Have you taken a good look at your front porch lately? Go ahead, walk out to the sidewalk and give the porch a visual once-over, trying to view it with a new eye.
"Your porch sends a message — a little teaser — of what the rest of your house is going to offer," says Anna Hinkle, a designer at Medford Interiors. "If it looks clean, clutter free, colorful and interesting, people will feel welcome."
If things are looking a little musty and dusty, consider these 10 inexpensive fixes for a tired front porch.
1. Elbow grease. Free and easy, a good old-fashioned cleaning can do wonders. "You'd be surprised how many people don't think of sweeping, straightening, pruning around their front porch," says Helen Stanley, owner of Interior Resource & Design in Medford. "It's so often overlooked because people have seen the area so much they don't really see it anymore." Scrub and hose down or power wash exterior walls, door and floor; shake out and wash all rugs; wipe down furniture and fixtures.
2. Repair, replace, remove. Broken hardware, collapsing planters, muddy shoes, piles of equipment, a torn screen: these all reflect poorly on the house. Thoroughly de-clutter the space. If that table can't be fixed and there's no money or time to replace it, send it packing.
3. Color, color, color. "Color always makes a statement," says Stacy Warren of Burmeister's in Medford. "Look for a colorful doormat or outdoor rug, depending on the size of your porch."
4. Front door facelift. New color or stain on the front door is a small investment with big returns. Look for a hue that's harmonious with the house, yet adds a dram of drama. First patch up any cracks, then sand and prime the door. Follow with an outdoor paint made specifically for the door material.
5. Reconstitute concrete walkways and porch surfaces. A new stain underfoot can make the whole house look new for not much money. Choose a stain that complements the house while hiding wear and dirt; talk to a salesperson or consultant at a paint store for advice.
6. Shine some light on the subject. Good lighting is really important for the front porch, as it is the first sign of welcome that family and guests see at night. Fixtures should be attractive off as well as on and ought to match the style of the home. "Often you'll see these teeny-weeny lights on this big porch with a big front door," Stanley says. "The lights should be of a size relative to the house and should go with the home's personality — it's really the jewelry on the home."
A dark metallic fixture with a geometric, structured shape works with Craftsman architecture; whimsical ironwork with fancy glass globes are fun on a cottage; anything that's gingerbread-y and ornate matches a Victorian. Look through catalogs and talk to salespeople for ideas, then search thrift stores for great deals.
7. Pleasing plants. Potted and/or hanging plants and flowers instantly make things bright, fresh and airy. Try rotating plants from other parts of the house or yard onto the front porch. Resist silk or fake plants as they fade in the sun and end up looking dingy. Consider installing an inexpensive piece of trellis to the side of the porch or house and start some vines. "This costs almost nothing and looks so nice," says Carol Sharp, owner/interior designer of Medford Interiors.
8. Find an inspiration piece. For a creative touch, scour flea markets, thrift stores, consignment stores and auctions for something you can build a design around. Perhaps an old ladder becomes a plant stand with a wicker chair nearby; maybe you've got a new red door that begs for some black wrought-iron accents.
9. Offer a seat. "Furniture on the porch is always very welcoming, even if you yourself don't use it," promises Sharp. "Put out a rocker for a traditional house or something more contemporary for a modern home." Cut costs by repainting or spray painting existing furniture, then replace or recover the cushions.
10. The final touches. A new doorbell costs around $15. Look for bargain-priced hinges, doorknobs and knockers at home stores and thrift stores. Likewise, new address numbers cost very little and add so much. Don't forget to paint or replace the mailbox.
Spruced up and shining, your front porch will serve as a greeting card to all who approach.