Columned for a classical look. After the Revolution, the U.S. took an interest in classical architecture — first of Rome and ultimately of Greece, considered the birthplace of American democracy. Greek Revival dominated the young nation’s style in the first half of the 19th century, especially in the South.
Like Grecian temples, Greek Revival houses typically have porches supported by columns, with a wide band of trim and a triangular pediment above. The columns are often Doric with plain shafts, though other types, including Ionic (pictured), fluted and square, are used as well. They’re usually painted white to look like marble.
Also characteristic of Greek Revival style is a front door flanked by narrow sidelights and topped by a horizontal transom — an entrance the porch serves to highlight.
Raised above rising water. In low-lying coastal areas, elevating a house — along with its porch — on stilts or piers is another way to protect it from water and allow cooling breezes to circulate all around it.
The International Residential Code, a model for local jurisdictions, stipulates that porches more than 30 inches above grade must have a railing.
The bricks that built Savannah. This porch sits on a raised foundation of Old Carolina Brick Co.’s hand-formed Savannah Grey bricks, made using traditional techniques to resemble the millions of bricks crafted by slaves at the Hermitage Plantation, on the Savannah River in Georgia, in the 1800s. The original bricks got their distinctive grayish color from the composition of the river’s mud. They were widely used to rebuild the city of Savannah after a fire destroyed 463 structures in 1820, and again during Reconstruction.
Bricks reclaimed from these old buildings are among the most sought-after building materials in the South for historic preservation and home renovation projects, according to the Savannah Morning News. And the bricks inspired by them are an Old Carolina bestseller.
The concrete that comes from oysters. These Old Carolina Savannah Grey bricks step down to a porch paved in tabby. This coastal concrete — made by burning oyster shells to create lime and then mixing it with water, sand and broken oyster shells — has been used in the South since the 16th century.
In the antebellum period, the labor-intensive process depended on slaves, who then poured and tamped the tabby into wood forms called cradles and allowed it to dry. Tabby was made into bricks, used like mortar and used like concrete for floors, foundations, columns and roofs.
Charleston green paint and a small act of rebellion. A green so deep that it appears in many lights to be black is a popular color for exterior trim and outdoor furniture in Charleston and beyond. Legend has it that the U.S. government sent gallons of basic black paint to help the city rebuild after the Civil War, but rather than use it as it was, the proud residents added a touch of yellow or green to make it their own. The formulas vary, but most paint companies offer a version of Charleston green. Sherwin-Williams, for example, offers Greenblack.
On this porch, Charleston green paint coats the shutters and handrail. The ceiling, handrail and two-by-two pickets are cypress, a wood native to the Southeast that’s moisture- and insect-resistant. The floor is tongue-and-groove ipe.
Haint blue paint and an old superstition. It’s common to see the ceilings of Southern porches painted what’s known as haint blue — again, not a specific color, but rather any number of soft, pale blues, from aqua to periwinkle. The name is said to have originated with descendants of enslaved Africans living on the coast and coastal islands of the Southeast. (They’re known as Gullah in the Carolinas and Geechee in Georgia and Florida.) In their folklore, evil spirits called haints can’t cross water, and painting porch ceilings and doorways the color of water was a way of tricking the spirits into leaving the house alone.
As time went on, the color also took on the reputation of being able to repel wasps and mosquitoes, perhaps because paint back then sometimes contained lime or indigo, known insect repellents. In any case, painting a porch ceiling sky blue is a charming way of blending the indoors and out.
Max Crosby Construction of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, used Sherwin-William’s Piazza Blue for this ceiling. It has been discontinued, but other Max Crosby haint blue favorites are Sherwin-Williams’ Atmospheric and Blue Horizon.
Shades against sunshine. Shades don’t do much to fend off pests, but they’re easier to install, provide privacy and shade, and contribute to a layered look.
Roller shade construction: West Awning; shade fabric: Manhattan Fog, Sunbrella
An even easier way to extend your porch time with atmospheric lighting is by using hurricane lanterns — candles protected by glass chimneys. They’re useful during storms too.
Ceiling fans to beat the heat. The gently rotating blades of a ceiling fan or two help many a Southerner withstand summer’s sweltering heat. The electric ceiling fan arrived in the late 1800s, and by the 1920s it was in widespread residential use. Sales slowed with the introduction of home air-conditioning systems in the 1950s, only to speed up again during the 1970s oil crisis. Not only are ceiling fans energy-efficient, but they add romantic ambiance to boot.
Porch fans that risk coming into direct contact with water should be rated for wet locations.
Joggling boards’ comeback. Now, a rocking, bouncing bench — that’s a truly Southern thing. The story goes that the joggling board debuted in the early 1800s at Acton Plantation in South Carolina. Mary Huger, the sister of the plantation owner, suffered from rheumatism, and concerned kin drew up plans for a device that would give her a bit of exercise while simulating the motion of her beloved carriage rides. The long, springy wooden board supported at the ends by stands on rockers went out on the porch so that she could get some fresh air.
Huger’s board started a trend throughout the South’s Low Country — and not just among the old folks. Young people could converse in relative privacy without a chaperone on the porch, and joggling — even if they started out sitting on opposite ends of a 16-foot board — would bring them together in the middle, perhaps even close enough to kiss.
As lumber costs increased, joggling boards fell out of fashion, but they’re being revived, even in shorter lengths for smaller spaces, by companies such as The Old Charleston Joggling Board Co. and The Joggle Factory.
Hammocks with a long history. Southern porches often sport a hammock for stretching out. Pawleys Island Hammocks has been making its original cotton rope hammock, which has spreader bars, on the South Carolinian barrier island of the same name for 125 years.
Although this porch already offers plenty of places to sit a spell, the seating-height rail conveniently accommodates overflow guests.
Daybed swings with a bright future. Daybed swings are giving other porch perches a run for their money these days, perhaps because they combine the swaying of rockers and the roominess of hammocks with the comfort of sofas. Their popularity has produced a cottage industry in the Charleston area, where manufacturers include Bulls Bay Bed,Carolina Hanging Beds, Lowcountry Swing Beds, Original Charleston Bedswing andVintage Porch Swings.
Greenery to bring the outdoors in. The porch is a place where Southerners can show off their green thumbs with baskets of ferns suspended from a beam; a pair of urns spilling over with flowers by the entryway; or a potted dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor), a shorter cousin of South Carolina’s and Florida’s state tree.
After World War II, the automobile, air conditioning and television contributed to the decline of the porch, as Americans went indoors to avoid car exhaust, cool off and be entertained. But there are signs that the pendulum is swinging back. The National Association of Home Builders reports that just over 65 percent of newly built homes in the U.S. (and 86 percent in four Southeastern states) have porches, up from 42 percent in 1994. Whether those porches will be used in the same way — or at all — is an open question, one that’s bound to come up at the third annual Conference on the Front Porch, which examines the architectural and sociological importance of the porch in the South. It’s set this year for Oct. 25-26 in Taylor, Mississippi.
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