Meet Me on the Veranda: Shades of Summer

As the sun melts into the summer sky, a southern belle steps out the front door of a Victorian home carrying a tray laden with silver mint julep goblets topped with sprigs of mint fresh from the garden and says in a slow, long drawl, “Come on y’all now, drinks are being served on the veranda,” tempting everyone to gather in wicker chairs on the expansive front porch. Children play games nearby on the lawn as dogs bark and the smell of barbecue lingers in the air.

It is a southern scene repeated in myriad neighborhoods throughout Louisiana. From elegant urban Victorians to sprawling country homes and plantations nestled under live oaks, the veranda prevails as the perfect outdoor living room that invites social gatherings. There is no finer way to throw a summer party than on the generous expanse of a shaded veranda. It keeps off the glare of the sun and affords a dry spot in the rain, while providing a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood.

The cultural significance of the veranda is in its connection to nature. This outdoor shaded living room is often regarded as the most important architectural element in the homeowner’s social life.

Found in hot and humid climates, the veranda is the best place to be when one wants to take in the cool air and have a peaceful feeling with nature while also having access to passersby. It is a place to relax after a hard day’s work and discuss matters with friends, neighbors, and family. It brings the community together while offering respite from the enclosure of a house and office. It serves as a welcome gesture to visitors with the added beauty of the sun, the garden, rustling leaves, and the smell of summer flowers. It has been observed that most architects design verandas deliberately to make boundary ambiguous.

A word brought by the English from India, the veranda is an open-walled, roofed porch attached to the exterior of a domestic structure and is usually surrounded by a railing. Although it came into English through the Hindi “varanda,” it is related to the Spanish “baranda,” meaning “railing” and thus most likely entered Hindi via Portuguese explorers of India.

The word “porch” originally derives from the Latin word “porticus” or the Greek word “portico,” both of which signify the columned entry to a Classical temple. At the arrival of the Middle Ages, the porch came to represent a cathedral’s vestibule, where worshipers could gather to socialize. By Victorian times, porch became interchangeably used with the words veranda, piazza, loggia, and portico.

The first time the front porch clearly appeared was in ancient Greece and Rome, where dwellings often had columned verandas as shaded walkways around an interior garden. Loggias appeared in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Italy to provide a shaded outdoor space for public buildings.

Verandas were popular in the South during Victorian times, and were generally seen on the homes of the wealthy. This style of porch was larger and was an extension of the rest of the home. Verandas were generally accessed through large French doors. Over-sized furniture, including wicker, was present (wicker furniture can be traced to Egypt in 3000 BC). Wrought iron furniture was also popular on these porches. In the 1930s, the famed Woodward family began a collection of handcrafted wrought iron furniture. This was really the beginning of casual outdoor furniture and lead to other materials being used in later years.

Porches and outdoor furniture evolved in the post-war era. It became increasingly in style to live in the suburbs after the war and more people gravitated to their patios, porches, and verandas. People liked extending their social life outdoors and spreading the family or the party out.

This trend has grown even more today. More and more people are gravitating to their “outdoor living rooms” and are extending their homes with outdoor furniture, kitchens, and sprawling verandas that recall a simpler time.

Whether it resides at a majestic plantation such as Oak Alley, with its massive columns surrounding wide upper and lower level porches, or at a handsome Victorian home with wicker rockers and a swing, the veranda reigns as the architectural epitome of gracious southern living. It brings in the sights, sounds, and smells of the garden; it shades you from the glare of the summer sun, and invites you to “sit and stay a while.”