Design Tips for the Front Porch

Whether your porch is a small entry area or a roomy wrap-around, we'll show you how to create style, curb appeal and comfort in your home's welcome center.

Wicker Furniture on Porch

Wicker Furniture on Porch

The kitchen may be the heart of the home, but the front porch is like a handshake, welcoming visitors, serving as a connection point with the neighborhood, and role-playing as the first (and sometimes only) impression for passers-by and neighbors.

And just as your handshake style is important (too soft, and you come off as wimpy; too hard, and you seem aggressive), your porch's style gives visitors a preview of what's inside. "The porch is the calling card of your home," says Susanna Salk, a design expert and author of Weekend Retreats (Rizzoli, 2009). "Don't neglect it or, worse, use the space as storage. It's an extension of the soul of the house."

Creating front porch style is a simple weekend project. First, Salk says, head outside and look at your porch. How is it used? "Some porches are little portals into the house that you don't notice much, and others are big spaces with a view. What's going on here — is it a transitional space into the home, or its own living space?"

Salk believes a small porch that functions as transitional space into the house itself should echo the overall style of your home. "You should never shortchange this space, but it's too small to create a completely new look," she says. "If the porch leads into a traditional living room, don't decorate it with tropical accents."

The kitchen may be the heart of the home, but the front porch is like a handshake, welcoming visitors, serving as a connection point with the neighborhood, and role-playing as the first (and sometimes only) impression for passers-by and neighbors.

And just as your handshake style is important (too soft, and you come off as wimpy; too hard, and you seem aggressive), your porch's style gives visitors a preview of what's inside. "The porch is the calling card of your home," says Susanna Salk, a design expert and author of Weekend Retreats (Rizzoli, 2009). "Don't neglect it or, worse, use the space as storage. It's an extension of the soul of the house."

Creating front porch style is a simple weekend project. First, Salk says, head outside and look at your porch. How is it used? "Some porches are little portals into the house that you don't notice much, and others are big spaces with a view. What's going on here — is it a transitional space into the home, or its own living space?"

Salk believes a small porch that functions as transitional space into the house itself should echo the overall style of your home. "You should never shortchange this space, but it's too small to create a completely new look," she says. "If the porch leads into a traditional living room, don't decorate it with tropical accents."

Blue house With Yellow Front Door, Granite Steps and Cobblestone Path

Blue Home Exterior With Yellow Front Door

Painting the front door a color that pops, then adding attractive container gardens, enhances this small porch.

Alison Gelb Pincus, co-founder of One Kings Lane, a home decor and accessories website, advises going vertical on a small porch. "Since you don't have floor space, make the most of the walls and ceiling," she advises. Her top three improvements include:

  • Paint the front door with a new high-gloss coat of paint, preferably in a color that pops. "If your house is white, paint the door red. A gray house is gorgeous with a deep purple door. A color that really contrasts with the front of the house in a shiny, glossy paint lends a strong sense of elegance to the space," she says.
  • Change out your hardware. "Slicker, stronger-looking house numbers really change the look of the house," Gelb Pincus says. "Add a beautiful, sculptural door knocker to your newly-painted door for even more elegance."
  • Hang a canvas or print specifically formulated for the outdoors to one or both walls (such as the outdoor art collection at art.com). Outdoor art looks like stretched canvas, but it's printed on aluminum, coated with a special coating, and able to withstand weather from snow to sunlight.

If you're lucky enough to have a roomy front porch or screened-in bonus room that doubles as living space, feel free to give it a separate look like you would any other room in your house, Salk says, as long as the furnishings and décor complement the outside of your home.

Salk recommends starting with a fresh coat of paint. "There's nothing worse than a peeling floor or railing. Attend to that first, and then add furniture and layers of accessories," she advises.

What's the best way to arrange furniture on a roomy porch? If you're buying new, Salk suggests a loveseat or sofa that can hold at least two people, an ottoman that can double as seating space and a coffee table, and at least one more solo chair. The largest piece of furniture should face outwards, with smaller pieces grouped like a living room set.

Sticking with the furniture you've already got? Accessories will give the space real personality without costing a fortune. "Don't just throw your wicker chairs outside and call it a day. Small touches will really make the porch pop. Just be careful not to clutter it up with too much stuff," Salk says. "The space shouldn't be fussy, but should have a feeling of ease and comfort about it."

Salk's top five accessories include:

  • A large piece of outdoor art, hung above the sitting area. "It's almost like another living room."
  • A new outdoor rug to finish off the look of comfortable, stylish living space.
  • Bright outdoor pillows that pop against neutral furniture.
  • Twin urns on either side of the steps, filled with seasonal plantings. "There's power in pairs. Fabulous-looking urns will draw visitors into the space from the outside, and outside to the porch from the house," Salk says.
  • Curtains made from outdoor fabric can be drawn to block afternoon sun or pulled back and tied for a homey look.

As with a small porch, a brightly-painted door, new house numbers and a door knocker can make a big statement, Gelb Pincus says.

Finally, don't forget seasonal touches. In fall, use pumpkins and a harvest-themed wreath on the front door; in winter, hang an evergreen wreath. Come spring and summer, all you need are pretty container gardens to lure people in.

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