When my husband and I moved from New York City to New Orleans, we had one requirement for our home: a splendid front porch. I imagined it would be the place where we’d while away humid evenings, swatting mosquitos, and sipping Bourbon cocktails with our newfound friends. We’d decorate it with funky chairs, and maybe a dog. Sure, you can porch anywhere—but it’s a thing down here in the South. Or so we learned.
In New York City, a person can go an entire lifetime without speaking to another human in their building. That came as something of a shock to me, having been raised in the Ozarks, where everyone on the block knows your business. In my first Manhattan apartment, I baked my neighbors a ham studded with rounds of pineapple and bright maraschino cherries—only to find out they kept a Kosher kitchen. (Perhaps it was a sign that I'd be better suited for the south.)
In New Orleans,is an arm of your home that extends to the outside world; it’s often how you meet neighbors and friends. In a way, our new porch ushered us into life down here in the South. During the first month, we had so many people coming by for a “stop and chat” that my husband thought innocent folks were trying to sell us something. Sitting on the porch is just that: an invitation, not for solicitation, but for conversation.
There’s a certain anatomy to the right front porch, and each family will have their own preferred aesthetic to build upon. In the book , writer Michael Dolan suggests the finest elements should include a fan, a welcome mat, room for a dog, a sitting-height rail, real plants, a swing, little or no lighting, and bicycles close by.
To top it off—literally—many choose to paint the ceiling of a front porch blue. Though the history is often muddled as to why, some say that the “haint blue” color (haint being the word for ghost) was used to ward off evil spirits. Others swear that the color repels insects. And some just fancy the elegant sky shade.
We treated our new porch as an addition to our shotgun home. The first order of business was to hang a swing, made by a woodworker in Alabama. He painted it bright white and carved in the most genius invention: a slot for wine glasses on each arm. (There’s also a drink holder for that glass of bourbon.) We fashioned an outdoor living space layered with a rug, tables, rocking chairs, and colorful pillows. Blankets are brought out if there’s a rare crisp evening, but it’s almost always about cooling yourself with the whooshing of a swing and an icy drink.
Once settled, we sent notes to our neighbors inviting them for a happy hour, and soon enough, we had new friends to porch with.
Each of my neighbors porches differently. To our right, there will often be a handful of friends gathered outside, playing guitars, maybe a harmonica, and singing. It’s a party porch. Across the street is a multi-generational New Orleanian who relaxes with a beer and a book, alongside his Chihuahua, Darla. On the corner is a family who spends their quality time outside. They often take their dinner on the porch, play games, and stay out until bedtime.
While porching is the most casual of activities, to many it’s a lifestyle to be taken seriously. Take for instance , a group formed to celebrate the fine art of porch sitting. They claim that the term is broad and whether you’re lounging on a portico, veranda, terrace, front, or back porch, it counts; an open garage door does the trick if you’re watching the kids play. Their motto: “Whatever you’re doing, it can wait. Take a load off and come sit a spell. Everyone is welcome. Basic membership is free.” The website even sells mugs and t-shirts emblazoned with “Keep Calm and Sit on the Porch.”
In addition, the is held every October. This two-day event aims to explore the significance of the front porch from an architectural and sociological perspective, including its role in building and sustaining a community within neighborhoods.
My husband and I are still navigating the transition to the South, but a front porch has been paramount. Over the past three years, we've spent countless evenings outside. Sometimes it’s a perch to gab (and gossip) with friends. Other times, it feels almost-vacation-like while reading a book. And on special occasions, our porch becomes the backstage pass when a marching band is practicing for the Mardi Gras parades.
We’re not joining a porch union or sipping out of kitschy mugs, but our porch has assumed a special place in our lives. In fact, now we can't imagine how we ever lived without one.