There is just no better sleeping than on a beautiful, comfortable porch with a gentle breeze and smells of summer. We thought we would share a little history on the sleeping porch via our friends at HGTV and share a little inspiration and a few ideas on how to create your own!
Sleeping under the stars has always been a part of the American experience. But it wasn’t until the late 1800s that physicians began to understand that fresh air didn’t breed such diseases as tuberculosis and influenza and, in fact, was safer than the contagion bred in cramped spaces. “Industrialization brought up the question of health,” says architectural historian Robert Schweitzer. “People were living in close quarters in an urban environment, working in factories. You began to see suburban developments, bigger lots, bigger homes, a larger middle class. All these things came together to produce the ability to have a sleeping porch outside. And those changes were coupled with the idea that fresh air was good.”
Sleeping porches cropped up on the second floors of Victorian houses in the late 1800s and continued showing up on Arts and Crafts bungalows through the 1920s and even in to the 1930s. But Americans weren’t the first to have this bright idea. Sleeping porches go back to ancient Rome, where citizens had open-ceiling atriums, and ancient Greece, where the hammock was invented. Indians and Pakistanis had sleeping porches from the 18th century on. In fact, one theory holds that the British, accustomed to bungalows with wide front porches and second-floor sleeping areas in India, brought their prototype to the United States via Vancouver.
Charleston, S.C., copied the shuttered sleeping porches of her trading partner, Barbados. And bungalow designers Charles and Henry Greene and Frank Lloyd Wright borrowed from traditional Japanese homes built in a square around open courtyards. “The Japanese had covered porches,” says Sharon Hanby-Robie, author of the home decorating book series My Name Isn’t Martha. “When the Japanese got too warm indoors, they went outside to sleep. The futon mattresses accommodated that.”
Even wealthy American Indians — including humorist Will Rogers’ parents, forced to leave their ancestral homes for Oklahoma — added sleeping porches to their new houses. One Choctaw woman recalls how her grandmother dragged iron beds out on a covered second-floor porch, where she and her siblings slept each summer. “Indians had sleeping porches for the same reason we do,” says Susan Smith, an instructor and producer of the documentary Porches of Indian Territory. “It was cooler. Oklahoma nights may not get below 90 degrees. It was a matter of survival.”
The point, of course, is that for a night or series of nights, you get to sleep on the lip of the universe, the threshold of home, the curve of history.
How to Create the Perfect Porch
- Think location. A porch that faces East or West lets you watch the sun come up or go down. If you’re building, plan other porches, windows or doorways on the opposite side of the house for cross-ventilation.
- Add fans. Sleeping porches bring cooler air but to help comfort along, add fans to the porch ceiling.
- Screen it in. That will keep the insects out and add more security to your snooze.
- Hang canvas or reed blinds. Blinds will protect you and the furniture from driving rain or blinding sun.
- Focus on beauty and ease. Cover the bed in strong colors, or try white with bright pillows. Or, upholster your mattress and pillows, including the zippers for easy washing. “I don’t want to make up a bed,” she says. “I want instant naptime.”