Following months of salt, snow and shovel action, most porches need a little lift come springtime. After all, the front step is the first (and sometimes only) glimpse into your home’s aesthetic, so that impression counts. To create a unique look, Bruce Norman of Norman Flynn Design in Halifax suggests ordering oversized planters from a commercial building supplier, instead of typical planters from your hardware store. “Go larger scale, so it doesn’t look so generic and everyone else has the same planter,” he says.
Norman, who creates residential and commercial interiors, says his own house is contemporary, which lends itself to a Japanese-type garden. “Instead of having a typical concrete traditional walkway, this spring we’re going to build platforms out of a natural wood and stack them at random, put pea gravel all around it, and plant oriental grasses, just to make it a little bit more Zen-like,” he says. For the front of a Victorian house, Norman suggests planting trees or a boxwood hedge and having large iron urn-like planters on either side of the front door. For a modern home, try sleek concrete-cast planters and add horizontal slats of cedar siding.
Don’t worry about matching your porch to the style of your home’s exterior. “I like a bit of a mix, so it’s not all too contrived,” says Norman. “The same with an interior of a house. I typically am a little more eclectic, so I may have this ultra-modern kitchen and maybe the sofa is more vintage…It doesn’t mean you couldn’t do that on the outside of your house as well.”
Modern planters paired with elegant Victorian architecture can give a traditional home a fresh look. “I wouldn’t be afraid to go outside the box and play around with adding some contemporary elements to a country or a Victorian home,” Norman says. “The key is not to overdo it. Make it really nondescript and really clean.” Wendy Batten doesn’t do fancy and is all about fast. “A 20-minute porch redo is all it takes, all I have time for,” she laughs. “But I take that time to make it look nice because it’s so welcoming when you come home.”
Batten owns Front Porch Mercantile, a shop in Lower Coverdale, N.B. offering vintage décor, hand-painted furniture, Canadian paint products and accessories. The store also offers custom refinishing and workshops on painting and refurnishing furniture. Batten calls herself a compulsive redecorator with a passion for old things. While she says you won’t find a big front porch at the shop, just a stoop, she does know how to style one. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money,” she says. “It’s easy peasy.”
She likes a natural, layered look. Once she hauls out and arranges furniture she wouldn’t leave out over winter, she fills a crate with colourful pansies and displays them on a second-hand chair or rocker. “Old crates are great,” she says. “They don’t have to be antique. You can get one at Michael’s and throw some milk paint on it to give a nice patina.” Batten also suggests displaying galvanized watering buckets or sap buckets (“I use them year-round”) and wooden stools to create a rustic porch that is perfectly imperfect.
But first, spring-cleaning has to extend outdoors. “I clean the windows and door, the light fixtures, sweep,” says Batten. “I clean up winter and find it makes a big difference.” She’s not the only one.
“The first thing that comes to mind is to make sure everything is tidy,” says Sappho Griffin, a Halifax interior consultant, cabinetry designer and owner of Henhouse, which offers interior-space services from decoration to full-scale renovation. “I clean up the winter debris and get ready for spring flowers to come into bloom. Around the porch there is usually winter chaos.”
She also spends time in the garden trimming, raking and edging beds. With that chore complete, she heads to the garden centre. “A couple pots close to the door provide an instant hit,” says Griffin. Perennials such as hostas, ferns, grasses, and trailing ivies can anchor your pots, plus give greenery and structure. “Then I will add in spring bulbs, winter pansies or crocuses.”
When the spring bulbs are done, Griffin replaces them with a summer bloomer. “I love an unusual geranium with variegated leaves in a coral bloom that matches my orangey-red roof and stands out against my olive-green shingles. Or I find something else that may catch my eye at the nursery.”
She finds gardening expensive. “You can spend hundreds of dollars on the planters around your porch…One cost-saver I found is once the season is over, I transplant the perennials to my garden, helping me grow my beds. I have a chance to enjoy them all summer long on the porch and then in the garden.”
As the weather warms, freshen up your doorstep with an easy, inexpensive weekend project. Paint your door a vivid colour and match your planting to the new hue. “Pantone’s Marsala is a great new hue for 2015 that would work well with vivid greens, violets and deep reds,” says Griffin. “A coastal colour that we never seem to tire of is blue. My personal picks are In the Tropics or Baltic Sea by Benjamin Moore. Repeat the blues in your planters and add pinks, whites and chartreuse.”
Griffin points out the front door mat can get run down over the winter, so a new colourful, natural jute or even a black modern rubber mat will help enliven the area. Whether your front porch facelift is extravagant or a cost-effective DIY solution, you can get a lot of enjoyment out of the process. “It’s therapeutic,” says Griffin. “It’s great to be outside when the weather gets better, to spend a good few hours outside getting exercise and fresh air. It finally feels like spring.”