Nothing says summertime like relaxing on the front porch or hanging out on the back deck

Story by Meredith Coopman

Spring, summer and fall in Montana equate to porch weather. At least in our neighborhood. During the winter months, we rarely see our neighbors. But once the sun starts shining and temperatures warm up, like the bears, everyone comes out of hibernation. We are drawn to nature, the outdoors and sunshine. Porches connect your interior and exterior and provide additional living space while keeping you connected with your neighborhood.

A porch is an extension to the exterior of a house, generally at the same level as the floor inside and with a cover. It may be on the front, back or side of the house, and a single home may have multiple porches. The sides could be open, screened or glassed. It’s a practical space to protect you from the elements while you’re waiting to enter the home, a place to take off your shoes or even a spot to store a recent Amazon order.

The front porch is the most traditional kind of porch. While some say the kitchen is the heart of a house, others are certain the porch is its soul. From the very first step, you know if you’re welcome or not and are offered a little glimpse about the people inside. The front porch sets a tone for the house and gives a preview of what’s to come. The front porch also receives friends, family and strangers all in the same way. Everybody uses the porch: neighborhood kids coming over to play, UPS and FedEx drivers, missionaries, boy scouts, kids selling popcorn, neighbors bringing over baked goods.

A back porch is typically more informal than a front porch and offers more versatility. A back porch is a great way to link your kitchen and the backyard or garden. It’s often a more private and quiet place to enjoy nature or host a summer barbecue. Commonly, back porches tend to be larger and more functional. They’re an outside extension of the home and can function as another living space with room for the whole family and then some.

A wraparound porch is just that: a porch that wraps around the whole house. It can extend the living space of any room and will make a home feel more spacious when opened up to rooms inside. With a wraparound porch, you can create different zones with seating areas for large or small numbers or even a personal spot for reading and relaxing.

Patios are characteristically open, outdoor spaces adjacent to a home that are paved with pavers, brick, stone or concrete. If it’s made of wood, it’s called a deck.

A veranda can be a large porch that is used for entertaining, or it may be a gallery running along one or more sides of a house, roofed and maybe with a railing. Often times, a veranda will wrap around a house.

Lanai is the Hawaiian word for patio or balcony. A lanai is typical of tropical climates and generally is furnished like a room. It may have removable panels of glass, screen or plastic and usually has a hard surface floor, similar to a patio. You won’t find lanais in Montana.

Outdoor living spaces can be very versatile and multipurposed. Porches and decks don’t have to be strictly for the warmer months. It’s easy to include details that will make your porch usable three or four seasons out of the year. A fireplace, a ceiling fan, screens to keep out bugs and insulation in the ceiling are just a few of the options to consider. They’re not limited to waking hours either, as sleeping porches are becoming more popular.

Interesting Facts Regarding Porches, Decks and Patios

  • Haint blue porch paint has become a standard for porch ceilings. The belief is that blue wards off evil spirits while others believe it helps repel mosquitos and other bugs.
  • A nice indoor/outdoor rug will warm up your porch and give it a cozy feel.
  • Add outdoor curtains to soften the look of your porch and give it a romantic impression.
  • Choose furniture of teak or iron — something easy to maintain.
  • Porch swings and rocking chairs? Yes please.
  • Sunbrella is a fade-resistant fabric that is great for outdoor furniture and rugs.
  • Railings and stairs play a significant role in the overall look of your porch.
  • Building codes require a railing around the perimeter of any porch or deck that is more than 30 inches above grade, and your railing must be at least 36 inches high.
  • The spacing between balusters cannot be more than 4 inches so that small children can’t fit between them.
  • Woods suitable for railings include cedar, white oak, redwood and pressure-treated wood.
  • There are rails made from synthetic alternatives to wood (like vinyl) that offer durability and very little maintenance.
  • Substantial posts are generally considered more pleasing to the eye than spindly ones.
  • Use lattice skirting or ornamental vents to encourage good air flow underneath your porch, which reduces the chance of mold and rot problems.
  • You can add interest and texture to your flooring by laying boards in a creative pattern.
  • Wood-free composite floors made from wood fibers and plastic resins offer a durable floor that has a natural wood look and requires less maintenance.
  • Masonry floors of brick, stone or tile are popular choices, as they’re water-resistant, but the weight of these materials can require additional support when used for elevated porches.
  • Poured or stamped concrete is another option. High-grade paints specifically formulated for concrete give you the option of adding color or designs to your porch floor.

If you’re like me, you’ll want a balance of just enough privacy and just enough welcome. Front porch or back deck? Depends on the day, or time of day. Our front porch just so happens to overlook Flathead Lake and becomes the perfect place to sip that morning coffee and catch up with my husband on the weekends. On summer evenings, the back deck feeds our friends and family, or we enjoy a seat around the fire roasting s’mores.

Meredith Coopman has over 25 years of experience in architecture and interior design. She is currently the Design Director at InnSpace in Kalispell. You can reach her at meredith@meredithcoopman.com.