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A Porch of One’s Own: The Perils and Pleasures of Building My Happy Place

For 20 years I dreamed of a place where I could just “be” at my house: feel the breeze, watch the trees, hear the birds, avoid the bugs. In my mind, this place would be shady (I’m allergic to the sun) and serene. I just wanted a quiet spot where I might read a good book, with a simple table where I might eat a tuna sandwich. 

But each time I brought up the subject of constructing such an oasis with my husband, there was a more pressing project that bumped it down the line.  Sometimes, the house needed painting, or the barn burned down, or the pond had to be dredged. Granted, these were all valid and important, but they certainly weren’t transformative for me. 

Then, a year or so ago, we had some room in my construction schedule. It was my turn, and we decided to build a screened-in porch. I’d already stopped working full time, and had generally deferred to my husband’s vision as far as expenditures went. But, going into the porch project, I asked myself, would my ideas still matter the way they had at work? 

In my 25 years as a magazine editor/content creator, I was part of many teams that communicated through a give and take of ideas. Together, we’d worked through multiple iterations to arrive at a final version. But it had been a long time since I’d been a part of a collaborative team. Like other friends who left the workplace, I felt rusty when it came to putting my ideas out there. I was out of practice when it came to taking criticism without feeling attacked or minimized. The possibility of making a mistake felt disproportionately unnerving. 

Initially, getting the porch built exposed a tangle of vulnerabilities that some of my peers faced at this stage of life. We talked about what it’s like to step off the full-time career track only to find ourselves confused over how to now define our worth. For some of us, reducing or eliminating our personal income could make the ground feel shaky, even if our overall financial situation remained stable. 

The porch project highlighted those issues for me. Would the fact that I was the champion of this porch come back to bite me if something went wrong? Unlike most of the projects my husband and I had undertaken in our long-married life, I really pushed for this one, and I felt an added responsibility to get it right. But this slice of anxiety was purely self-generated: we never blamed each other when things went awry, at least when it came to construction issues. That toilet that ended up too close to the tub in a recent bathroom renovation? Nobody pointed fingers. We just coughed up the money to move it.

Without an income of my own, I also had financial concerns. If one partner contributed all of the funds towards this project, did it give him a bigger say in the outcome? I soon realized that this, too, was a projection of my own insecurity. My husband had always given my opinion equal weight, regardless of the increasingly wide discrepancy in our incomes over the years. In that presumption of financial equality, I was lucky, since many marriages don’t have the same dynamic.

My concerns laid aside, we built my porch, and it is all that I thought it would be! A feeling of peace descends upon me when, prone on the porch’s couch, I look out on our massive black walnut tree, and our pond in the distance. Geese, deer and turkeys occasionally amble by, and birds chirp and swoop from dawn until dusk. It’s absolutely shady and serene with breezes provided by both mother nature and a silent ceiling fan. Finally, I had my oasis.

But just as important as ticking off the boxes on my checklist for personal peace is what this porch has come to mean to my family and me. 

Despite the fact that we have a lovely living room and a cozy den with a mammoth flat screen TV, it’s the porch that’s become the favorite destination and epicenter of our house. The only heat is provided by four infrared lamps that hang from the ceiling, yet we’ve found ourselves on the porch, bundled up in sweaters, for a post-Thanksgiving lunch or New Year’s Eve cocktails. 

Before we added a stick of furniture, the porch played a starring role in my son’s proposal to his girlfriend, when his vision of kneeling under the aforementioned black walnut tree was torrentially rained out. With 30,000 rose petals spread across the vacant floor, he proposed on the porch instead, christening the space with a big dose of love in the process.

The porch is just as popular with those who don’t live in my house. Guests clamor to snag spots on the L-shaped couch, which is firm enough to support a backgammon board yet soft enough to foster a midday snooze. Thunderstorms, not typically welcome in summer, are positively magical when experienced from the safety of the (relatively) dry porch. Perhaps the best compliment I’ve received about the porch came from my 90-year-old neighbor who has lived down the road for all of his years. “It looks as if it has always been there,” he told me. High praise, indeed, given that our farmhouse is over 200 years old. 

Somehow, waiting this long to see my dream porch come to life makes sitting in it all the sweeter. Unlike some things in life that make me smile, the porch makes everyone smile, which is hugely satisfying. It’s just a big box with screens on three sides, but my porch is the happiest place in town. 

Filed under: Home, Issues, Stories

by

Amy Barr

Amy Barr is a veteran magazine editor. She started her career as an editorial assistant at Working Mother magazine and rose through the ranks to become Executive Editor before joining Time Inc. to launch the online edition of Parenting, where she served as managing editor. Amy was also part of the online launch teams for Worth.com, What to Expect When You're Expecting, The South Beach Diet and Everyday Health. You can find Amy on Twitter at @amylbarr.

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