summer heat and the dank humidity of the brackish water of the Bay was at its worst there was always a breeze on the porch. On the hottest of nights we took our summer sheet blanket and a pillow and slept on those benches with their lumpy pads.
The door had a certain slam that engendered a call from the kitchen, “Don’t go out by the water by yourselves, girls. Wait for one of us.” We knew not to go to the water alone. Still, when the door slammed, we were reminded.
So eventually our new porch will have screen and a door that slams just right. When it does, it will remind us not to go to the water alone. Being alone is a fine thing and to be cherished in these days of constant sensory overload. Still, having someone who cares if you go alone and will come with you is special. I designed our porch to be shared.