How homeowners are making front yards the new backyards

Maria and Peter Archer have breakfast at a table within a flower garden in their front yard in Glen Mills.

Lauren Baran was nostalgic for the days when her family hung out on her grandmother’s front porch. So when she built her new home in Berwyn, a cozy wrap-around was a must.

Since moving in April, “it has become our most coveted spot, an extension of the home,” said Baran, 48, of the suede floor, stained-wood ceiling, rockers, and big wooden swing that give the newly built porch an old-time feel.

Though Baran also created a backyard for unwinding — a covered patio, grill, and corner fireplace with seating and dining table — the family continues to gravitate to the front, even for meals. That surprised her. “You get a breeze on the front porch. It’s very pretty and quiet,” she reasoned. “It’s a little sense of community. You not only get to know the neighbors, you get to know their dogs.”

Camera icon Baran family
Lauren Baran was nostalgic for the days when her family hung out on her grandmother’s front porch. So when she built her new home in Berwyn, a cozy wrap-around was a must.

Whether creating cozy porches, surrounding yard-bound breakfast tables with vibrant flowers, or bordering the steps of a rowhouse with colorful container gardens, homeowners are moving away from the privacy of their backyards to the typically more open front. There, the light may be better, the view more interesting.  Spurred by Instagram and such sites as Pinterest and Houzz, the front yard — having taken on new qualities — has become the new backyard.

The number of Pinterest searches for front yard ideas began to rise in January, peaking in early May as summer drew closer, said Lara Levin, consumer public relations manager at Pinterest. She said the 67 percent year-over-year increase is part of the broader trend of bringing the inside out — moving upholstered furniture outside and recreating the living room outdoors — as searches for “outdoor living rooms” are also up, more than 30 percent year over year. That’s more than 38 million front porch ideas and more than 8 million front yard ideas since the first of the year.

“People are searching for ways to maximize their spaces — both for entertaining purposes and for general organization and usability,” said Levin. “This trend can be seen as people look to take the front yard from aesthetic to functional, allowing them to enjoy every bit of space in their home.”

Maximizing the front yard creates an opportunity to have more than one outdoor space, said Peter C. Archer, principal of Archer & Buchanan Architecture, who has noticed an uptick in front yard projects in the last few years. Five years ago, his company rarely designed a front yard. This year, it will work on about five. Costs range from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands, depending on the project’s scope.

Where busy roads might have typically dissuaded homeowners from creating front-of-house hangouts, the right landscaping can create privacy. Pavers, brick, or flagstone make for pretty courtyards with gardens or water features, and a car can still drive across.

“Low fences or stone walls can create more of an extension of the house,” Archer said. His Westtown home features a stepping-stone walk, a porch vestibule with flat stones within a garden, and an antique table and cast iron chairs where his family enjoys breakfast, especially on mild mornings.

The Fuller family’s expansive front yard, featuring flowering gardens and a fountain, has been the favorite local spot for prom and senior pictures, lacrosse tosses and the occasional slip-and-slide for daughters Madeleine, 17, and Olivia, 15. Bordering trees keep the space private, ideal for letting the dogs run free.

Camera icon Fuller family
The Fuller family’s expansive front yard, featuring flowering gardens and a fountain, has been the favorite local spot.

There are limits — “when my daughter wanted to put a trampoline in the front yard, that didn’t fly over too well,” joked mom Jennifer, 45, of their Bryn Mawr home. “But it’s a really unique setting and one of the appeals when we bought the house seven years ago. It makes it more distinctive and grand.”

Hanging out on the front steps is a time-honored tradition for city dwellers, but homeowners are bringing attention to the usually minimal landscape.

For the last three years, Carrie Borgenicht, owner of Earthly Delights in Pennsport, has helped create front gardens, window boxes, courtyards and containers at urban residences. “Every time you come in and out of your house, you see those window boxes or containers, so you get to enjoy those front gardens even if you’re not sitting out there,” she said. “You’re part of the community and you’re beautifying it.”

Marge Schernecke, a front dweller in Queen Village all of her 69 years, has happily noticed that her new, younger neighbors spend time sitting out front as their kids play nearby. “It’s a great way for people to get to know their neighbors,” she said. “And, it puts eyes on the street and lets folks know that neighbors are out watching for various unwanted activities.”

Anthony Fedele started hanging out on his neighbor Jennifer Venneri’s Queen Village front steps about a decade ago, but over the years, more neighbors have joined in, bringing folding chairs and beverages. Over the last six years, the group has swelled to a dozen, having dubbed themselves “the Third Street Awesome” and stooping a couple times each week, weather permitting.

“It’s the front of a condo — there’s nothing luxurious about it,” said Fedele, 42. “The backyard just isn’t the same — it’s very isolating. We have a couple glasses of wine or beer, greet everyone that walks by, play with the dogs, and make jokes.”

It’s often organic — somebody comes home from work, sees a neighbor, and grabs a chair. Other times, a text message goes out and anyone free joins in.

There can be challenges to front yard beautification, of course, from theft of containers (lock them to a railing) to urinating dogs (post signs with pleas to dog owners) to thirsty plants (water them).

Says Borgenicht, “If you don’t have a spigot, have a plumber put one in.”

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