I am obsessed with my screened porch. I love having that first cup of coffee in the morning there—listening to birds, seeing a flash of red as a cardinal flies by, and often, if I’m lucky, watching hummingbirds feast on purple salvia. In mid-day, I love having a light lunch and a glass of iced tea there. And, in the early evening, I love sitting on the screened porch with friends, sharing cocktails and appetizers. It’s crazy, but conversations seem more relaxed, more honest and open there. Then there is the wonderful experience of enjoying soothing sounds of gentle rains. And let’s not forget returning to the porch later in the evening, lighting candles and enjoying cool breezes and crescent moons.
Our porch is the most popular room in our house. It is a simple affair with a red brick floor, a white beaded wood ceiling with a large fan, floral rug, comfortable wicker furniture with deep cushions, an antique cabinet to store candles, and a small round wrought iron table with two chairs. Our goldendoodle Lucca can frequently be found lying on the wicker sofa with her head on its arm staring outside.
Ancient Greeks were the first to develop porches with columned porticoes (which is where the word porch was derived) which marked entrances to temples, halls, and gardens. It’s easy to picture Socrates discussing philosophy with his students on one of them.
In America, screened porches gained popularity in the 1880’s when screening material became more widespread. At that time, people escaped the heat of enclosed houses and sought cooler spaces, often using them as sleeping porches—in the backs of houses and on second floors.
Then in the 1920’s screened porches became popular again as a healthier place to spend time when people were worried about germs and diseases and wanted protection from bugs. Since then, some screened porches have become quite grandiose with big-screen TV’s, fireplaces, huge dining tables and more.
It’s interesting to read about how Southern states turned porches into an art form. They copied some of the Greek’s obsession with columns and built these Greek revival mansions with magnificent verandas. (Think Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Gone with the Wind.) Many of their porches then morphed from front porches to back porches. Today, many homeowners prefer decks or patios. Or often turn former screened porches into family rooms or four-season rooms.
I’m always sad when I enter a house where the screened porch has been turned into something else. I understand why people do it—obviously so they can use the room throughout the year. But for me, those rooms lack the charm of the simple screened porch.
Hearing crickets, seeing my blue heron friend at water’s edge, drinking a glass of chilled Sancerre on my screened porch—I say that’s perfection. And maybe just a little slice of heaven.
Maria Grant was principal-in-charge of the Federal Human Capital practice of an international consulting firm. Today she focuses on reading, writing, piano, travel, nature and kayaking.