In our household, we do not stand on formality.
Our design style is what you might call transitional eclectic — as in, the stuff we’ve collected over the years refreshed by an occasional purchase (after the children destroyed our first sofa, for example).
We don’t host fancy dinner parties. We have barbecues.
We are not fussy about cleaning — to put it mildly.
And we are definitely back door people.
When we bought our house 12 years ago, the previous owners didn’t have a front door key. The house sits on a corner, and they tended to go in and out from the garage or carport, which face the side street.
That threw me at first. High on my wish list for a new house — which did not exactly match my husband’s, hence our three-year search — was a big front porch where we could relax with a cool drink, watch the kids play and get to know the neighbors. We even had a porch swing, ready to hang.
In our parents’ day, folks gathered on shady porches every evening to cool off, chat with the neighbors or enjoy a game of cards. These days, we’re more apt to retreat to our air-conditioned family rooms or maybe sit on the back deck. I have nothing against television or central air-conditioning, but like others, I mourn the isolation that’s come with them.
Alas, this house had a small front porch, but it met most of our other criteria. So after we moved in, I plunked a chair out front and sat there with our young children, chatting with joggers and dog walkers who’d wander by.
But we soon found ourselves using the back door more often than not.
Our street is fairly busy, so the kids usually played in the backyard, away from the traffic, or rode bikes around the patio or carport. It made more sense to unload groceries or baseball gear there, close to the kitchen and garage. And because our yard runs along the side street, we still saw plenty of neighbors and passers-by.
We’ve gotten so accustomed to using the back door that we sometimes leave new visitors stranded on the front porch, wondering if anyone’s home.
We do open the front door at least twice daily, to get the paper in the morning and the mail in the afternoon. And it’s popular on Halloween. But once in a while, when I wander out front to pry weeds out of the brick walkway, I’ll find the spiders have built a condominium complex around our front door.
We also have a third door, to the breezeway connecting our house and garage. It used to be our de facto storage unit, a drop-off point for all the tools and skates and toys that we were too lazy to take out to the garage or into the house.
But as you may have read, it’s been transformed into a spiffy mudroom where my kids can leave their messy boots and backpacks without piling them inside the back door, essentially in the middle of our family room.
Somehow, we still haven’t trained ourselves to come in that way — partly because, ironically, I don’t want the mudroom to get too messy. (What? It’s the nicest room in the house.)
Our friends know the code. They go straight to our back door, where you can usually find us hanging out in the kitchen or family room — sometimes in our pajamas, well past the acceptable hour of the morning (or afternoon).
Lately they’ve been stopping by more often as my husband recuperates from heart surgery and related complications. That’s been a silver lining of his medical issues: friends popping in to drop off food, pick up our children, see if we need anything or just say hi.
I love that they’re comfortable doing that. It reminds me of the way my siblings always stopped by my mom’s house after work or on their way to the store, just to check in.
That’s the point, right? Front porch, back door — it’s the connections that matter.
Julie Wurth blogs about families and kids and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226, email@example.com or Twitter.com/jawurth.
Top: An original door knob in a Queen Ann style house on Elm Street in Urbana, which dates back to the 1800's.
Bottom: Our breezeway/mudroom, which is no longer quite that clean.
John Dixon/The News-Gazette