Don't let this spectacular season go to waste. Make your porch the new living room.
Steal These Secrets
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn, styling Scott Martin

Behind every pretty room are a hundred decorating secrets―smart moves, simple touches, and stylish flourishes that come together to make a space special. Wish you could just look at a picture and connect the dots to pull off the look? So do we! After we found this Nashville screened porch, shiny and bright in all its early spring glory, the impulse was to connect the dots―that is, the furniture, the lighting, the fabrics―that outline an ideal spot for relaxing, entertaining, or swinging with the dogs and the kiddos.

Out With the Old
When the Frist family moved into this Georgian-style house, it was redbrick on the outside, and the back patio (unscreened at the time) had seen better days. That's design-speak to say it was a boring, lackluster space. Mom Jennifer's wish list included a porch that could handle dinner parties and plenty of seating. Not a problem, promised interior designer Mark Simmons. They'd screen the covered area, install a new bluestone floor, and outfit it with a collected mix of furniture. "We went with oversize, comfy chairs as opposed to ‘let's get as much seating as possible,' " says Jennifer. "A room never feels cozy when it's crammed with furniture, plus we wanted to keep the French doors that connect the porch to the house open and not block the entryways. That's important when you have kids going in and out all day."

A Color Change for the Better
Before furniture was picked, a stop at the paint shop for a custom white color was in order. Mark and Jennifer spent hours looking at big squares of sample colors painted on the back of the house. "Our neighbors must have thought we were nuts staring at all these patches of white paint," says Jennifer. A shade was finally picked―one that falls between buttercream and stark white―and all the bricks were painted. The trim, railings, and columns, however, were painted a lighter, brighter white. "You want a little contrast between house color and trim color," explains Mark. "This makes the architectural details stand out more―something you definitely want on a beautiful Georgian house."

Capturing the View
The architectural appreciation didn't stop there. Landscape architect Gavin Duke sketched out the fretwork for a railing to wrap around the porch. Why bother? Because an intricate railing such as this one makes the porch seem more like a room of its own, not just a patio that juts out into a lawn. Still, you want the landscape to come into view, and Mark says copper or bronze screens are a smarter buy. "They oxidize faster and have a way of disappearing into the background better, unlike the galvanized metal ones," he explains.

Matchy-Matchy Is a No-No
Always decorate your porch as if it's a room in the house. If the colors are different―à la bold, beachy prints when your rooms indoors have mostly solids and neutrals―the porch will stand out, but in a weird way. Jennifer and Mark chose pieces that flow with the rest of the furniture in the house, aiming for a collected-over-time look. A stone-and-iron table pairs with wooden chairs. Rattan wicker chairs sit underneath copper lanterns. "I'm so glad we screened it in because now this porch feels as cozy as a room in our house, only you get to be outside," says Jennifer. "People come over, they grab a glass of wine, and they head out there. And when the kids are out there, one of them is always swinging. It just has a really nice feeling." Just as home should be.

"Steal These Secrets" is from the April 2008 issue of Southern Living.