Sally Wilson: Summer on a New England Porch

June 19, 2012

One of the most delightful things about living in New England is the glorious summers we have. When mid-May approaches I get excited by the possibilities of spending lots of time outdoors. I am so inspired by nature that I think I could live my whole life outdoors if it were feasible.

Photos courtesy of Sally Wilson

My husband, John, and I are lucky to have a quintessentially New England screened porch. When the days begin to warm I can’t wait to get it ready for the season. It takes the better part of a weekend (Memorial Day weekend, usually) to get the large screen panels out of the garage and washed, and all the summer furniture washed, too.

This year was a special project: the porch really needed a fresh coat of floorboard paint. For the past several years our floor has been yellow, and I have suffered through with a matte paint. I realized that I missed the shiny gloss paint we used to have on the floor, and I longed to have it back.

That entailed a search for a high-gloss floor paint. I finally found it in Benjamin Moore‘s Porch and Floor Enamel. Since the porch is only about 180 square feet, I decided I could do this project myself. Well, I could, and I did–but it took several weekends! Now the porch is ready for summer living (yes, we did the final installation over Memorial Day weekend) and I feel the accomplishment of every stroke of paint. The floor shines up at me as I go out there every morning to enjoy coffee and the eastern light.

By noontime the sun has drifted halfway around, and a sandwich tastes so much better outdoors while enjoying the flowers. (I am sitting out on the porch while writing this blog post, and getting a whiff of gardenia blossoms!)

To me, a screened porch is an old-fashioned, one-season amenity. We’ve never wanted to convert it into a three-season porch. People tend to think that “more is more,†but sometimes less is really more. It’s all about editing. There is something special about a one-season screened porch. There is air circulating beneath the floorboards and the screens have minimal wooden frames, allowing a great feeling of really being outdoors.

When you step outside, you feel outdoors, but you are covered and protected from rain–and also from the yellowjackets, who want to share your meal, and the mosquitoes, who want to make a meal out of you!

Our summer porch is detailed with columns and latticework–big, old-fashioned lattice boards, individually placed by a skilled carpenter almost a hundred years ago–and the proportions are just right for the scale of the house. John and I respect the integrity and beauty of this Colonial Revival masterwork, and would never change it. Look at how the lattice looks like windowpanes!

Soft summer rain? It can be fun. I love when there is a summer shower and I can sit on the porch, all dry and cozy, and watch the rain come down. Another special treat for me is having so much inherited garden furniture from the South.

This is my grandmother’s glider, and I am transported back in time whenever I sit there. It has been modernized with Perennials outdoor fabric for the cushions and Thibaut and Osborne & Little fabrics for toss pillows. My favorite thing to do is lie down on it and keep it rocking, like a cradle. With the sun or the moon shining, it is pure bliss to sit there and rock.

These “wicker†chairs are actually antique Lloyd Loom chairs I found in New York City. They were painted an awful gold, but I repainted them off-white, which made them much more agreeable.

They too look great with the Perennials fabric on their cushions, next to my aunt’s wireframe occasional tables–pictured here with the first summer cocktail enjoyed on the porch, another of our summer traditions.

Once the porch is set up for the summer, we have almost every meal out there. It is always fun to have our first leisurely Saturday morning breakfast outside.

Enjoying the sunshine and the flowers just sets you up for a great day.

The shapes and colors in view are inspiring. From the porch I can enjoy these wonderful green ferns and yellow daylilies. With our wet spring this year, the greens are so fabulous it is breathtaking. I marvel at all the luscious shades of green around me.

This year, for the first time, we have a pair of gardenia topiaries on the porch, in wonderful big pots. The scent of gardenias always reminds me of my youth in Memphis, where my mother had gigantic gardenia shrubs. They must have been five feet across and five feet tall. We had more blooms than a queen would need!

Sometimes, when I am energetic, I get all the silver out and have a formal tea on the porch, complete with antique linens and tea sandwiches. Such an indulgence.

When the sun is shining and the grass is practically at your fingertips, tea in the garden can send you back in time. I find it particularly fun to do this when we have out-of-town friends visiting. Treating them to an old-fashioned tea on the porch creates a wonderful memory of slowing down and enjoying one another’s company and conversation.

As summer is just getting into full swing, I am primed and ready for living outdoors and enjoying the best that New England has to offer. Sunshine, blue skies, cool temperatures, flowers and, for us, the occasional scent of salt air.

Greetings from the coastal town of Salem, Massachusetts!

–Sally Wilson

Sally Wilson, ASID, is co-owner, with her husband John, of Wilson Kelsey Design, a residential interiors firm serving upscale clients in Greater Boston and beyond. You can find out more about their work, inspiration and thoughts on their blog.

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