Porches and homesteading go together like milk and cookies or chips and salsa. They absolutely belong together and for good reason.
Historically, porches enjoyed their heyday from 1880-1940. That was a time when most people still had a vegetable garden, maybe a few chickens for eggs and meat, and knew how to put up fresh food for winter storage.
In other words, that was back when just about every household had a certain level of self-sufficiency as part of everyday life. Frankly, that sounds a whole like what the modern homesteading movement is all about. So, I think now is a good time to bring functional, practical, and beautiful porches back into fashion.
Porches are a uniquely American invention. They are essentially the US’s version of a veranda or terrace café. They functioned as a social space and a relaxing retreat after a hard day of work.
1. Chill Out
Their roofed, open-air design made them perfect places to cool off and relax during hot summers or sit out a soothing rain. Porches also helped cool the interior of a house by creating shade and keeping direct sunlight from searing into house windows.
2. Be Social
They were also a place to be social while doing light-duty work such as shucking peas or darning socks. Families could pass time there together, each quietly involved in their own small projects. Neighbors could drop by and be invited up for a casual visit, requiring much less fanfare than a formal dinner invitation.
In other words, porches were practical extensions of the indoor space. If you want to reclaim the historical utility of porches on our homesteads, while also making them pretty and inviting, here are some ideas for inspiration
It goes without saying that for a porch to be inviting and practical, there must be a place to sit. Your seating choices will be partly dictated by how much space you have and how you plan to use that space. Yet, there are lots of great choices to consider for any sized porch.
1. The Porch Swing
There is something timeless and classic about a porch swing even though it really only has a 125-year history. However, it’s also a practical piece of furniture for porch sitters.
Swings can be raised up and secured out of the way during winter or inclement weather. Their lack of legs makes cleaning underneath them much easier.
Plus, their leglessness means the area under the swing can be used for temporary storage at certain times of the year. For example, how about tucking your bushels of apples under the swing until you are ready to make cider or apple butter?
Of course, the main reason the swing is such a staple of a porch is that it invites you to relax. The gentle motion generates a light breeze, discourages insects from landing, and makes it difficult to do more than simple tasks while sitting.
Sometimes busy homesteaders just need a porch swing to encourage us to sit and slow down!
2. Rocking Chairs
Rocking chairs are also a classic choice for a porch. They aren’t as easy to clean under or store things under as porch swing. Yet, they offer the same inviting, cooling, and insect-repelling benefits as a swing.
Also as many parents know, that cradle-like rocking motion is a perfect way to soothe infants for a moment of peace. For non-parents, that consistent rocking motion, so like a pendulum, can lull you into a hypnotic, suggestive state that allows creative ideas to flow freely.
If you are trying to refine your homestead routines to make them more Epicurean in nature, imagining your perfect multi-purpose shed, or planning ways to make your functional homestead into a lovely ferme ornée – a good rocking chair can act as a meditative and sedative tool to aid your creative thinking.
3. Sturdy Seating
Rocking or swinging seats are wonderful for some things. However, if you are trying to read a new gardening book or do a complicated bit of knitting, whittling, or weaving they can be a distraction. So, there is something to be said for the standard, sturdy farm chair.
Making chairs for your porch is also a lovely way to practice your woodworking and personalize your space. There are also lots of gorgeous, solid wood chairs available for dirt cheap in the secondhand markets.
You may need to tighten some screws, use a little wood glue on joints, or update the upholstery. Yet updating old chairs is a great way to hone your salvaging skills.
It’s also important to incorporate some sort of hard surface to use as a workspace for doing projects and or for outdoor dining.
1. Potting Table
Potting tables tend to be long and not very wide. As such, they can make a great addition to a narrow porch.
You can use them, of course, for potting up plants and starting seed trays. They are also wonderful pruning topiaries, arranging flowers, tying up herbs for drying, and more. With some right-height chairs, your porch potting table can even do double duty as a breakfast bar or small dining area.
2. Dining Table
If you have enough room on your porch, adding a full-sized dining table can also make the space more useful for family time and for homestead activities that require a lot of table room. Personally, my porch table is indispensable for food preservation.
– Food Preservation Processing
We use our table to dehydrate food for winter storage. I stack up my buckets of extra tomatoes there until I have enough to make a batch of sauce. We store bushels of fresh-picked fruit that we haven’t gotten around to sorting on the table until we finish harvesting.
I also process dried herbs and spices on that table, so I don’t make a mess in the house. Then, when I’m done I just sweep all the debris into the garden beds below.
– Extended Family Space
Of course, we also use our table for eating. It’s a perfect place to sit when there’s a gentle rain or you need a little wind protection. It’s also great for family breakfasts with biscuits and all the fixings. It’s an excellent buffet station for all those salads and desserts that don’t need to stay warm in the oven during family gatherings.
The porch table is ideal for any kid-friendly craft projects involving paint or other materials that have fumes. In other words, your porch table can be a great place for doing things you’d rather not do on your more formal indoor dining table.
Now that we’ve covered some of the major furniture options you might want to consider for your porch, let’s get into the decorative details.
Now, let’s get into the list of rustic homesteading type stuff that can bring beautiful authenticity to your functional and pretty porch.
1. Mushroom Logs
A porch can be a perfect, slug free place to fruit your mushroom logs after soaking. That makes it easy to keep an eye on their development and harvest at their peak.
2. Anything Herb or Spice Related
You know how beautiful herbs and spices are when they are air drying and curing. Whether it be your onions, garlic, or shallots, sewn strands of paprika peppers, or bundles of fragrant herbs, this stuff is just pretty.
Why not create drying areas on your porch to showcase their beauty as a kind of revolving decorative display. If you dry larger things like sesame seed heads, wheat, or corn, even those can have a place on your porch with a little creativity.
3. Trellises, Cages, and Cloches
If you use attractive trellises and cages in your potager garden, your porch might be the perfect place to store those in the off-season. Also, think about those lovely cloches that give plants an early start, but take up so much room when not in use.
Don’t just throw them all together in a corner. Instead, stage them and use them to add decorative excitement all winter long.
Hang holiday lights on your trellises. Turn your cloches into seasonal terrariums. Convert those trellises into Halloween ghosts or garland trees.
4. Pots, Crocks, and Vases
I know you love pretty planter pots as much as I do. Or what about those rustic clay or ceramic pottery fermentation crocks? Don’t forget the various vases you have on hand for displaying flower bouquets during the growing season.
Why not curate these in collections on your porch? They’ll be easy to grab when you need them and decorative when you don’t. Plus, then you won’t have to figure out where else to store them when not in use.
Just make sure they are frost-resistant in cold climates or bring them in before the weather gets too cold.
5. Project Materials
I know you’ve got lots of projects going on. If you are like me, you may buy or salvage your materials in advance so you have them ready when you need them. Figuring out where to store that stuff, though, can be a pain.
Yet, there are lots of ways to make raw materials into decorative and useful displays for your porch. Hardware can go in glass jars and be put on display.
Framing wood can be stacked as a makeshift bench or paired with concrete blocks to make temporary shelves. Bricks can be stacked and used as a makeshift meditation altar. Cases of empty wine bottles for your homemade elderberry wine can be stacked like a sideboard and covered with a tablecloth.
6. Livestock and Pet Stuff
If your porch is large enough and extra sturdy, you can even use it for storing feed and some straw or hay bales. Just find secure, attractive containers to pour your feed into. Throw a blanket over the bales and use them as temporary benches.
If you have indoor/outdoor pets, the porch is also a great place to create a cat cubby or a dog bed. We have an old reading chair on our porch that doubles as a dog bed.
7. Compost and Recycling Center
Likewise, if you have appropriate secure and attractive containers, your porch can double as a recycling and compost holding station. You can even keep your worm bin there, out of direct light, in warm weather.
8. Laundry Line
If you live in an area with lots of rain or have dark jeans you don’t like to line dry in the sun, how about adding a retractable laundry line for your porch.
It takes a little longer to dry clothes in the shade. However, they won’t fade like they do in the sun. Plus, you can also use that protected laundry line to dry herbs and spices during heavy harvest periods.
What Not to Store in Plain Sight
There are less attractive parts of homesteading that you might want to hide in out of the way locations or an enclosed outbuilding. For example, plastic pots, compost piles, trash cans, 5-gallon plastic buckets, etc.
That stuff obviously doesn’t belong on your public-facing porch space! However, if you can find clever ways to hide them…that’s a different story. As (not so) evident in the image above, beneath the pillow covered bench, the sidebar adjacent to it, and the bench behind the table are all storage bins where I hide less attractive homestead tools.
The Promise of the Porch
It’s no coincidence that the porch and all it’s trappings became popular in the 1880s. This was the gilded age in American history when wages were rising rapidly and technological advances were beginning to make ordinary people’s lives more enjoyable.
A porch would have been an unnecessary, labor-intensive luxury for ordinary people in earlier times. Still, once popularized, it offered a unique place to enjoy the newfound free time from technological innovation and increasing wages.
Homesteading today kind of feels like having a new income stream because of all that money you save supplying your own food and spending more time doing pleasurable things at home. So, in many ways, homesteading can be a way forward to a new gilded age.
The only difference is, now many of us are also looking for ways to escape our technologies! So, while you’re at it, why not make the porch a no phone zone so you can truly enjoy the peace and quiet of simpler times?