Sleeping Porches

The revival of the sleeping porch is a breath of fresh air for folks tired of stuffy rooms without a view.

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Merging the Past and Present

Although many homeowners are restoring the original sleeping porches on their Victorians or bungalows, the true sleeping porch aficionado is after more than historical accuracy. Architect Jack Diamond of Fort George Island, Fla., drew up seven different designs for his house, and every version had sleeping porches. "What we were really trying to do is to bring the outside inside."

Jabe Beyer, a songwriter and singer in Boston, rented his apartment in part because of its porch. "It's facing due west so the sunsets are incredible," he says. "I grew up in a rural place near Niagara falls, where I could sleep outside. When I moved to the city I felt closed in and couldn't see very far. The porch is a place where I don't feel so cramped." Jabe immortalized his porch in a song that won the Abe Olman Songwriting Award given by the National Academy of Popular Music in New York City.

Interior designer Jennifer Garrigues, owner of Jennifer Garrigues Interior Design in Palm Beach, Fla., simply loves sleeping outside — so much that, in fact, she has two sleeping porches. The first, outside her bedroom, is open to the skies except for the canopy of an avocado tree. Beneath it she's placed an iron double bed covered with a fluffy mattress, bolsters and pillows brightened by a flowered print. "I've hung wind chimes that sound like Himalayan bells, and after work I take my phone out there to make calls," she says. "The porch faces east so I can see the moon rising. I love that connection." Her second porch by the pool is all-purpose with a table and chairs for meals and a seashell hammock that rattles as Jennifer swings and snoozes. At night she climbs into the hammock with comforter, pillow and cats.

"Sleeping porches are making a comeback because people are staying at home more and also want to be outside," she says. "We're al in cities so much running around that when we get in a wide open space, we want fresh air in our lungs."

Interior designer Jane Smith thinks the sleeping porch trend is a keeper. "That's why people move to places like Santa Fe. They really want to be outside. I can't even name people who have air conditioning here. They just want to be in nature."

How to Sleep Tight

Rule number one for any sleeping porch is comfort. "A sleeping porch should be very inviting," says Jennifer. "It should have one big comfy piece of furniture — a hammock or daybed, preferably one that's waterproof." The options include beds of durable wrought iron, rattan, metal, teak or aluminum, ranging from $700 to $2,000. Check out the tag sales, sometimes home to great bargains in wrought iron. Or make your own bed: nail together a frame of plywood, add an inexpensive mattress and box spring, and you're done.

As Jennifer discovered, a fast and easy way to rig up a sleeping porch is to use a hammock. And plenty of Americans take that route, judging from the 3,000 hammocks sold each year in the United States. Such companies a Hatteras Hammocks in Greenville, N.C., offer hand-woven rope hammocks made of cotton or weather-resistant polyester, or quilted fabric hammocks, also made of polyester, or fabric mixes of polyester and acrylic.

These days, hammocks even come with pillows, drink holders, caddies (to hold books, tissues or an alarm clock), tables and canopies. And of course the finishing details are part of the fun. Jennifer adds lots of plants and covered candles (for safety). "Lighting's very important — and music," she says. "They're good for atmosphere."

Designer Sharon Hanby-Robie suggests finishing a sleeping porch with plantation-style shutters or natural roll-up grass or bamboo shades that provide privacy and allow air to circulate. Add rugs of oilcloth, grass or even an old oriental, and hang a set of wind chimes on the door so you can hear someone coming. Try furniture that you can both sit and sleep on — a French three-sided bed, a day bed or a chaise lounge — covering it with waterproof, mildew-resistant material like awning fabric. "Sleeping porches are an opportunity for more drama and whimsy," says Sharon. "Make-believe a little bit."

The point, of course, is that for a night or series of nights, you get to sleep on the lip of the universe, the threshold of home, the curve of history. "Americans are cottoning to their heritage," says Jennifer. "They're saying, 'Let's do this again. It was a good idea to start with.'"

The Perfect Porch

  • Think location. A porch that faces East or West lets you watch the sun come up or go down. If you're building, plan other porches, windows or doorways on the opposite side of the house for cross-ventilation.
  • Add fans. Sleeping porches bring cooler air but to help comfort along, add fans to the porch ceiling.
  • Screen it in. That will keep the insects out and add more security to your snooze.
  • Hang canvas or reed blinds. Blinds will protect you and the furniture from driving rain or blinding sun.
  • Focus on beauty and ease. Cover the bed in strong colors, or try white with bright pillows. Or, like interior designer Jennifer Garrigues, upholster your mattress and pillows, including the zippers for easy washing. "I don't want to make up a bed," she says. "I want instant naptime."

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