Small porch ideas - 8 ways to turn your outdoor space into a retreat to watch the world go by

Small porch ideas to add charm and ambiance to an often overlooked part of the home, from secluded screened-in spaces to container gardening tips

a small porch painted in pale green and white with a wood rocking chair
(Image credit: Innovatus Design)

Small porch ideas can really lift a modest space and transform it from an unused area to an extension of your home that will provide you with a space for reflection, relaxation, and contemplation. 

There is something whimsical and romantic about a porch, evocative of white picket fences and rocking chairs looking out onto the neighborhood. 

'I define a porch as a covered outdoor space that leads directly off of the entry or main level of a home and connects it to the greater outdoors,' says Kat Aul Cervoni, landscape designer and founder of Staghorn NYC and The Cultivation by Kat. 'It can be at the front, back or side of a house and can be slightly elevated or at ground level. If you’re extra lucky, it may even wrap around several sides of your home.'

‘Most people spend more time on their front porches than they do inside. That’s a reason alone to make it special,’ says interior designer Ellen Hamilton. But it's not a reserved luxury for large porches that wrap around the entirety of the home, and a porch, even if just a small area, can be carved out for a moment of relaxation. 'No matter the circumstances, a porch should never be neglected as they all have a special function they can serve,' adds Aul Cervoni.

Small porches can still pack a punch when carefully and thoughtfully considered. From plant pots and flower beds to simple touches, like lighting and furniture, your porch can provide a quiet space to escape. We’ve spoken to the designers and architects to gather together their backyard ideas for how to maximize the space.

Small porch ideas to elevate your outdoor space

No matter how modest your porch area, rethinking the definition of a porch can unlock a wealth of potential for this overlooked part of the home. 

'Small porches are often an awkward shape, or simply don’t look like much initially,' says Heather Mastrangeli of Innovatus Design. 'Many homeowners treat them like regular-sized porches despite the lack of space so they can easily look overcrowded. It's about careful consideration.' Read on for creative ways to rediscover your porch.

1. Add a screen for an extra level of privacy

A porch with plants and a screen

(Image credit: Amy Lamb. Design: Lisa Gilmore Home)

If you're looking to really corner off your personal space, consider a screened-in porch for that extra bit of privacy. This distinct area can keep your small garden porch dry, stop any invading insects and can be styled like an extension to your living room. 

The privacy element is key here, giving you your own private oasis. 'I have a screened in porch and I adore it, and would highly recommend it to anyone,' says Lisa Gilmore of Lisa Gilmore Designs

'This is a front porch and the street isn't that far away, so the screen is a way to make division and privacy, and important part of a small porch,' adds Gilmore. She also advises on adding shrubbery to avoid prying eyes. 'The key is to bring in some plant life - essential for privacy.'

2. Light your porch the right way

A small porch is illuminated by a lantern

(Image credit: Davey Lighting)

You can really add drama to your porch by adding modern garden lighting fixtures to illuminate the space and create a façade of depth and size of even the most modest of spaces. ‘Consider the placement of your lighting carefully by creating space around your door and extending your lighting outwards,’ advises creative director at David Hunt Lighting (opens in new tab), Hollie Moreland.  

‘To create a really warm welcoming, that’s also practical on dark evenings, extend your porch even further into the front garden or driveway and illuminate your walkway or a garden path,’ she suggests. 

For a cohesive feel, use atmospheric lighting alongside more task-based lighting such as the lighting of pathways and the front door. A simple string of fairy lights can also be a wonderful lighting solution for porches. They can be industrial and durable, suitable for the outdoors, and create a touch of glamor that will deliver a warm and stylish welcome.

3. Add plants for a touch of nature

A porch painted in Benjamin Moore paint with surrounding foliage

(Image credit: Benjamin Moore)

Give a modest front porch a boost by adding your favorite plants. For small porches, be wary of appropriate proportion and size. Think about dimensions and add height to your porch with tall and slim plants like foxgloves, arum lilies, philodendron and devil’s ivy - all easy to grow and low maintenance garden ideas. Opt for pots of the same design and color to keep uniformity in design, while framing your front door in a stylish way.

'My number one accessory for any porch is a beautifully planted up container garden - or three if you have the space,' says Kat Aul Cervoni, landscape designer and founder of Staghorn NYC (opens in new tab). 'I love arranging containers in little groupings. Odd numbers look best when creating such a group. If space allows, I also love flanking a doorway with planters for a bit of lushness just before you enter the home.'

‘I love a big fat fern on a porch,’ says Hamilton of Hamilton Design Associates (opens in new tab). ‘They like the indirect light and feel like a throw back to another time. Ferns feel Victorian to me and remind me a big houses with porches and lots of rocking chairs.’ 

4. Paint your porch in a bright color

A yellow porch with a trailing plant

(Image credit: Annie Sloan)

Your porch is often the front of the house and is crucially important for those first impressions. For this reason, it’s essential to think about the color you choose. ‘Think about how much sun it gets, since light and time of day affect how a paint color casts,’ advises Arianna Cesa of Benjamin Moore (opens in new tab)

‘You also want to consider the other materials on your exterior. Do you have colorful landscaping, are there pavers or some sort of stonework? Think about the color of your exterior, trim and other accents such as outdoor furniture and be sure to look at all of the colors in your exterior’s palette to ensure color cohesion.’ 

For lighter color palettes, Arianna Cesa recommends popular neutral shades. ‘Check out Opaline OC-33, White Wisp OC-54 and Metropolitan AF-690. If your preference is for a space with more color, consider more saturated hues like Georgian Brick HC-50, Kennebunkport Green HC-123 and Normandy 2129-40.’  This example is a bright pop of sunshine yellow in Annie Sloan (opens in new tab)'s Tilton shade.

5. Accessorize the space with soft furnishings 

A porch with a rug and soft furnishings

(Image credit: Weaver Green)

Add outdoor rugs, wall hangings and treat the space like an extension of your living room by bringing the soft furnishings outside as stylish porch decor

You can further accessorize this set-up with colorful and decorative pillows that complement any flowering plants you have nearby. Don't forget an underfoot rug. Annie Selke (opens in new tab) rugs are made from PET so highly durable and weather resistant.

Another advantage of a covered or screened-in porch is that upholstered furnishings hold up better and are easier to care for. 'A porch is a terrific opportunity to add both comfort and color to a space,' says Aul Cervoni, 'My design ethos is to create outdoor spaces that feel like a natural extension of the home, so I like to use similar colorways, patterns and furnishing styles in porches and outdoor living spaces to forge this connection between indoors and outdoors.'

6. Add some chairs for a snug seating area

An assortment of chairs on a porch

(Image credit: Sara Essex Bradley. Design: Nomita Joshi)

If you have space, a small table and chairs, or a single chair alone can make your modest porch a lovely place to dine, read or watch the world go by. Consider what you want to use your space for and purchase chairs or seats to match. 

'It's better to have the world's smallest porch than no porch at all! If you have one of those fit it with at least one chair and a tiny table. I take cues from the French Quarter in my New Orleans,' says interior designer, Nomita Joshi (opens in new tab), who designed the above scheme.

'It’s also an opportunity to provide a bit of function, such as through a bench which can be used for anything from changing shoes, to setting down heavy bags to sitting down for a chat with a friend,' adds Aul Cervoni.

7. Keep the space decluttered

A small porch with seated area

(Image credit: Future)

Keep your space tidy and void of any clutter to avoid it from looking any more cramped. 'When working with a client to design their porch, I like to encourage elements that feel inviting, warm, and also tidy. Cluttered entry spaces are hazardous,' says Aul Cervoni. 'The sight of your front porch at the end of the day should prompt feelings of calm and happiness. It should pull you in, and beckon you home,' she adds. 

8. Redefine the space

woman sitting on a patio reading under a modern architectural awning

(Image credit: Future)

By definition, a porch is the outdoor space at the front of your home, but redefine what a porch is and the limit knows no bounds. 'A porch is a mood and can be created anywhere,' says Pip Rich, editor of Livingetc. In this sense, all you need is a slice of outdoor space or a view. 

This could be anything from a balcony overlooking a city to a slither of a windowsill where your potted plants can thruve. Ultimately, a porch is a vignette, providing a moment in time for escapism and reconnection with nature, no matter the size or place.

How do you make your small porch look bigger?

There are some simple tricks to make your porch look larger, it's all about designing correctly for the space. 'Scale your outdoor furniture down and use smaller pieces of furniture so the space doesn’t feel even smaller than it is,' says Mastrangeli of Innivatus Design.

'Choose furniture with a light color or finish to elude more space.
Use symmetry - with planters and other decor items. Use smaller scale chairs instead of bigger lounge chairs and finally keep clutter to a minimum.' 

Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.