Photograph by Aidan Hailey at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings House in Cross Creek, Florida | Illustrations by Charlie Hailey

A Case for the Porch

LATELY I’VE BEEN TRYING TO THINK LIKE A PORCH. Trying to think between the natural and the human. Thinking how best to build during a climate crisis. I came across John Cage saying that progress in art “may be listening to nature.” He thought this activity could best play out on a porch, where we can hear nature’s symphony and then breathe our own masterpieces. Can we play our porches like instruments? So that we listen to but also learn from nature?

Doing this will take practice. Porches are good for that too. Charles Mingus played his bass all day on a Los Angeles porch, photographer Paul Strand carefully studied shadows on his Connecticut porch, and writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote on her “veranda,” not far from where I am in Florida.



When we sit on a porch, we’re all engaged in some kind of creative practice. On my porch that overlooks a river, I sit, write, sketch, and wait for things to happen. When I look up at the reflected sunlight and shadows above me, I can hear John Prine sing: “You never know what you’re feeling until you watch the shadows cross the ceiling.”

What I’m feeling is that I’m worried about the future and sitting on a porch calms me down but it also makes me anxious, because here, on the house’s edge, nature tells how everything is changing. My imagination runs wild like environmentalist Rachel Carson playing what she called the hunting game from porches. She would listen to nature’s sounds and then either go out and find the source of the sound or imagine what she was hearing. I like how a porch is the jumping off point for both. It makes room for reverie and action, just as it tells stories of joy and urgency—a bright patch of blue sky alongside the undeniable change of climate.



Before the pandemic, much of the news coming from porches was about pirates. Amazon packages arrived and porch pirates helped themselves. With its aging boards and tilting deck, my own porch sometimes feels like a sinking ship, so I was surprised that here in the U.S. we’re actually building more porches. The construction industry reports an increase from 42 to 65 percent in homes built with a porch. Although some are too narrow for a chair, much less a porch swing, and many are now equipped with video doorbells, these numbers point to the porch’s lasting influence. And 78 percent of millennials have said that a front porch is either desirable or essential. Even if this desire is more about the idea of the porch—its symbolism and nostalgia—and even if we think we spend more time outside than we do—it’s actually less than 7 percent of the day, this porch renaissance hints at our openness to the outdoors. It points toward nature.



In the past year, many of us stepped out to the edges of our houses not just to gather up deliveries, but to breathe fresh air, watch neighbors, and maybe even talk to them. Porches became stages for impromptu opera arias and socially distanced jam sessions. Close enough for conversation but far enough for safety, front porches brought people together as if air-conditioning had never been invented.

On a porch, inside can feel like it’s outside. Some say they are the original social media. Posts regularly appeared on Facebook and Instagram with hashtags #porchtrait and #porchportrait with families happily posing for photographs that were public and at the same time self-reflexive. Private lives on display—curated surely, but unmasked nonetheless.



There is no better time to rethink the edges of where we live and what we build. It’s the perfect vehicle to get outside without leaving home. Porches invite nature in. Today, architects talk a lot about building sustainably, and few architectural elements embody the resiliency necessary for the Anthropocene like the porch. We can’t engineer our way out of the climate crisis, and we can’t stop building, but we need to think about building as repairing. In its early use, the word repair meant a return home, and if a porch can help bring us to nature, it should be our new home.



To think like a porch is to witness and to change our point of view. We don’t have to go far because stepping out on a porch brings climate change to us. Strand once said that the world is on our doorstep and artists can find inspiration in the nearest places. Flip that and we’re on the threshold of nature, with water from sea level rise lapping at our porch steps.

A porch is that place where we can stop thinking of nature from our perspective alone, but instead turn the camera on ourselves, take a #porchportrait from nature’s view, post it, and make the changes necessary to continue living on the earth. To think like a porch is to begin repairing our relationship with nature.


The Porch: Meditations on the Edge of Nature, by Charlie Hailey
(University of Chicago Press). Available now.



Charlie Hailey is an architect, writer, and professor. A Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright Scholar, he is the author of six books, including Camps: A Guide to 21st Century Space and Slab City: Dispatches from the Last Free Place. His most recent book is The Porch: Meditations on the Edge of Nature published by University of Chicago Press in Spring 2021. Hailey teaches design/build, studio, and theory at the University of Florida, where he was recently named Teacher/Scholar of the Year.


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  1. People move to Florida for the weather but most houses do not have an outdoor living space. They are missing a lot of life and I would be glad to see that change!

  2. I sit on my large east facing deck every morning when it’s warm enough to sit and listen to the world.
    At night I often wander out there and gaze up at the stars.
    I love your description of the porch as a transition zone, a border between inside and outside. It is here, in the in between spaces that dreams are dreamt, that new ideas form into nascent lives.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

  3. I live in a house that is 110 years old and has a huge Covered porch that is incorporated with the rest of the house which is stucco. Since I live in four seasons area this porch in the spring ,summer ,fall and sometimes winter is a godsend. It has been the place of many gatherings in the past 40 years, many creative activities, lots of reading, lots of discussion and most of all a reprieve from the interior walls of the house. I loved this article and can relate to it very well.Thank you for sharing your appreciation of a porch. Not all of us have that opportunity.

  4. Thank you. I had porches every where I lived for many years of my life. He’s right about it being the first social media. It’s also a place to sit in the quiet & enjoy sun, wind , fresh air, clouds, rain, etc. It has led me to value my contemplative life which saves my soul/ sanity.

  5. Our screened-in porch is my favorite room at our humble lake cottage with its wicker chairs for reading and watching the pond, a table for sharing meals and playing board games, and a ceiling fan to keep a gentle breeze going on hot summer days.

  6. I neither have nor desire a porch. Here on the edge of a 25,000 acre nature preserve, the world comes to me. Bobcats, ravens, hawks, pumas, and snakes are all part of our neighborhood. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish that every human being had the connections to the natural work the my partner and I have. Thanks for the great writing!

  7. Back in the 60’s, at the end of the day, all the neighbors came out to their front porches. Tired factory working parents sat on the front steps to watch their large tribe of kids play kickball in the street. I remember seeing the orange glow of my Dad’s cigarette from the street as he sat inside our giant screened in porch watching the game. During the summer we’d pull the big kitchen table to the front porch for the season. We would sleep on the porch if it got too hot upstairs in the second floor bedrooms. Junebugs buzzing around the street lights through the hot humid nights, bats swooping. As an adult I always point out a “good porch” to my husband when we are on our evening walks. As an adult, I sit and paint or sketch while the sun goes down on my back porch. We have a small group of neighbors that have taken to “stoop sitting.” Gathering us on a front steps with a simple text that reads, “STOOP?” Thank you for this great article.

  8. This is a thoughtful reflection on the transitions between interior space and the world beyond our constructs.
    I spend every possible moment on our home’s porch, and we eat dinner there most nights from May to October.
    I even sit there during thunderstorms, despite my family’s disapproval. I like feeling the change in pressure.
    I can’t get enough of fresh air, birdsong, and watching the light play over the trees.

  9. Original Social Media! How apt! My simple 100-year old, small town home was purchased in large part because of its front porch. Thirty years ago it was shaded by a huge old maple tree, but Mother Nature claimed her one night in the late 90s. We nurtured a burr oak over the ensuing years and she now shades my summer afternoons, while housing and feeding families of birds and squirrels. This peaceful space is my nest, beginning and ending my days much of the year. It’s the place I dream, write, reflect and recharge. Sliding windows on three sides keep me in touch with the nearby trees and urban critters; the sounds of children at play bring smiles; impromptu visits with neighbors and folks passing by bring news, companionship and the occasional sloppy dog kiss. In January and February, whenWisconsin winters grow long, the power of the morning sun warms my nest and draws me to grab a sweatshirt and soak up some afternoon rays, lightening my spirit.

  10. I’ve been working as an architect on better porches for a few decades. The biggest problem with most is that their low roofs put the rooms behind them in perpetual gloom. If you raise the eaves up to 12 to 14 feet, the low winter sun gets into the rooms behind. Also, you experience more sky sitting on the porch, while still enjoying shade most of the day. That height can be a challenge to arrange, but is worth the effort.

  11. I have a fixer-upper summer getaway in the mountains about 100 miles from where I live. The old mobile home offers bathrooms, hot showers, refrigerator, stove, furnace, and a place to keep my stuff. I had a 8’x40′ porch built along one side, and that is where I spend most of my time, reading, napping, visiting, watching sunrise and sunset on the mountain, birds at the feeder, neighbors walking their dogs or riding their bikes, and sometimes deer browsing by on the lot next door. Best of all, it’s a great sleeping porch. I see stars, airplanes, satellites, cats, foxes, a few bears over the years, and restless neighbors out walking in the wee hours. When the temperature drops or the snow flies, I plug in my electric blanket. I’ve always liked sleeping outside, and this is my kind of camping 🙂

  12. I too, like Judy Kennedy above, live in a 110+-year-old home. Mine was built as a medical clinic to help mustard gas victims in WWI. The porch has four door/window combinations (where there had been separate rooms) that lead out to a deep covered porch. Patients could go out and sit and watch the clouds move across the Olympic mountains (Washington state). When it was opened for a TB sanitarium, the porch with its warmth was used to bake the illness out of one’s lungs. I love that our porch has a healing history. Thank you for this lovely article.

  13. Saturday 18APR20 8:10 pm.
    It was a beautiful day. An early morning rain, then clear skies, low humidity, upper 60’s and a breeze. To the previous 30+ years of sweat equity invested into our place, the missus and I each invested another 12 hours today. We pulled weeds, worked the garden, built a potting bench, pulled weeds, transplanted flowers, propagated maple trees, cleared brush, pulled weeds, pruned trees, picked up limbs, planted bulbs, and pulled weeds.
    We located here 30+ years ago, primarily for the lifestyle: quiet, rural, stars at night, owls and hawks and geese and horses, good neighbors with good fences, a great place to raise kids, close enough but not too close to ‘downtown’ Clover, Gastonia, Rock Hill and Charlotte. I sense that most people in and around Clover feel the same way. [Clover neighbors, I’d welcome your confirmation about this.] It’s not everybody’s cup o’ tea, but we like it.
    The potting bench was built with re-purposed lumber, some of which was a tree house in our kids’ younger days.
    The blueberry bushes are loaded. We’ll have plenty if the deer and birds permit. The apple tree my son planted as a toddler is loaded with small apples. Some perennials along the fence line are already blooming. It took years to work rocks and red clay into soil that flowers grow in.
    This morning, our down-the-road neighbor walked her dog by our place. We looked up from our weeding, and had a pleasant conversation over the fence, about dogs and families. We sent her home with a handful of freshly cut irises.
    A small patch of columbines is still alive, but struggling. My father gave those columbines to my wife several years before he died in 2008.
    The fig bush my daughter and son-in-law gave us as a Christmas present years ago looks like it will survive. The deer nearly destroyed it a few years back. But we put a fence around it, and there is new growth.
    In the late afternoon, our across-the-pasture neighbor walked over. We discussed gardening, carpenter bees, the beaver damage around the pond, the thistles and daisies in the pasture, dogs and her chickens and horses.
    Settling in to our favorite front porch rockers to enjoy dusk, the view, and some apple pie and ice cream, as if on cue, 20 or so Canada geese flew over in V formation. This time we heard them coming, honking from 30 seconds away. Other times, they fly by silently, except for that whistling sound when they flap their wings.
    The barred owls will start calling each other soon.
    I am a very grateful man.

  14. I love my porches. We have a front porch that looks out onto the park across the street from our house. We have back deck that provides a view of our what I call our back forty. It is an area of our back yard that was once a vegetable garden. When I bought the house I decided to et that area go wild and trees have grown large over time. Both porches give us great pleasure allowing us to comfortably enjoy nature, the outdoors…..

  15. I too love porches and have been lucky enough to own a few over the years. I now live in a condo with a large east facing balcony that overlooks a lake and a bird-filled tree canopy. I am looking at it now over the top of my screen. Sadly though, we are being very self-congratulatory. The huge majority of people in the US live in small spaces, in cities, with hardly even a view of the outdoors through a tiny window. They have no hope of a porch in their lives because there is no space to build such houses. In my city, “increased density” is the watch-word, and so it must be, to accommodate the burgeoning population. While relaxing on our porches, decks and balconies, let us remember that and be humbly grateful.

  16. Your wonderfully written and thoughtful essay brings back the memory of a long weekend I spent entirely on the porch of a house in the woods of Southern Indiana. It was May, and I had never heard so many bird songs before. I was pet-sitting, and I did not speak (except to the dog and cats) for three days and nights. The home owners had a bed on the porch, as well as a table and chairs, so this was where I camped. Living on that porch inspired me to write an essay, similar to yours but focusing less on the role of porches and more on the need for reconnection to nature. It began with Rachel Carson and the birds.
    Congratulations! May your book change the world!

  17. I live in a rural area of Georgia, and I have a screened porch on the east side of the house. A glider setee is there, a lounge chair as well as two large wooden rockers. I often eat an early breakfast or even just go there for a cup of tea later in the day. Several bird houses and feeders are viewed well from this spot as well as cows grazing in the pasture. I am now 77 years old, have raised four wonderful children here, and this porch as well as the view from it are sacred spaces to me!!

    I greater enjoy the writings in your publication. Thanks. Mary Ann Cauthen (Moreland, GA)

  18. As someone who also like porches, I’ve had the good fortune to possess a number throughout the years. I now reside in an apartment with a sizable east-facing balcony that views out into a lake and a tree canopy teeming with birds. Currently, I am viewing it above my screen. Unfortunately, we are praising ourselves a much. The vast majority of people in the US reside in cramped cities with only a small window providing a view of the outside. Because there isn’t enough room to build such dwellings, they have no chance of ever having a porch in their lifetimes. “Increased density” is the watchword in my city, which is necessary to handle the growing population. while unwinding on our patios and porches

  19. Dave Bauer
    On my porch, I can breathe. I muse. I open my being to the presence of nature. Sounds become subtle, curious, and soothing. On my porch I quiet down, and journal in the morning when the stillness of a morning opens me up[ to wonder. Wonderful conversations are had in the company of a friend.

  20. I have to admit; the porch sold me on my house. It’s wide and long; filled w/passed down wicker furniture and LOTS of pillows/cushions. For the summer months, I always want it to feel like inside. Folks love going back and forth between the porch and equally ‘pillowed’ patio. Much love to serene get-away space.

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