A beautiful back porch provides the perfect gathering place for friends and family or an ideal, quiet retreat to spend a few moments alone. Whether they are screened or open, back porches invite people to be closer to nature, to breathe fresh air, and to enjoy the birds and flowers that make the surrounding garden come alive. Porches can be eclectic and playful, a mixture of whimsy, luxury, or sentimentality. Regardless of style, porches need to be comfortable, encouraging visitors to sit a spell.
Kathy and Chuck Davis chose to be all the way outside on their well-appointed back porch, and their style also lends itself to mixing old and new. A previous owner had razed the original house on the lot, so they had the rare opportunity to start from scratch.
Originally, Chuck’s parents, Rosalyn and Clarence Davis, had started the project with the intent of living there themselves, but they decided instead to buy the house across the street. Chuck’s sister, Jeannie, and her husband, Hartley Powell, also live nearby. When Kathy and Chuck assumed ownership of the building project, they wanted to expand the porch to accommodate their four children’s growing families. Many family celebrations, including both of Kathy’s parents’ 90th birthday parties, have taken place on the expansive porch.
“They sat up here like a king and a queen,” Kathy says. “All of the grandchildren were playing in the yard. It was wonderful — sweet memories. It’s just been our place to gather.”
A tiered fountain between the porch and the back foyer of the Davis family’s home is surrounded by bird feeders hanging over a yew hedge. Kathy and Chuck, both avid gardeners, initially brought in Hay Hill Services to clean up the overgrown lot, and they were pleased to find lovely plants underneath a tangle of vines. Grand Japanese maple trees draw the eye from the porch to the deep backyard, featuring tree-form Camellia sasanquas and old-fashioned pink azaleas that match a baby swing belonging to Kathy and Chuck’s granddaughter, Metts. Reigning over the backyard is a handsome springer spaniel named Grady.
Exquisite stone tile covers the porch’s floor, and a brick fireplace provides a focal point. Chuck found a piece of reclaimed wood for the mantel, had it cut to size, and stained it himself. A fern sits on the hearth in a robin’s egg blue planter, which Kathy received as a retirement gift from friends at Community Bible Study.
“In the winter, we sit out here a lot with a fire and watch football games on TV,” Kathy says. The sofa and chairs are repurposed, classic, wicker furniture that Kathy bought when white wicker was in fashion. Repainted a more modern celery green, with cushions recovered in fresh celery and white fabric, the seating area is better than new. The cast iron dining furniture, from Casual Living, makes dining outside enticing. Paired with the wicker furniture is a pretty table adorned with indoor buffet lamps; Kathy just changes the shades when they become weathered. An elegantly etched cachepot from Woodley’s Garden Center holds an ivy topiary underneath a large, framed mirror.
Ivy also surrounds lemon cypress in a larger pot, and lighting is supplemented by candles and lanterns. Candles sit atop a side table underneath a window, held by cherished, carved wooden candlesticks that Chuck brought to Kathy from a mission trip to Uganda. Another of Kathy’s favorite pieces on the porch is a large, framed plaque printed with the scripture passage from First Corinthians 13, a gift from one of her daughters, Caroline Pickhardt.
Kathy and Chuck’s porch is used more than any other area of their house, with the possible exception of the kitchen and family room. “In the summertime, we wait until the sun gets a little bit down,” Kathy says, “but in the morning, it’s where I have my quiet time. It’s where I just sit and pray for my children and my family. It’s where our family gathers more than any other place in our house. We just all love to be outside.”
Entertaining a large family outdoors is also what prompted Barbara and Bobby Williams to make the porch the center of activity at their custom-built home on Lower Rocky Ford Lake, a small lake that they share with only 17 other homeowners, including Bobby’s brother, Jimmy, and his wife, Donna. The extended family gathers often to enjoy meals and fellowship, so Barbara wanted their home to accommodate large numbers of people comfortably. She and Bobby have four grown children and 10 grandchildren, ranging in age from 1 to 12.
The Williams’ youngest son, Christopher, lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Barbara says the style of her Columbia home was influenced greatly by New Orleans’ architecture, particularly the region’s use of porches. “And then Darby Schroder, of Darby Interior Design, helped me bring my vision to life,” says Barbara.
All of the doors in the Williams’ living area and kitchen open out to the expansive porch, offering views of the lake and an infinity pool surrounded by attractive travertine and antique brick flooring on the porch that seamlessly ties the covered area into the pool-patio section. The view is framed by a trio of palmetto trees nestled amongst ‘Emerald Snow’ lorapetalum on one side and a small weeping willow on the other.
Near the weeping willow, a fun, metal, frog sculpture relaxes on a cast iron garden bench. Crafted by Charleston artist Charles Smith, the frog was a treasure passed down to Bobby from his parents. Adding to the capricious decor is a pillow in the center of the couch, embroidered with an obligatory lizard, since Barbara and Bobby are part of the second generation who own and operate Lizard’s Thicket restaurants.
Barbara incorporated some New Orleans-style touches, including antique shutters with peeling blue paint. She hung them slightly askance on either side of the brick fireplace and had lights mounted on them. Behind a cozy outdoor couch, a sideboard holds a large dough bowl, a few stone birds, and a pair of antique pots.
Barbara painted the sideboard gray to give it new life. “I didn’t want everything new,” she says. “I wanted to mix it. And this was one of the pieces that I really wanted to use behind the sofa.”
A pair of pale Mediterranean blue metal stools next to her sideboard complement the enormous, ceramic urns. Barbara found the stools during a recent trek to the mountains, and they fit the space perfectly. The planters are filled with palms, asparagus fern, and annual flowers. Seasonally, the enormous dough bowl is also filled with plants.
Between the sets of French doors, Bevelo French Quarter lanterns are mounted on the brick wall. Over the dining area, the Williams family hung an old metal chandelier from their previous home. Birds build a nest in the chandelier every year. Near the outdoor kitchen sits a dining table with striking inlaid designs. A wooden sign beckons from beyond the outdoor kitchen with a simple message that is hard to resist. It says, simply, “Go Jump in the Lake.”
When Stuart and Spence Jenkins moved into their Kings Grant home in 2003 with their three children, Graham, Anne, and Spencer, now 18, 21, and 23, the house had a deck between the master bedroom and the sunroom. Because the deck was always too hot to walk on, within six years the family decided to rework the space into a screened porch.
“We just couldn’t use the deck the way that we wanted to,” says Stuart. “It was too hot, or the bugs were bad. We went back and forth about whether to screen it or do more of a veranda. We decided that we were not going to be chased inside by mosquitoes or no-see-ums, so we made the plunge.”
Although Stuart and Spence had envisioned screening the porch in its original footprint, they chose a design that enlarged it by several feet and added a vaulted ceiling with exposed wood beams. Beadboard runs in opposite directions on the ceiling of the porch’s two sections, visually separating the area into a living room and a dining room. The expanded living room side is anchored by a brick fireplace with a mirror above the mantel. Elegant furniture from MACK Home, where Stuart works, is covered in a pale gray-blue outdoor fabric.
Stuart flanked an upholstered sofa with Greek key lamps and put a marble, clover-leaf table between the matching chairs. A former studio art student, Stuart also loves to combine less expensive finds with her finer furniture. “Mixing things makes the space look cohesive and comfortable,” she says.
Her coffee table came from Southeastern Salvage, blending well with the outdoor rug and ceramic vases on the rustic mantel. A sizeable bar sits between the living and dining areas. Fitting perfectly above the bar is a rough-hewn wooden pallet bearing a lovely, Lowcountry landscape that Spence commissioned from Jim Lalumondier for Stuart’s 40th birthday.
Some of Stuart’s furniture, as well as her design aesthetic, come from her Charleston heritage. When friends visit, Stuart sets the round dining table with seagrass placemats and charming white linen napkins. She likes to arrange hydrangeas and peonies on the tables and set a charcuterie board with wine and lemonade atop the bar.
In keeping with the casual tone of the porch, Stuart chose wood ceiling fans. A dog door for the family’s Boykin spaniel, Hunter, is hidden in the screen behind a chair. Bird feeders hang on shepherds’ hooks in the ligustrum hedge, and a stone wall defines the curve of the backyard. A screen door (the bottom of which Hunter likes to chew!) leads to a patio. In the yard, strings of lights run from a tall tree to the roof above the porch. Stuart allegedly climbed a ladder in her church clothes to hang the lights several years ago for her parents’ 50th anniversary party, and she enjoys them still.
“We go out there a lot,” Stuart says of the outdoor patio. “If Spence is grilling, I go sit out there at the table.”
With thought and creativity, porches provide the ideal spot to sit a spell, a specialty of Southern living.