When I envision the quintessential Southern home, it is inevitably anchored by a gracious porch. This isn’t just any porch—it is the porch. The envy of the neighborhood, the ideal space to entertain guests and the luxurious spot to sip sweet tea and sit a spell.
Perhaps it’s childhood nostalgia, or a deep-seated desire to be Scarlett O’Hara, but Southern porches hold a certain reverence for me. The porch is the soul of the home, bearing witness to joyous celebrations, cathartic conversations and even a lamentable moment or two.
Whether it be a front, back or side porch, a patio or a veranda, a well-designed outdoor oasis balances four critical elements: paint, lighting, furniture and decor. Now is the time to rejuvenate your porch for the long summer nights ahead. So, unlock your creativity and remember that the sky is the limit—or maybe the roof.
Color Your World
A coat of paint immediately elevates any space, and on a porch the possibilities for paint are endless. In the South, many porch ceilings sport “Haint Blue,” which ranges from bright blue to pale blue to green-tinted to near periwinkle. Legend has it that this color in its many shades is reminiscent of water and protects the home from evil spirits. Though this practice originated in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor stretching from North Carolina to Florida, varying shades of blue can be found on ceilings across the country. For an extra touch of warmth, adhere bead board to the ceiling before painting.
Don’t forget to give love to porch-adjacent areas. White-wash brick steps for a softer look. Exchange traditional wood railings for steel cable to make the space feel more open and modern. Paint doors a cheery color for curb appeal that is second to none.
If, like me, you can’t commit to a color, rest assured, you’re not alone—the struggle is real. Furniture is perhaps the most cost-effective and versatile way to experiment with color. Transform lifeless metal end tables into focal points with a coat of metallic spray paint. Rejuvenate a simple black bookcase by glossing the back of each shelf with a vibrant hue. Even unadorned flower pots gain a renewed purpose once coated with a gutsy shade—hot pink, royal blue, lime green … so many choices!
Thoughtful lighting is a critical element of a well-curated front porch. A hospitable front porch simultaneously creates an illuminated path into our homes and a staging area to soak in the beauty of the outside world. Lighting design has many possibilities in this unique exterior space. Frame the front door with vintage sconces. This adds charm and enhances the practicality of the space: a well-lit porch ensures it is easy to unlock the door when returning home at night and acts as a deterrent for crime. Another great option is lanterns. Cluster various sizes on steps leading to a porch, or on either side of the front door. While fresh candles will always be my first choice, LED candles offer an inviting glow, and many lanterns have built-in LED candles—no fuss, no muss!
Candles, LED or otherwise, are great to scatter throughout the porch. Place a few on a side table, or as a centerpiece on an outdoor dining table. A porch soaked in candlelight gleams with phosphorescence. To enhance the aura even further, hang string lights. Who said they were just for the holidays? Dangle them from the ceiling to simulate a starry sky, or use them to wrap the porch railing. Swathe bushes and trees that flank the porch, or fill an empty wine bottle to create a make-shift lamp that doesn’t skimp on style.
For a superlative porch, position a chandelier above your front door or a seating area. Antique shops often have vintage varieties with decorative droplets. Or, for the crafty at heart, produce a DIY chandelier by stuffing string lights into grapevine balls. To create an all-season porch, incorporate an outdoor heater—typically gas or propane operated. Regardless of whether you plan to use it on an open or enclosed porch, always check the safety manual to ensure it is approved for use in that type of space. You can never be too careful!
Furnish Your Wonderland
At its core, a porch is essentially an outdoor living room, so furnish it as such. Though many porches are covered, the elements still creep in from time to time, so choose weather-resistant fabrics and use sealant on furniture, if needed. Particularly during the humid summer months, ceiling fans are a must-have. They provide a much-needed breeze and help keep bugs at bay.
Before selecting furniture, first decide the intention of the space. Do you want an informal seating area? A sophisticated dining room? A well-worn lounge? These decisions will inform furniture selection. Again, think of this space as an extension of the existing interior living areas. Also, identify patterns and colors to apply outside that complement the style of furniture already in the home.
I always champion a mix of pieces—chairs, love seats, benches—to increase the adaptability of the porch. I also love to mix materials. Outdoor furniture is often made of teak, rattan and wicker. My personal favorite is cast aluminum. Its weight and durability is only matched by its stylishness. I adore traditional options with delicate design flourishes molded into the metal. What could be cuter?
Employ smaller pieces to anchor your porch—end tables, ottomans, a coffee table and a sideboard, if space allows. These items uplift your arrangement from one-off pieces to a cohesive vignette. A porch is the perfect place to use an unexpected coffee table design. How about a vintage wooden factory cart? A steamer trunk? Small ottomans? In the DIY spirit, you can even take a galvanized steel bucket and place a wooden round on top for a quick and easy table.
Of course, a Southern porch wouldn’t be complete without a beverage cart. No matter the size of your space, there is always room for a refreshing libation, whether it be apple juice for the little ones or mint juleps for the adults. Bookcases and small movable kitchen islands are easily adapted to fit this need—a friend of mine even repurposed an antique sewing machine table. Bonus points if there is a cooler nearby, or, even better, built into the cart!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention porch swings. Gliding into a warm afternoon breeze in the comfort of my own front porch sounds like a dream. From single-seaters to benches made for two, swings and porches go together like peas and carrots, as Forrest Gump would say.
People often seem timid about decorating porches, assuming a minimalist approach is required because it’s an exterior space exposed to the elements. Push any reservations aside and think of it as just another room, a continuation of an established aesthetic. After all, there should be continuity between a home’s interior and exterior. Remember, a porch offers the first glimpse of motifs to come—don’t perplex visitors with haphazardly mixed styles.
To enliven the walls, consider hanging mirrors, which reflect light and expand the visual space, and antique windows, which are excellent for displaying photographs. In true Southern spirit, install a wooden monogram on the wall to claim ownership of the porch and home. In a seating area, add a rug to create a cozy spot for respite. If the rug will be in the path of weather, use an outdoor fabric to resist mold and mildew.
Admittedly, I am a bit of a curtain addict. In fact, when I move into a new home, the first things I do are assemble the bed and hang curtains, much to my husband’s chagrin. The same goes for a fresh outdoor space. Curtains augment a simple porch into an intimate space worthy of a tête-à-tête. As I found out the hard way, standard curtain rods don’t often come in the lengths needed for unconventional dimensions found on most porches. I recommend visiting your local hardware store for electric metallic tube conduit (e.g., a pipe), which they can cut to a custom size in-store. Snag a pack of steel pipe hangers and voila—it’s a curtain rod! Lattice can also be used to create separation, especially on outer porch walls that face a neighbor’s home. Plant a flowering vine and allow it to weave into the lattice to create both privacy and beauty.
A porch wouldn’t be complete without foliage. From potted plants to hanging baskets to vertical gardens, lush blooms vitalize a porch. Shade-loving Boston ferns and hostas have long been a staple of porchscapes. For color, impatiens and petunias are just the ticket and come in a variety of hues.
I can still picture my perfect porch: an effortless amalgamation of coastal hues and rustic chic elements. While my vision may differ from yours, the recipe for a successful porch design remains the same: Balance paint, lighting, furniture and decor for a space you’ll enjoy all the seasons through.