Summertime and the livin' is easy, especially if you have a great porch. As places where indoor and outdoor living merge, porches are used for everything from napping and dining to working and entertaining. We asked three local homeowners to tell us how they make their porches integral to their lives.
Matt D'Abadie and Ron Clemmons
Matt D'Abadie, director of banquets at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, and Ron Clemmons, a hairstylist, both come from families with a history of planting crops and gardening. Matt's military family lived in a historic antebellum home with graceful double galleries, so he grew up with a keen appreciation for beautiful porches overlooking the green spaces so dear to his life.
When D'Abadie and Clemmons decided to renovate the rear of their early 20th-century Carrollton home 10 years ago, a porch was a must.
"We wanted to open up the whole house to the garden, and we wanted to add a porch," says D'Abadie, who is a gardener. "And we wanted to do it correctly. We wanted it to look authentic with the rest of the house."
The couple sketched the L-shaped porch and garden (which contains crape myrtles, azaleas, camellias, ferns, vines, palms, caladiums, hydrangeas, Egyptian night-blooming jasmine and more) and worked with their friend, architect Peter Waring, to bring the porch to life.
The idea was to outfit the addition with all the makings of a porch that would have been original to the house 100 years ago. The windows, doors and posts were purchased at architectural salvage stores, and the rails and spindles were hand-milled as they would have been in the early 1900s. Even the bolts for the old cypress French doors were specially made. The blue color of the bead board ceiling is traditional in the South. There also are ceiling fans, wicker furnishings (a swing, settee and chairs), gas lanterns and plenty of greenery from the yard.
Every view was carefully considered. To one side is a brick patio used for grilling and as a dance floor, the other is a quaint guest cottage used as one of several outdoor bar areas when the couple entertains and to the front of the house is a lush, meandering garden.
"We call it the secret garden," D'Abadie says. "It has a secluded, private feel to it."
For D'Abadie and Clemmons, the porch and garden go hand in hand — and so does sharing both with friends and family.
"We live the way we were raised," D'Abadie says. "We sit out there every evening. And we use it to entertain."
Paulette and Manny Rivas
When Paulette Rivas and her husband Manny renovated their Uptown Victorian 28 years ago, they added a porch. The footprint and flowerbeds of the Rivases' backyard were in place when they purchased their home. They landscaped the flowerbeds, edged them with brick and covered the lawn area with aggregate to create a patio that's often used as a dance floor during parties.
Though the house was badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and had to be renovated, the back porch remained intact. Today, with added touches like outdoor heaters, air conditioners and awnings that unroll to seal out the cold — not to mention Rivas's keen eye as both a decorator and abstract artist — the space is used year-round.
The same finesse Rivas wielded in decorating the home's interior is carried through to the porch, where she mixes antique and new furnishings.
"Anything that made it through (Hurricane) Katrina stayed," she says, referring to the two black outdoor sofas on one end of the porch, the wrought-iron coffee table purchased at a Paris flea market, an iron sconce and one of her favorite pieces: a Rococo-style table she found in a used furniture store. The Rivases, who entertain frequently, use the table as their official outdoor bar. Across from the bar, Rivas combined a pair of reproduction mid-century chairs purchased on Magazine Street with a delicate iron table from Dop Antiques. Nearby, several wicker chairs and a ceramic garden seat, one of three on the porch, form another seating area.
The porch's manicured elegance is suited to solitary pastimes like painting, which Rivas does, but it's also the perfect setting for parties and special occasions like weddings. The Rivases have a large family and have hosted six weddings over the years. For the family's annual Christmas Eve party, the back door is opened. If the weather is cold, the awnings are lowered so guests can move between the interior and exterior venues.
"We wanted it to be a comfortable outdoor space," Rivas says. "And I think we accomplished that."
Maria and Robert Siegel
When Maria Siegel and her husband Robert bought their house five years ago, she decided it needed a screened porch. She had fond childhood memories of an aunt's screened porch in Michigan and recalled more than a few porches where she, her husband and their two children had played games and hung out during vacations.
The house had the perfect spot for an airy enclosure. Sometime in the mid-20th century, the single-family cottage had been formed by joining two neighboring shotgun houses — one a single and the other a double. At the time, a den and kitchen were built to link the houses across the center, leaving a charming U-shaped courtyard between the two structures. Siegel recognized the bricked courtyard as the perfect place for her screened porch.
"I think every house ought to have a screened porch, especially in New Orleans," she says. When the Siegels transformed the courtyard into a porch, they added several sets of French doors leading into the house. Though the porch measures just 11 feet by 11 feet, the French doors make the porch and the house's interior feel larger.
"We can open the two pairs of French doors to the dining room and the den and the house feels almost twice as big," Siegel says.
For the color of the porch, she chose a more pigmented formula of the house's exterior paint. "It's subtle, but just enough to make it warmer and cozier," she says.
For furnishings, Siegel began with pieces from the family's previous home. A wicker chair, a table carried back from a Florida vacation and a large mirror framed with a motif of gilded roses and ribbons set the comfortable and inviting tone. Most of the other wicker pieces were purchased from a local bed-and-breakfast owner who had been collecting wicker for years. Siegel's birdcage collection adds to the wicker's vintage-cottage feel, and seashells underscore a vacation-like atmosphere.
The office sign is a nod to the fact that the porch is where Siegel does her most creative thinking. But it's also a favorite spot for entertaining. Friday night cocktail gatherings with friends — each party featuring a special cocktail — are a signature event. Siegel's love of screened porches even inspired the name of her burgeoning business — The Screening Room, which renovates houses into furnished corporate rentals, each with its own screened porch.
"Our porch is the best hang- out space," she says. "It's the place where everyone feels the most relaxed."