A Porch is a Porch, Of Course, Of Course

Corner brick piers with triple tapered columns topped with decorative brackets.

For those of us who live in historic Midtown neighborhoods, our front porches are our favorite component of bungalow living. According to the book Craftsman Homes, “Porches should be equipped with all that is necessary for daily use, so as to avoid the carrying back and forth of tables, chairs, and the like.” Even though air-conditioning makes the porch almost unnecessary today, some new middle-class homes construction continues to sport wanna-be porches with skinny imitations of grand columns.

“I think it makes a house over all much more desirable for certain buyers and sells faster,” said Frank Powell, a member of the Hat Team. “If I had to put a figure on a nice covered porch I would say $2,000-4,000 might be a fair amount for the historic designated areas of Montgomery where they are more important. You also have to consider newer developments like The Waters where they are reclaiming this once popular extra cost item when building as an important element of their whole concept.”

Porch construction was neither simple nor boring, and sometimes included exaggeration or whimsy as decorative extra elements. Columns, often constructed of classical designs, were necessary to hold up the porch roof. The most popular design for a bungalow was the tapered four-sided wooden column, supported with assorted heights of brick piers.

The development of screened porches was a bridge between the openness of the traditional front porch and the confinement of today’s air-conditioned home. Wire mesh itself can be traced to the looms of early 19th century Shakers, but we Southerners adapted screens for privacy and for protection from insects. These screened-in porches were often one of the first elements of a bungalow to fall victim to “updating” with lattice, glass and aluminum or even plywood. Many times, the original piers and columns are intact and it would be a simple job to open up the porch.

One of the most noteworthy of our southern porch traditions is the color of the porch ceiling, which is enjoying a decorating resurgence. “Porch ceilings have always been blue in the South,” says Lori Sawaya, an independent color strategist. “People continue to paint their porch ceiling blue because that’s what their grandmother did, and that’s what her grandmother did.”

There are numerous theories as to why ceilings were traditionally painted blue. With the natural colors — greens, browns, mustards, olives, and ochres—being the preferred palette for bungalows, blue was the perfect compliment for porch ceilings to simulate the overhead skies.

Some long-time Southerners suggested that blue porch ceilings originated out of the fear of haints, unhappy souls that have not transitioned to the next world. Painting the porch ceiling or front door blue was intended to protect the house and its occupants from evil.

Other people adhere to the theory that blue paint repels insects, leaving a porch mosquito-free and pleasant during the long, hot summer. Early milk paints used on ceilings were composed of a lye mixture, known to be a natural insect repellent, which would explain why insects would avoid nesting on a painted porch ceiling or porch railing.

Haints and insects aside, many people chose to paint the porch ceiling blue simply because it made the room look and feel calming and relaxing. Today, people also paint the porch ceiling blue because the color seems to emulate the natural sky and makes the daylight hours feel as though they last just a little longer. “Light blues especially lighten and brighten space and propagate any light that you do get, because of the basic nature of color,” says Sawaya.

Once just an old Southern tradition, new sustainable eco-friendly architecture with blue porch ceilings are being introduced to the new green generations.

“Most paint experts agree that the best shade of blue is the one that fits the look of the house,” cautions Zoe Kyriacos, architectural color consultant for Colors by Zoe in Takoma Park, Md. “You want to make it look like it was part of the package.”

Kyriacos says blue can be used on any style of house; it just depends on the blue. A traditional house would use a more traditional color, something lighter. On a contemporary house you can do something bolder, something brighter. Also consider the natural light and which direction your porch faces. Sawaya recommends three shades of Sherwin-Williams paint to those looking to paint their own porch ceiling blue:

  • SW 6471 Hazel
  • SW 6505 Atmospheric
  • SW 6944 Pool Blue

Much of our southern reputation for hospitality originates from these ubiquitous porches. Today, Midtown porches continue to be used to entertain, to serve food, and to supply play space, all providing quality time with friends and family. So pour a lemonade, put your feet up and enjoy watching the world go by on your porch!

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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