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Porch swings harken to simpler times

April 26, 2014
photo - Girls sitting on porch swing reading
Girls sitting on porch swing reading 

We're all born swingers, first in our parents' arms and cradles, then swing sets and rocking chairs. No matter our age, the gentle back-and-forth flirt with gravity soothes and slows us on a primal level and can make everything else seem a little more pleasant.

No wonder the porch swing is America's favorite piece of interactive furniture this time of year.

"You use it to welcome in spring and say goodbye to fall," said Vince Guthrie, of Colorado Springs, whose 1890s shotgun Victorian is a few blocks south of Colorado College. "It's just nice to sit on the swing in the summer and watch life pass by."

Say, on a unicycle.

"How often do you get to see a guy riding by on one wheel?" said Guthrie, as the cyclist wobble-zipped down Willamette Street in front of his home. "People sit in their back yards and don't interface with their neighbors or the world, they miss this."

Porch swings are about more than the action or the views, though. They are time machines powered by kinetics and nostalgia, even if your personal bygone eras aren't that far gone. They harken to simpler times, of paper boys and milk deliveries and unlocked front doors.

"Having front porches makes communities more inviting and more walkable," said Guthrie. Probably because front porches hail from an era when communities were more inviting and walkable.

They technically predate much of that popular imagery, though, with a history going back to the mid-1800s, the proliferation of single family homes and architectural styles featuring prominent, covered entryways.

Georgia-based designer and author James Farmer grew up in the Deep South, where "porches were our air-conditioning before we had air-conditioning," he said.

"Many porches were sleeping porches before they were anything else," said Farmer, who wrote "Porch Living." "I remember stories my grandmother told me about sleeping on her sleeping porch growing up, and in my favorite novel, 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' they sleep out on the porch. There are just all these romantic notions about porches and porch swings."

The porch might have served as a seasonal family room when the heat inside became stifling. In such scenarios, swings became "the couches of our porches," an extension of the interior space, Farmer said.

Essentially a wide bench suspended from the ceiling by ropes or chains, while the range of styles and materials is now vast, the porch swing itself remains elementary in construction.

Typical examples seat up to three people and might offer decidedly modern twists such as cup holders or fold-down center trays. With versions in metal, wicker and weather-resistant resin, popular styles still showcase rustic elements and boxy craftsman lines, often in cypress, teak or cedar, which weathers to a silvery hue if left untreated. Elaborate examples or those made of fine woods can command prices well into the thousands, but a functioning swing in rough, unfinished fir readily can be found for less than $100.

What inspires Farmer, though, is the trend toward extending lush living spaces and designer textiles to outdoor spaces and outdoor furniture, when and where the weather allows.

"Outdoor fabrics and furnishings have come so far that, you name it, if there's a color or texture you like there's an outdoor fabric to suit your need," Farmer said. "What better way to make a porch a great hybrid? Whatever your style, you'll find a porch swing and the fabrics to decorate it with."

In seasons past, Vince Guthrie's wife Nadine regularly used to swap out the pillows and the faux flower vines that adorn the front porch swing on Willamette, but it's been awhile since one of those makeovers.

With or without extra decorations, it swings just as sweet.

"In the summer, I spend entire weekends out there reading books, every moment I can," she said. "I love my porch swing."


Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364

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