A porch is a welcome mat of sorts that invites friends and family to sit, talk, share stories or catch up on neighborhood news.
It creates a front-row seat for people-watching, where you're close enough to call out a friendly greeting to a neighbor but removed enough that starting a conversation isn't required.
Sitting on the porch, you can watch it rain, listen to the birds, smell fresh cut grass or be lulled by the reassuring rhythm of a wicker rocking chair, says author Paula S. Wallace in a new book, Perfect Porches: Designing Welcoming Spaces for Outdoor Living (Clarkson Potter, $35).
The lavish photographs provide lots of ideas for creating an inviting, beautiful porch. There also are chapters on porch lighting, furnishings and ways to add color and comfort with fabric.
Wallace features 40 porches to illustrate how varied these iconic American spaces can be — from a contemporary porch on Hilton Head Island, S.C., to one on a 1906 house notched into Russian Hill in San Francisco.
Six of the porches are in Kentucky, including one in Lexington and one in Stamping Ground.
The Lexington porch is a wrap-around on the 1908 Dutch colonial revival house owned by Debbie and Tony Chamblin on South Ashland Avenue in the Chevy Chase area.
The Chamblins, owners of Belle Maison antique shop on West Short Street, sit on their porch almost every evening when the weather's nice, Debbie Chamblin said.
"We have lots of friends who like to come by and sit out there with us," she said.
The porch retains many of its original details, including a bead-board ceiling and a concrete floor edged in small ceramic tile. In the summer, Chamblin hangs a large Boston fern in each of the five bays that surround the porch.
It's a delightful place for dinner parties in the summer. When her daughter graduated from ninth grade at The Lexington School, Chamblin set up large round tables for a mother-daughter lunch for about 50 people. It's big enough that even with that many people, guests weren't bumping into one another, she said.
The Stamping Ground porch is on the front of a new guest cottage built by Willy Brown and Eddie Woods on their farm in northern Scott County. The farm is well off the beaten path, just as Woods wanted when he bought the property 40 years ago. During the week, they live in Lexington, where Brown owns a furniture-restoration company, Morningside Woodcrafters, 718 National Avenue. Come Friday afternoon, they head to Stamping Ground.
About 10 years ago, the men built a weekend cabin on the farm, using salvaged barn wood. Now covered in Virginia creeper and trumpet vine, the cabin looks as if it has stood for 100 years.
Both the cabin and the cottage have porches, but of the two, "the latter is the more unexpected," author Wallace says in Perfect Porches.
The cottage is mostly glass, with a wide porch across the front. The porch roof is corrugated steel, a great place to sit and listen when it rains. When the sliding glass doors are open, the whole cottage feels like a porch.
Mismatched chairs are pulled up around a picnic table, making a comfortable place to sip coffee and read the paper. Some of the chairs were left behind by Brown's customers. Others he made from scraps left over from various projects.
Brown said he likes to use reclaimed materials, giving beautiful old boards and windows a second life.