Sitting on the front porch at 223 Linden with Leanie Bayly and her husband, Robert Sochacki, on a recent chilly and windswept day, listening as they shared stories of past porch parties, and accounts of friends and neighbors dropping by to share a beverage and the topic of the day – I could see how tightly woven the porch was to the Craftsman-style house and to their lifestyle. The porch’s wicker furniture offered varied, comfortable seating and places to rest a cup and set down a book. Leanie’s favorite spot is the wicker swing, snuggling with a grandchild.
“There’s not a lot of yard; the porch is really a living space for the outdoors,” Leanie said. It is all original construction, with wide steps, a cedar beadboard ceiling, arches and columns, and an elongated opening in the middle of the stone stucco front that allows water to drain from the porch floor. The cross breeze flows from one end of the porch to the other.
One special memory they shared was a themed birthday party they held for their daughter when she turned 10. The girls – 10 in all – donned authentic Japanese kimonos, as did Leanie and other moms. The porch was strung with carp kites. Party food and tea beverages were served on a low table. The girls sat on cushions and a grass mat to create the ambience of being in a Japanese tea house.
The memories paused when a couple they knew from the other side of town walked by and they struck up a conversation – talking from the porch to the sidewalk. This is precisely the type of connection that the Planning Commission envisioned when it constructed the FAR (Floor Area Ratio) ordinance to encourage homeowners to build porches rather than attached garages along the front of their houses. While FAR applies to building or remodeling homes, it drew inspiration from homes such as those in the Historic District that make good use of their front porches to socialize with family and friends, and engage with their neighbors.
Kathy Spillane said her porch at 487 Cady and others around town are “important outdoor rooms for the home.” They contribute to the social fabric of the community by creating opportunities for interactions between neighbors and even strangers. We like to hang out on the front porch when there are activities going on in the parking lot across the street (behind Old Village School). It’s a great viewing area.”
They have a detached garage, which gives them more space in other areas. “It’s recessed from the house,” Kathy said. “It de-emphasizes the car and makes it more about the front porch and the people.
“The social contribution of porches helps to make the Historic District special. It was designed before cars became a thing. Sidewalks lead to the front porch. It induces conversation,” she added.
She tends to the flower and vegetable garden at their home while her husband mows the lawn. “It can take two hours to cut the lawn instead of 15 minutes because you talk to people walking by.”
Unique porches befit historic homes
John and Liz Carter spend a lot of time on their front porch, which is actually on the southeast side of their farmhouse-style home. It’s not visible from the street, you need to walk along a short brick pathway from the sidewalk to the porch.
Being set back from the street with surrounding greenery gives the porch privacy – like being in an alcove. Plus there’s space across from the porch to pull up a couple more chairs. Another feature is that the porch shields people from the elements when waiting to enter the front door.
Liz said, “Porches have an incredible sense of community within the district.” Her husband, John, described how they spend some summer evenings, “You don’t make plans, you sit on the porch,” he said. “Eventually, friends and neighbors stop by and before you know it, there’s a party going on at your house.”
Liz has a green thumb and relishes working on the raised vegetable garden in the back yard, and flower gardens. There’s also a large back lawn and a patio with outdoor seating – it’s an ideal space for kids to play in an enclosed area. “Kids move from house to house,” she said. “I’ll look up and there will be 15 kids in the backyard.”
A wedding garden party
At the Barry home at 239 High Street, Marianne and Thom use the front porch frequently. The house is set on three-quarters of an acre and the porch has a long brick walkway leading from the sidewalk. “When the weather is nice, we are outside a lot,” Marianne said.
There are several gardens with flowers and bushes that have been growing there for decades. These include tall phlox, bearded iris, climbing roses, crocuses, Star of Bethlehem, lilacs, fruited quince bushes, hellebores and forsythia. Edward Latham was the original gardener of the bountiful bed of bearded irises, planted around 1908. Next to the porch is a sprawling bed of hostas and ferns.
The yard requires a lot of maintenance throughout the year, which the couple mostly manage on their own. Marianne maintains a large perennial garden on the north side and another garden near the back patio. “It is a well-cared for and loved yard despite its continual need for upkeep,” she noted.
All those flowers and plants make for a beautiful setting in the spring and summer. The expansive lawn and gardens provide an exquisite setting for parties. The couple hosted their daughter’s wedding in June 2021 with 120 people congregating in the back and side yard which border the corners of Randolph, West and High streets. Two large tents were set up to provide shade and privacy for the wedding party – one over the back patio and the other at the Randolph side. The tents created a festive, elegant space surrounded by flowers, lush lawn and tall trees.
Stop by and say “hello”
Stephen Calkins and Joan Wadsworth, 317 W. Dunlap, have a front porch, a side porch, and a stoop and each offers its own special sense of place. “We regularly sit on all of them,” Steve said. “The front porch is wonderful because people are going by and they say ‘hi’ to you. The side porch is screened-in and a sensible place to have a meal or have a party. The stoop is a wonderful place for me and Seamus (a male Golden Retriever) to sit and look at the fireflies.”
Many walk by the houses on Dunlap and other streets and the homeowners “may encourage you to have a glass of wine on their porch,” Steve said.
Joan notes that their place is “a great house to have people over. It’s nice just to be working in the yard and chat with people who walk by.” Steve concurs, “That’s an important part of life. If you’re outside doing something in the yard, there’s a good chance someone will come by and say hello.”
Whether one is in the yard or on the front porch, they are likely to strike up a conversation with a passerby. The only downside to having a front porch is that homeowners are just as visible as the person on the street. For Leanie Bayly, that meant, “investing in nicer bathrobes” when enjoying early morning coffee on her porch. AnnaMaryLee Vollick sums it up, “Everyone really loves their porch.”
Thank you to Northville Communications Director Liz Cezat for contributing this story to SocialHouseNews.com.