Monday, March 25, 2013

My Fan, Darling.

An oil I painted of my Grandpa Kenneth Morris 
(front L)
 at a friend's home enjoying summer fun. 
Get into the mindset:  No air conditioning, no ceiling fans, no shorts, no tank tops, no sundresses and no deodorant.  Females wore long dresses, layers of petticoats, sleeves, and corsets.  Men wore dress pants, white long sleeve shirts and a tie.  This was pretty much always.

Although many eras of architectural design provide respite from hot weather, nobody did it with greater flair than the Victorians.

First off, they designed their porches with enough architectural details to keep a staff of carpenters and painters busy for years. 

Secondly, they designed and furnished porches to function like rooms.  Most were an open air parlor.  Second floor porches were often sleeping rooms.  All the little corner porches off bedrooms provided "a lady" a chance to privately get a breath of fresh air.

Thirdly, they brought a flower garden of containers onto the porches.  This was for the Victorian over-the-top beauty and for fragrance.  They also brought out the houseplants and they were usually large.

Forth, they knew the porch was a place to see and be seen.

Fifth, a deep porch not only shaded it's occupants, it offered a layer of shade for the home.

Sixth, the furniture on a porch was meant to be ornamental and a comfortable place to spend hours trying to cool down.  It's the era of porch rockers, swings, and wicker.  When a crowd showed, they would often haul out dining room chairs or other furniture. 

Seventh, a Victorian home wasn't built by the poor or even the average.  It was an opportunity to show the world "you had arrived" and the home was a measure of the success of the man.  The architecture was often a combination of Victorian, Queen Anne and bits and pieces of other decorative elements that pleased the new owner.  The paint colors were much like the interiors with layers, bright colors, and patterns. 

Eighth, the landscapes were often arranged to provide shade for the home and porches as-well-as make a statement and draw the eyes towards the home.  Most older home of this era have huge mature trees planted over one-hundred years ago. 

Ninth, if you own one of these old beauties or even want to create the impression of this era, here are some ideas.

Often the houseplants were ferns and palms.  These were strategically placed around the porch to frame seating arrangements.  Although we often see hanging plants on these large porches now days, I've seldom seen them in old photos.

Unless the pots are going to be on the edges where they catch at least six hours of sun, most pots should be filled with shade loving plants.

Always put something under the pots so they won't sit directly on the floor.  They will drain better, will be less likely to stain and the paint won't stay wet and peel.  I use wine corks on each pot corner.

Grouping pots was typical - remember the Victorian mantra:  more is better.

Most of these porches had parlor accessories:  rugs, pillows, cushions, quilts, tablecloths, curtains and footstools.  Be careful watering around all the fabric items.  Most pots contain soil ingredients that will leach out when watering.  If it gets on material, it will stain.

My great grandfather, John
Simmons Trees (seated L)
My grandmother, Elizabeth 
Trees Shenk (seated M)
Speaking of material, it is heaven for mold, insects, mildew, humidity and napping cats.  I suggest using the new treated materials and stuffing to at least hold off the humidity issues.  Shaking daily will help with the insect population. Beautiful quilts, heirloom pillows and the like look lovely but will take a beating on a porch over the summer.  Things will get wet, sun fade, and get dirty.  Perhaps bring out the most precious when you entertain.

Some plants have very strong fragrance and this can help with insects.  Make sure it's a strong fragrance you LOVE because as the sun drops, fragrance intensifies.  On the other hand, realize many flowers will entice insects such as bees and wasps.  If you only use your porch in the evenings, it won't be a problem. 

If you want a truly Victorian era porch, don't use re purposed pots.  Remember this was a time when impressing was uppermost.  They also didn't use "early American" things on the front porch.  The main reason is it wasn't considered mannerly to show utilitarian furniture and accessories.  Most items considered early American were actually being used for their original purpose.  They would have never used an old wash tub as a planter because the wash tub was being used for wash.

If you want some ideas, look at some of these sources:

The "America's Painted Ladies" book series.
Facebook page:  If ThE wOrld HaD a FrOnT pOrCh
Pinterest or google:  "Victorian porches" "Queen Ann porches" or simply just "porches"

And lastly, the Victorians entertained.  Most owners of these large elaborate homes had "help" with housekeeping, children and kitchen chores.  Realize you probably can't do it all in a house this size if you are a cast of one. 

Drinks: Lemonade was a summer staple.  Drinks weren't iced as much as they are now days because of the limited ability to keep large quantities of ice on hand.  Others served hot tea, wine and cocktails.  Remember seeing the tea carts?  They are perfect for wheeling your fully stocked bar in and out.  If you're not into the alcoholic drinks, it is still perfect for wheeling other treats, glasses, napkins and plates.  Always offer napkins to soak up moisture from the glasses.  (Dang, that sounded a little Martha Stewartish!)

Food:  This is where little cucumber sandwiches became popular!  Anything cool works.  Of course they used china, linen, Crystal and silver.  There are some beautiful paper products that can almost look the part. 

Light:  Candles and oil lamps will add just the right evening mood without heating things up. 

Now go have fun you Victorian home owners and even if you're a wanna be.  I guarantee warm nights are coming.

Word of caution:  If you live in an area where crime is abundant, realize anything on your porch is "fair pickings."  My daughter actually had three heavy-very large pots removed from her front porch one night.  Motion lights, motion alarms, driveway sensors on the porch steps, observant neighbors and large watch dogs help somewhat.    

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