When I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in Roland Park, the porch was one of the most important rooms in the house for many families. Adults gathered there for drinks before dinner and summer cocktail parties. Children sat and swung on the porch swing, completing their required summer reading, or jumped rope in the shade. Teenagers often clustered together on porches after the neighborhood hangout, “The Morg” (Morgan & Millard pharmacy, where Petit Louis is today), closed for the evening. Porch furnishings then were an eclectic mix of wicker or wrought-iron or Adirondack chairs, a few old tables, occasionally a straw rug and a lamp.
Today, many Roland Park porches are more elaborate. Matching furniture (sometimes coordinated by interior designers) fills elegant niches that often feature ceiling fans, outdoor heaters, sound systems and stylish architectural details. Yet, one thing hasn’t changed. Porches continue to be the perfect spots to slow down, catch one’s breath, connect with family members, friends and neighbors, and soak up the beauty of the surrounding ancient shade trees.
On the west side of Roland Park is a formal block, designed by New York architect Charles Platt and once known as “Millionaire’s Row,” that is full of elegant pillared stucco houses. In 1902 Baltimore architects Ellicott and Emmart designed this Italian Renaissance home with a wide rear porch. When Julia and Michael Keelty bought the house, they rebuilt the porch supports, balustrade and floor (which must be painted every year because of its western exposure), but preserved the enormous arched windows and shutters. A porch swing now overlooks a manicured, Mediterranean-style garden and swimming pool, where 10-year-old Annabel and her friends swim April to October. “Half the year our porch is an extension of our house,” says Julia. “I have this relaxed, secluded spot where I can keep an eye on them.”
On a late summer afternoon, a rabbit sits on the lawn one story below Pam and John Corckran’s hillside back porch. Soon, a fox darts through a stand of tulip poplars. “We feel we’re in the middle of the country … It’s very quiet, yet you can hear children playing baseball and the dogs,” says Pam, who grew up on another Roland Park porch. She and John (“Cork”) added this porch to their 1905 stucco house 32 years ago because, as Pam says, “not having a porch felt funny.” As they raised their two children, they ate dinner, had summer birthday parties here and used it after swimming in the adjacent pool. The addition of an awning 15 years ago “defined the space,” says Pam, a photographer. “That’s when it became a whole new place to be.” Seven years after building an addition and reconfiguring the porch, the empty-nesters still use it for sitting, looking at the gardens and eating dinner every night. “It becomes our summer living room.”
Before the lot was home to this 1899 Queen Anne house or its current owners, Lucy and David Skeen, it was the playing field for the original Roland Park Country School. More than 100 years later, one of the community’s oldest porches serves as a design workshop for RPCS alumna Lucy. By day a contract administrator for the Baltimore City Public Schools, by night Lucy “designs on a dime.” According to husband Dave, their porch is “ever-changing,” because Lucy’s favorite thing about it is “the opportunity [it gives] to decorate it.” To create its current French accent, Lucy painted stripes on a small $50 armoire and a diamond pattern on a $5 sofa table. She upholstered wicker chairs in black, white and red. “It’s all thrift shop,” says this mother of four adult children, two of whom have returned and use the porch for entertaining. “I never sit still here,” says Lucy. “I rearrange and decorate.”
A sliding entrance railing, two coffee mugs, stacks of magazines and lamps show what Elsa and George Boynton do on the Queen Anne porch they’ve owned since 1970. “From the minute we can, we and the two pugs use our porch as a living room,” says Elsa. Unlike many, the Boyntons leave furniture on their turn-of-the-century porch all year. But warm weather is when the family’s three generations come together here. Three grown daughters, who courted and held graduation parties here, hold reunions. Five grandchildren learned to walk and experienced their first thunderstorms here. They nap and listen to Grammy read, accompanied by ceiling fans, a fountain, wind chimes, birds and cicadas. There’s plenty of room for everyone on this porch, which extends to a plant-filled porch corridor then opens onto a small side porch that, according to Elsa, “is somewhere to get away from all the action on the other porch!”
“The porch was it. Before I walked inside, I knew this was it,” says Christine Kimball of the day two years ago when she and her husband, Lewis, first saw their 1900 stone and shingle “cottage.” “It feels like home,” she says of her cozy, original porch, among the first in the community, complete with its pipe railing. Christine and Lewis sometimes sit with a glass of wine for a moment apart from their five children. And the family takes turns reading here. “It’s really good to read on, because we have the couch and the breeze,” says Olivia Kimball, 12. Youngest sister Samantha stations herself at a children’s-sized wicker table and chair for tea parties with Momma Bear, Ballerina Bear and Samantha Bear. “As if we don’t have enough going on,” says Christine, “we have baby birds!” Last summer five broods of mourning doves hatched in the rafters. This summer, the family hopes wrens will find the newly cleaned wren house built into the porch years ago.
New ‘old’ porch
Anne Stuzin’s elegant but intimate back porch behind a meticulously renovated, 1904 Colonial revival shingle house is only 7 years old, but, as designed by architect Laura Thomas of Melville Thomas Architects and constructed by Michael Holle of Concept Construction, “you think it’s from 1904,” says Anne. In the past seven years, Anne, her husband, Ken, their two daughters, one son and 64-pound Airedale Cannon have hosted everything from after-dinner cigar smoking by Ken and his buddies, to girls’-night-outs for Anne and her friends, cocktails with neighbors, children’s tea parties and Fourth of July fireworks-watching with all the neighborhood children lined up against the long railing. “It’s a sanctuary,” says Anne, a busy, young mother. “You connect at once to the outdoors … and to the way people lived 100 years ago.”
“Since building this porch, we call our living room and dining room ‘the hinterland,’” says artist David Calhoun of the spacious, modern porch designed by architect Peter Doo for Calhoun and his wife, Jane Daniels. Built in 2000, the porch was screened and covered with a roof of slate, glass and mahogany in 2005. “We wanted an open ceiling without any obstruction of beams,” says David. “We’ve been using this porch nonstop since we covered it,” says Jane, with her eye on their two daughters in the pool. Birthday parties, family dinners, art projects and dance performances, as well as pilates workouts and lots of entertaining (complete with sophisticated sound and lighting systems), all happen, sometimes simultaneously, here.
A second-floor front porch is a rarity in Roland Park. Possibly patterned after the main house at Shirley Plantation in Virginia, Phillip and Melissa Spevak’s 1911 Georgian brick home with double porches is reminiscent of houses in Charleston or Savannah. Here, Maryland’s fifth largest magnolia grandifolia tree towers over both porches. “Up here on the second floor, we feel we’re in a treehouse, a special and very private place,” says Melissa, as a family cat artfully walks the tightrope of the railing. “In my ideal world, we would be up here having cocktails and watching the sun set.” Realistically, the doctors and parents of two teenagers more often find themselves here, in the comfort of old family furniture, for morning coffee and after-dinner drinks with friends, lunches with children, plus occasional board games and sleepovers.