\ ˈpȯrch \
1: a covered area adjoining an entrance to a building and usually having a separate roof
2: obsolete : PORTICO
I love old houses. They’re solid, full of quirks and secrets. The old house I live in is over 110 years old, and it’s on a quiet street close to the downtown of my city. It looks similar to the other houses on the street but no two are alike.
The defining feature of nearly every one is its front porch.
Most of the porches on the street are the full width of the house, deep and centred around a set of steps and a wide front door. The welcome is warm.
Our porch is runs the width of the house, is about six feet deep and has a tongue-and-groove floor and ceiling.
I’m not keen on the suburbs. I suppose that is why I live in an old house downtown, but in the suburbs, the blocks and blocks of houses that look exactly the same, seem to me to be a little soul-destroying. Huge garages and tiny front entrances.
The welcome? Not so much.
People in these houses live in their back yard; their outdoor living space is solely at the back of their house, surrounded by privacy fencing. You can only directly enjoy another’s company or have a conversation with a neighbour if you invite them into the back yard.
When we moved into our yellow brick “Berlin vernacular” nearly a dozen years ago, our front yard was literally a massive soft maple tree measuring four metres in circumference. The tree, likely planted just after the house was built, blocked our view of the immediate streetscape, darkened our rooms inside, but kept them cool. Its branches, home to squirrels, chipmunks and many birds, were so big, I feared for our house in wind storms and thunderstorms.
I loved the tree, but we never sat on the porch, which was up high, our front yard being quite steep and also quite small.
One day, just over a year after we moved in, the tree lost a sizeable branch in a storm. Not big enough to do much damage. It didn’t hit anything when it came down. Two months later, another branch – this one larger – came down across the road, narrowly missing a parked car.
Two branches in three months. The tree was rotting. It was time for it to come down. Thankfully, it was beside a hydro transformer, and that meant the city and the local hydro utility company could raze our majestic tree at no cost to us.
Once the tree was gone, I noticed I sat on the porch more often. I started drinking my after-work cups of tea and evening drams of whiskey on the porch. I bought wicker furniture so I could do this more comfortably. I could talk to our neighbours across the street without leaving the porch. They stopped to talk to me.
Today, I write from my porch. I see the bylaw enforcement officer handing out tickets on my street. I watch the post delivery person wend his way up the street, moving mailbox to mailbox. The garbage and recycling trucks have gone by. I watch people walking their dogs, or weeding their gardens. I see it all from my porch.
I see my little part of the world, from left to right, up the street and down the street, all from my porch. It feels safer to me; it’s wide open, and anyone can see if there is activity that is out of the ordinary.
A couple of years ago, my husband’s sisters came from the UK for a visit. They’d never been to Canada. When they were at our house, they spent their time on the porch. It was their favourite place to be during their visit. Most houses in the UK don’t have porches.
My porch helps me connect with people. Sometimes I offer my driveway to strangers headed the passport office around the corner, so they don’t get a ticket. My neighbourhood hosts a porch party every summer, where homeowners donate their front porches for live music performance, up and down the entire street, for an afternoon. I know of at least two other neighbourhoods that also hold porch parties.
My city is proposing changes to its zoning bylaw that would allow wider porches on the fronts of new houses, and smaller driveways and garages. The reason? To make our residential streets more inviting.
I spend almost as much time on the porch as I do on the deck at the back. When I want the quiet, I work on the deck. When I want to connect, I sit on the porch.