The hidden potential of a so-so Victorian porch is realized through clever space planning, updated outdoor furnishings and splashes of color.
See (& shop!) the awesome results by Style Expert Brian Patrick Flynn …
Strictly because I’m ridiculous, I fully prop-style almost every surface in my house an hour or two before guests come over. I am fully aware that this is a complete waste of time and most likely makes no impact whatsoever on the experience of my visitors, but I always do it anyway. And after years (read: decades) of wondering why, I finally came to a conclusion one night while visiting my sister Shannon. During the entire dinner, I focused more on her corner sofa than the corned beef on my plate. What I realized was that every time I enter a space—regardless of whose it is and why I’m there—I instantly zero in on ways to mix it up … simply because, well, that’s my job. This is probably very, very unhealthy but, oh well.
Shannon has a two-story Victorian house in Georgia that was built in the early 1900s. It sits right smack in the middle of a pedestrian neighborhood and is packed with architectural details I love, but furniture I want to set on fire. Eighty percent of the time, you can find the whole family hanging out on its spacious front porch—including my brother-in-law, two nephews and younger sister, Meg, who has set up a home office in their guest room. After our aforementioned dinner—during which I obsessed over the poor space-planning and wobbly, mismatched furniture—I decided to take it upon myself to unleash that porch’s hidden potential. From its pear green and deep purple exterior, to its tall ceilings and generous square footage, my team garnered loads of inspiration to draw up a fresh, fun and functional design… which we literally executed in a single day. Now, my entire family is able to utilize the 9-by-28-foot space in their unique ways. So it’s safe to say they like it… they really, really like it. I wish I could say the same for that corned beef I was invited over to eat, but since I hate corned beef, I ate tacos on my way to the house, then took measurements of the patio instead. The end.
In a single day, my design team and I transformed my sister’s front porch into a colorful place for herself, husband Scott, and sons Braden and Brennan to full enjoy their new home in the South. Sure, they look super-cute, but don’t let these boys fool you; six seconds after this image was taken, they made a mad dash back to their iPod Touches to play “World of Warcraft” and fight with each other.
Shannon and Scott are both super-successful professionals with insanely good hair and gorgeous eyes, but from the looks of their porch in its previous state, you would have thought Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” lived here, perhaps while still in college. Of all the bad things happening in the space, there was something I still really liked about it. No, that’s a lie; I hated every single thing.
Thanks to a pair of cool outdoor sofas, flanked by an extra-long coffee table and corralled around a custom piece of outdoor-friendly art, a once-lackluster porch is now a full-fledged exterior gathering spot that feels a heck of a lot like the indoors.
The entire family can gather with style and privacy to spare thanks to curtains that not only obscure the neighbors’ view, but contribute a punchy, yet sophisticated color scheme of grape tones mixed with spring greens.
Color, pattern and texture define what was previously a mismatched snore-fest of a porch, now reborn as a designer-caliber living room (which just so happens to be exposed to the elements).
Although the newly updated porch still feels open and airy, it offers enough privacy to feel set off from the street and neighboring houses. Prior to the redesign, any passersby could easily see all that was going on inside the porch. Now, Shannon, Scott and the kids can hang out and misbehave without the feeling of living in a fishbowl.
All it takes to completely throw off an impressive porch design is one small blemish… like a dirty old mailbox mingling with shiny new everything else. We ditched that silly accessory for a designer-caliber, architecturally-appropriate mailbox. Its black finish, set against the pear green of the exterior, creates a strong, eye-catching contrast you notice from the moment you walk up to the front door. And since black goes with virtually every color in the spectrum, this new mailbox will still coordinate down the road, should Shannon and Scott decided to repaint the exterior
When it comes to sofa upholstery, I usually keep it neutral, allowing myriad different accent colors to be introduced down the road in the form of fresh pillows and throws. But this time, I took a different approach. Since I really wanted to tone down the super-cheery green of the house’s exterior, I used the exterior trim color, grape, in upholstery to counterbalance its Easter basket-like vividness. To bring that springy tone back to the sofas, but in small doses, I added a pair of spring green patterned pillows as well as a pair of solid purple ones, just a few shades lighter than the grape accent tone.
Most well-designed spaces incorporate some element of pattern, whether in the form of bold prints on the walls, furniture or floors, or even just by using simple pillows and throws to break up an otherwise-solid aesthetic. To keep the spring green flowing throughout the seating area while adding some pattern, I used a medium-sized lattice container for a houseplant called drunkard’s dream—an appropriate species for a family that considers St. Patrick’s Day more important than Christmas.
Texture plays a pretty big role in the decoration of this home’s covered porch. For this particular project, I kept the upholstery rather flat, instead adding texture via the construction of the sofa bodies themselves. A pair of wicker sofas offers seating for six and incorporates a rough and rugged weave that beautifully complements the spring greens and purples. And since the wicker is synthetic, it offers optimum durability for an active family with two young boys and an even more active retriever. Plus, the dusk-toned upholstery is a Sunbrella fabric that’s easy to care for with a wet sponge and water.
Georgia supposedly has four seasons, but I say there are only two: a ridiculously long and steamy summer and a short, yet gray and gloomy winter. This means that floor surfaces are either chilly and feet-freezing or sticky and stupid. To keep the porch’s underfoot surface comfy and colorful year-round, I grounded the seating area with a 7.5-foot-by-9-foot indoor/outdoor area rug. The plethora of greens, gray-greens, and browns adds a layered effect perfect for a homey space such as this.
Victorian neighborhoods have a lot in common with those made up of row houses or brownstones: They’re big on encouraging interaction among homeowners. The porches are pretty much all lined up on the same plane, allowing neighbors to communicate with one another without actually leaving their houses. This is fantastic when you’re in the mood to socialize, but when a sucky day makes you just want to escape with a magazine and a cold drink, that’s when privacy comes into play. My team added outdoor curtain panels around three sides of the porch, attaching them to the exterior walls with plumbing pipes and flanges to keep costs low. What I love most about them is that their green tone is slightly off from that of the house exterior; this avoids the whole matchy-matchy thing most of us loathe.
Great design is often about mixing styles. Rather than going all Queen Victoria with Shannon’s house and taking a super-literal approach, I shook up the historically appropriate Victorian color palette by adding up-to-date furnishings. Overall, the sofas appear more “updated traditional” than anything else, while the end tables are straight-up modern and the table lamps are transitional.
This spring and summer, I may be responsible for a huge percentage of sales for the Joe Ruggiero Salona End Table. In fact, I’ve used it in three different designs, all featuring three completely different aesthetics and periods of architecture. Since its lines are so simple, the table blends seamlessly with just about any look.
Not only did I use a pair of mercury glass table lamps to bring light to the porch at night; I also chose them for the reflective qualities of their bases. This is not a design element you’d expect to see outside of a Victorian home, so it adds an element of surprise. Hands down, the coolest feature of the lamps is the houndstooth pattern of their shade’s interior; once lit up by a 40-watt bulb, the pattern shows through.
At this point in my career, I think my clients, friends and editors are sick to death of my using wall hooks. What can I say? They’re practical; keeping everyday items like bags, jackets and hats from cluttering up sofas, tables and counters. Just before the seating area, a series of wall hooks along the exterior wall provides a spot to take a load off before relaxing on the sofas. It’s a simple solution, but you’d be surprised what a godsend just a few of these can be in any space—indoors or outdoors.
No room for free-standing planters? No problem. Deck railing planters are awesome for porches and decks that cannot accommodate free-standing potted plants and flowers. When it comes to filling the planters, I like to stick with a mix of green perennials for a variety of heights, shapes and textures, then I sprinkle in some color with annuals.
Prior to the porch’s redesign, the zone just off the front entrance was wasted with an ill-fitting bench. To add style and substance the entire family could enjoy, my team installed a white porch swing directly into the joists of the porch ceiling, ensuring proper support.
The white finish of the porch swing adds a classic touch. The look is fresh, clean and bright, and, like black, white is the ultimate neutral, so it will work with any color combination Shannon and Scott may change the house exterior to down the road.
Braden and Brennan have a best friend named Ike who lives directly across the street. Since the three amigos jet back and forth between each others’ homes multiple times each day, providing ample, hardy porch seating for them to hang out on was important. While the bright purple coffee table is great as a companion to the porch swing, it can also do double duty as a makeshift seat or kid-height homework table.
Coffee tables are often a point of contention between myself and my clients. Most of the time, I try to convince them to go big, while they’d opt for smaller accompaniments for their sofas. Since most standard sofas measure roughly 7 feet in length, I find a 5-foot-long coffee table to be the perfect fit—not only for its useable surface area, but for keeping scale and proportion in check. The slate gray finish of the 60-inch long coffee table is also neutral enough to allow the colors and patterns of this space to take center stage. And its durable construction can stand up to my sister’s soccer-playing sons—and their affinity for standing and climbing on just about everything that exists.
Hurley, the family retriever, is also welcome on the newly designed porch, since the materials we used are weather-resistant, kid-proof and pet-friendly. I can’t say the same for any squirrels or raccoons that make their way onto the porch. It’s possible they may find Hurley un-friendly, since he’ll most likely bring them inside as a present.
When it comes to plants, boxwoods are the ultimate way to say, “Welcome to my house. I am clean and hospitable, and everything I own is always perfect 100% of the time.” To add life and color to the porch swing area, I flanked the swing with a pair of spring green planter boxes that house spherical boxwoods so easy to care for, even the family dog, Hurley, can tend them with success… and he doesn’t even have opposable thumbs.
To add some personalization to the entryway without brandishing the family name like a graduation banner, I simply introduced “S” for Shannon and Scott with a coir mat. Oversized and easy to clean, it’s handy for knocking dirt off the boys’ cleats before they enter the house after soccer practice.
The porch swing area is used mostly as secondary or short-term seating. To delineate it from the conversation area, I laid out a versatile braided rope rug in an eye-catching eggplant tone. Its braided rope construction brings texture to the space, and its toned-down purple color helps extend the layering of grape hues throughout the porch.
On weekends, the porch becomes a casual, secondary breakfast spot for the entire family. They dine in style using a combo of purple bowls and plates, and cloth napkins embroidered in a silvery gray. This reminds me of an episode of the best TV series in history, “Married to Jonas,” in which Kevin Jonas’ mom makes his new bride, Dani, feel like a second-class citizen for busting out paper napkins over dinner. While I’m all about cloth napkins wherever possible, I think that every mom should get a little slack when feeding folks under the age of twelve. That said, cloth napkins are more of a grown-up touch.
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- Brian Patrick Flynn, HGTV designer/producer; Decor Demon