Return of the porch
But traditional neighborhoods and houses with porches are being revived and built anew as people long for a sense of community.
“People are feeling isolated. They drive miles and miles to get home from work, hit the garage-door button, fall out of their car and into the kitchen,” says Tom Low, 51, a Charlotte, N.C-based architect and community planner. “Aging baby boomers are interested in reconnecting. They’re gravitating to the kind of communities that have neighborhoods and porches.”
Low works for Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., which has revitalized and planned more than 500 communities, including Belmont Forest, Va.; Seaside, Fla.; and Habersham, a residential development in Beaufort, S.C. The communities feature houses with roomy porches in sidewalk-lined neighborhoods with retail shops, schools, churches, parks and post offices within an easy walk. Houses are close to the sidewalks to encourage neighborliness.
When promoting his new town of Seaside, developer Robert Davis liked to give prospective buyers “the lemonade test.”
“If we had someone who wanted more than a quick look, we’d sit on the front porch and chat for a while,” he says, noting that a person who couldn’t relax long enough to sip a lemonade probably wouldn’t feel at home in Seaside.
Sit a spell
Lifelong porch-sitter Claude Stephens of Louisville, Ky., founded the Professional Porch Sitters Union in 1999 after a long workday with “literally thousands of e-mails and a meeting that just went and went and went.”
“It was tongue in cheek,” Stephens, 50, says about the Professional Porch Sitters Union, an unorganized organization whose only objective is to get people to slow down and relax. The group’s motto: “Sit down a spell. That can wait.”
Stephens and his wife, Erin Henle, 31, have perfected the art of porch sitting. They bring their tube radio onto their porch and listen as they play Scrabble and cards. When the weather cooperates, they eat their meals on the porch, which is furnished with a mishmash of hand-me-down comfortable chairs, tables and a metal glider. Neighbors show up bearing garden produce and eager to discuss the world’s problems.
“We’re all too busy,” Stephens says, as he relaxes and expounds on the joys of porches. “Our lives have become incredibly jammed with too much stuff. The porch is a place to slow down, sit back and just tell stories that celebrate our triumphs. It’s a place to just be.”