Porches = Eyebrows. Let Me Explain.

I remember 30 plus years ago when my wife and I were looking for our first home my wife had a couple of basic features she wanted in a home.

One of those items was a front porch. And I’ll admit I wanted one as well.

Well, we are still living in the first house we bought 33 years ago, and alas, we’ve never had a front porch

We fell in love with our house and the neighborhood as soon as we saw it, and we feel the same way about the house and the neighborhood today as we did back then. So not having a front porch was not, and has not, been a deal-breaker.

But that does not mean we have given up on our desire to have a front porch.

When we talk about possibly moving when we retire, we tell each other that a porch would be a high priority.

My wife’s sister’s family has a wonderful front porch; it’s a great a place for the family to gather, and to greet neighbors as they walk past the house.

For me, I think what I would enjoy most about having a front porch would be just sitting there during a good thunderstorm or curling up with a good book.

Front porches seem like a throw-back to a kinder, gentler way of living, and a way of getting to know your neighbors and fostering a greater sense of community.

However, a story in today’s Wall Street Journal by reporter Adrienne Gaffney talks about the rise and fall of front porches.

Renee Kahn, a historic preservationist and retired art history professor who, with the architectural designer Ellen Meagher, wrote the 1990 book “Preserving Porches,” explains that the porch became possible after the Industrial Revolution when manufacturing made prefabricated parts easy to come by. The growth of leisure time in the 1800s made the idea of a place to relax and socialize particularly appealing.

Porches became a staple of Southern architecture in part because of the respite they provided from stifling heat.

But, starting with the invention of the automobile, it became less attractive to sit outside, according to architect and University of Miami professor Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. “The fumes, the noise. Up until then, you could sit on a porch at night and chat with your neighbors. It was social. It was pleasant,” she says. Once autos showed up, people began building side porches instead of front porches, she says, but then “with air conditioning and television, the whole thing disappears all together. That marks the end of the porch.”

Professor Plater-Zyberk believes that the front porch fuses a connection between homeowners to their neighbors and those passing by on the street.

Ms. Kahn notes that she does not see porches anymore on the new buildings that are going up and if they’re there, nobody sits on them.

She advocates that existing porches never be removed from homes.

“My analogy is, you take a porch off of the front of a house and it’s like shaving off somebody’s eyebrows. It’s a key form of showing expression.

So there you have it, porches are like eyebrows; they are a key form of expression.

So I’ll take it as a good omen that my wife and I still have our eyebrows, that must be a sign that we’ll have our porch someday.

But the analogy also makes me wonder what Andy Rooney’s front porch must have looked like.

 

20 thoughts on “Porches = Eyebrows. Let Me Explain.

  1. I love the Andy Rooney reference, Jim. Those eyebrows were one of his most distinctive features. I hope you and your wife get that front porch someday with your retirement home. We don’t have a front porch either, but our back deck serves the same purpose. It is the place where we like to sit to visit, soak up the sun, have a cold one, and say hi to one of our few neighbors.

  2. I’ve always wanted a front porch too … a porch CAN be added to a house, and that might be cheaper than moving.

    I know the invention of A/C (by a man in whose statue graces Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol representing the state of Florida) turned us into less social animals, more prone to hang out indoors than outdoors … similarly the invention of remote controls on garage doors made us less likely to know our neighbors as we drive home from work straight into garages instead of parking on the driveway or street.

    File these inventions (and so many other measures of “progress”) under “unintended consequences”

    Something gained, but something lost too. (Just as the invention of the TV remote coincided with the term couch potato… leading to weight gain and contributing factor to the obesity epidemic)

    I have porch envy whenever I walk around our neighborhood and see how some house designs are better able to accommodate a porch as an add ons … especially I envy the ones with porch swings! how fun and companionable.

    I eased my porch envy by putting a tiny bistro table and 2 small wrought iron chairs on our front stoop. They look charming (tho cramped in the space) but are far better than nothing …and I do sometimes sit out there on beautiful mornings to have my coffee … and in the afternoons to wait for my son’s bus to drop him off. If two people sit there together the space is so small, our knees knock, but then touch is also important part of being human social animals, so that’s ok.

    If we ever strike it rich I will add a porch to our house!

    1. Hi Susan – it’s so good to hear from you, it’s been a while. I hope all is well, I miss your thoughtful blog posts. In regards to the porch, we had thought about building a porch, but now that we may not be in our current house too much longer, we do not think it would be a good move financially. One of our neighbors has a set-up that sounds like yours, but as you note, it only holds a couple of people. I agree that were some negative unintended consequences with advances such as A/C and remote garage doors. It also seems most people prefer backyard decks these days. If I had my choice, I think I’d go with a front porch. Here’s to you striking it rich!

      1. Life got busy so I set aside blogging & commenting too … but I do still read many of yours! And yes, we DO have a back deck, but I don’t sit on it as much, tho it is way bigger than our front stoop.

        We’re at the stage of “downsizing”, so I probably never will get a real front porch … so pricey to build.

        My one friend who built a porch onto her home (complete with porch swing) just sold that house and moved to a golf course community …her home sold in just days after it was listed–probably due to that sweet, inviting front porch she had built!

      2. Well hopefully you find the time to blog occasionally, since I always enjoyed reading them. Are you still working on your memoir? That’s good to know that porches may help resale value!

      1. We have thought of that, but now that we are thinking of moving in a few years, it probably would not make sense financially to add on a front porch.

    1. Hi Roberta, I can’t take credit for equating porches to eyebrows – that’s a little too esoteric for me, but I will take credit for mentioning Andy Rooney’s eyebrows!

    1. Hi Chrissie. The nature of our neighborhood is that there are usually kids playing out on the street, which brings the parents out there as well. It would be nice if there were porches to hang out while all this front yard activity is taking place, but there are only a couple of front porches in our neighborhood of about 180 homes.

  3. I loved reading this and the analogy. I hope you and your wife get your front porch you always wanted. For me it I prefer to have a deck or patio, I wonder what analogy could have been used for that.🧐

    1. Thanks, LaShawn. And thanks for your wishes on having a front porch someday. I think the eyebrow analogy could be extended to include both porches and decks. They can all be used to express who we are. Have a great day!

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