On a beautiful October morning last year, I made a familiar trek to downtown Greensburg through a casual set of neighborhoods with wonderful houses that date back to the early 20th century. There are tree lined streets, front porches and sidewalks. I love sidewalks. They truly demonstrate a zone of community. A space that is open to the public to traverse, but still remain part of one’s property. It is clear when someone is “in” your yard, while still being “in” the city all at the same time. It is a unique urban feature that has been erased from our contemporary suburban psyche.
As I passed a handsome, but simple house from the pre-war era, a strange feeling overtook me; this house looks very welcoming. The front door was centered on the porch stairs and nice outdoor furniture was arranged somewhat casually on the front porch. Yes there was a time when front porches meant something: community. Whatever happened to these? These welcoming architectural gestures reach out to our guests and neighbors saying “wait here protected until I answer the door.” They offer a seat to invite conversation, retrospection for those days you are alone and offer a spot for interaction with the neighbors. We do not have one on our house which we built three years ago, a modern house. And why not? When did we as a culture abandon these? Even in an urban setting, people sat outside on a smaller version, they called it a stoop. (We do have something like that).
Porches were the threshold to another feature that is being lost, the front door. We did design our house with the front door in mind. Our house directs our guests up a concrete carpet quickly and straightly to the front door. A concrete block wall emphasizes this axis and defines what little front porch or stoop we have. It lets you know you are “in” a space ready to traverse a threshold into the interior. Quite frankly, our front door is the only option for our guests to enter.
What first impression does your home say to your neighbors and guests? Do you need a literal “welcome mat” to state the obvious? We have gotten lost in the past sixty years and our sense of community is all but gone with our developments, back yard decks and three car garages littering the fronts of our houses. If we are going to be a community we need to reconsider the simple things expressed in our humble shelters.