The covered platform near a house’s front door has been called many names: porch, portico, veranda, stoop, lanai, piazza. But whatever you call it, this architectural phenomenon is distinctly American. It was the New York native Andrew Jackson Downing who helped popularize the front porch as essential to American homes in his 1841 landscape gardening treatise. Houses on rivers such as the Hudson, the Connecticut — and one assumes, the Potomac — would benefit from two fronts, he said: the riverfront, of course, but also the front porch facing the neighborhood. Only so many of us live on rivers these days, but the front porch is much more common. And it’s still true, as Arlington designer Andrea Houck says, that “creating a welcoming home begins at the front door.” If you have a long porch, or a wraparound porch, for example, then you can welcome guests with multiple seating arrangements. But even if all you have is a five-square-foot space off to the side of your townhouse’s front door, you still have room for style; just choose your furniture and accessories well.
The foundation of all porches is a place to perch and watch the world go by. “If it’s a long porch on a Craftsman-style house or even some of the Colonials, have a seating group of chairs by the door,” Houck says. Trex Outdoor Furniture’s recycled-lumber Yacht Club Rocking Chairs can be lined up in a row or angled in a pair around a side table. Or one can just rock solo on a smaller porch ($330, seven colors, www.trexfurniture.com).
Just as classic as the rocking chair is the porch swing. “People still love the swing. That’s very Southern,” says Houck, who grew up in North Carolina. Ballard Design’s version, the Sunday Porch Swing, comes with cushions and pillows to encourage lingering (pre-order to ship in February, $799, www.ballarddesigns.com).
If you can’t hang a swing, try a glider sofa such as Grandin Road’s Retro Squares Sofa, which comes in turquoise, blue, lime, red, or white ($499, www.grandinroad.
A fourth option is the bench. Put Studio Murmur’s modern No. 9 Sofa, made of recycled milk jugs, by the front door, and then “at the end of the porch, you can add another bench in another direction,” Houck says, to create two different seating areas ($927, www.yliving.com). For a more traditional look and a lower price point, try the wooden Fretwork Garden Bench ($344, www.wellappointed.com).
Victoria Neale, an interior designer in Washington, agrees that creating different zones is the way to go. When doing so, she says, don’t forget a cocktail or tea-style table to set drinks on. World Market’s White Lili Punched Drum Stool doubles as drink stand and extra seat ($60, www.worldmarket.com).
The next layer to a cozy porch is a rug. Rugs “help ground the area . . .in the same way you’d plan a living room,” Houck says. Make sure you choose an indoor/outdoor rug, though, which will be designed to hold up to mildew and leaf dust. Safavieh’s Square Graphic Flatweave Rug in black or orange would dress up any porch ($109-$379, www.horchow.com).
Houck says Moroccan-inspired accents such as the Cabana Geometric Rug can help modernize Colonial-style houses ($300-$600, www.pier1.com).
Don’t have room for a rug? “For smaller spaces, a doormat can add style,” Houck says. We like the doormats from Garnet Hill’s fall collection ($34, www.garnethill.com).
Neale’s essentials for every front porch are “a door painted in a great color, a door knocker and plants if possible,” she says in an e-mail. “Also, a hanging lantern if there is room.” Meyda’s Tiffany Moravian Star Pendant is a popular choice ($259-$461, www.lightinguniverse.com). Tip: Call Lighting Universe to specify the fixture will be hung outdoors, and Meyda will design a tighter seal.
If you don’t have the height for a pendant, Houck recommends a flush-mount with some personality, such as the Nantucket Ceiling Light, available in black charcoal, brushed stainless steel and antique copper. Make sure all lights are UL-listed to be waterproof outdoors ($99-$129, www.shadesoflight.com).
When it comes to the door, especially if you have a small porch, “a gallon of high-gloss paint in a fun color, like eggplant, can spruce up a front door and make a big difference,” Houck says. (But take your architecture into consideration, Neale cautions. A funky orange might not work as well for your traditional house as well as a red, green or blue.)
Each exterior choice, from color scheme all the way down to the house numbers, is a chance to welcome guests and preview a home’s interior style. The Round Embossed Doorbell from Restoration Hardware, with five finish options, shows an attention to detail ($7-$10, www.restorationhardware.com).
Guests will also get a kick out of a fun knocker, such as the whimsical Swinging Hare Door Knocker ($40, www.anthropologie.com).
And even if you don’t have the toniest of addresses, updated address numbers, such as Atlas Homewares’ Avalon House Numbers in nickel or bronze, can make a big impact. New door numbers and hardware can go a long way toward freshening the entry without costing a fortune, Neale says ($20, www.atlashomewares.com). Complete an upscale look with the Stella Mail Slot in silver or brass ($69, www.potterybarn.com).
For every porch, Neale says, “get a couple of great pots — either larger pottery planters, or metal, or cast stone, and put small trees in them, maybe something in a topiary style.” Pottery Barn’s Live Ivy Topiary is classic. ($189-$229, pottery sold separately, www.potterybarn.com).
For a playful pottery option, there’s Bauer Pottery Co.’s 16-inch Jardiniere, which comes in 15 colors ($250-$275, www.bauerpottery.com).
And for something more modern, try industrial designer Brendan Ravenhill’s aluminum Spun Metal Planter ($80, www.brendanravenhill.com). “I normally place [pots] on either side of the porch or entry — as large as will fit,” Neale says.
Crown a winning porch with a wreathed accent. “I usually have a seasonal wreath adorning my front door. My go-to source for wreaths is Natural Decorations,” Houck says. The company’s Pine Needle Wreath is a nice twist on an evergreen for the holidays, or even year-round ($187, www.ndi.com).
Pier 1 Imports’ Wood Chip Wreath looks like it’s made of greenery, but upon closer inspection is actually made of curled wood chips ($50, www.pier1.com).
Or for a more colorful option, greet guests with a lavender wreath from the Wreath Depot. As Houck says, “creating a welcoming home begins at the front door” ($62, www.wreathdepot.com).
Roberts is an Ashburn-based freelance writer. She can be found at www.lindseymroberts.com.