How to Create the Perfect Porch

Turn your frumpy, forgotten porch full of cobwebs and a sagging sofa into a cozy refuge, a space to watch the world go by or escape from it.
By: Gretchen Roberts
Painted Rug

Painted Rug

A painted "rug" welcomes visitors to this porch. — Image posted by RMSer Valeriemissouri

A painted "rug" welcomes visitors to this porch. — Image posted by RMSer Valeriemissouri

You're not quite sure how it happened, but your formerly pretty porch with its shiny, clean walls and peppy pillows has turned into a cobweb-filled storage space for bikes, bugs and your old family room couch. Time for a facelift? Absolutely, says Valerie Blood, ASID, president of interior design firm Jamison Kay Ltd. in Denver. "Street appeal is so important. Sometimes people don't even make it into your house, and their first impression might be their last."

A clean, fresh, well-kept porch sets the tone for the entire house, Blood believes, even if you don't have the latest furniture and accessories. "Start with the bones of the space and clean it top to bottom," she says. "Wash the walls, de-bug the ceiling and put a fresh coat of paint on the trim, rails and floor."

Joe Ruggiero, a furniture and fabric designer and TV host/producer, loves to add an accent color to the porch floor or rails with an exterior wood or concrete stain. A good stain "will last longer than paint and add color in a surprising space."

Once you've scrubbed, stained and otherwise prepped the framework of the porch, bring out furniture and accessories that will turn the space into an alluring, cozy sanctuary. With outdoor fabrics now made in formerly delicate materials like velvet and chenille, comfort is easy to achieve outside. "We're seeing a trend that blows the line between indoor and outdoor materials," Ruggiero says.

Start with a cozy outdoor rug, which visually designates a seating area dedicated to conversation. Next, add furniture. If you're buying new or painting old furniture, stick to neutral base colors like black, white or beige and incorporate punches of color with cushions and pillows. Blood likes to change the color of the cushions to accommodate the seasons — for example, bright yellow in summer, a rust color in the fall, deep green or crimson for winter and pastels in spring. In Ruggiero's designs for Sunbrella, a brand of outdoor fabric, he includes a hidden zipper in all his outdoor pillows. "You can trade out color schemes so easily, or just take the covers off to pop them in the washer," he says.

Hanging porch swings are the ultimate in front porch charm, hearkening back to the good old days, but once you install one, there's no rearranging, Ruggiero says. He prefers furniture following the new "indoor/outdoor" trend: deep seating comfort furniture, like all-weather wicker with comfy cushions. But most porches aren't swimming in square footage, so watch the scale of your furniture, Blood warns. "You might have to limit seating to two chairs, a small table and an ottoman, which can double as seating and storage."

One fix for a space shortage: a wheeled cart that can come out when you're entertaining. "Roll it outside to serve as a drinks or dessert table, and tuck it away in the hall closet afterwards," Blood says.

Take a seat in every chair and consider privacy and comfort. "Are the neighbors too close, or does the sun beat down on one side?" Blood asks. That's an easy fix: Hang an all-weather fabric curtain on a rod, install a painted piece of lattice board and plant vines to crawl up the side, or use topiaries or evergreens in pots to create a visual and sound barrier. Maximize comfort with an outdoor ceiling fan, which keeps the breeze stirring on a still afternoon.

Now to plants. "Greenery is the icing on the cake," Blood says. She likes to start with big pots of spiral topiaries, and add small pots at the base. If your porch gets a lot of sun, plant flowering annuals in the smaller pots; if not, ivy and impatiens are good choices.

As you started with curb appeal, end with it as well. "A beautiful front door, freshly painted with a clean kick plate on the bottom and a really nice doormat, reflects both the inside and outside of the house," Blood says. "When people visit, you've created a beautiful stage presence."

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