by Ellen M. Barnes

I have a friend whose mother lives in Tennessee’s Cookeville area and sleeps most temperate spring and fall nights on her “sleeping porch,” a little screened-in room that adjoins her bedroom. It works out for her because she not only gets to escape the sound of her snoring husband but she gets a whole night’s worth of fresh air. In spite of the fact that they’re wealthy people, and that she could sleep in any number of bedrooms in that house of hers, she chooses to sleep outside. Maybe it’s just the country girl inside her, or maybe there’s just something about the promise of night air and starlight—and the sounds of the country—that calls to people.

I personally live smack dab in the middle of an urban Nashville neighborhood, so even if I had a screened porch I don’t think I could ever relax quite enough to fall asleep outside. And if I did, a gun shot may or may not eventually wake me up. In any case, lots of people are getting back on the sleeping porch bandwagon. Custom-made swinging beds are reportedly selling faster than plenty of artisans can make them.

HGTV.com, which profiled the trend, proclaims that, “From Florida to New England, Oklahoma to California, Americans are opening up long shuttered second-story porches, adding sleeping porches to new houses or converting first-floor porches into places to snuggle down and snooze. It’s a phenomenon fed by sealed-in working quarters and smothering technologies. By the time we end our asphalt commutes, many of us see fresh air as the new gold, something to spend on ourselves, a nighttime extravagance minus the camping trip.”

Sleeping porches have their origins in ancient Rome and Greece and could be found during the 18th century in India and Pakistan. In Japan, people retreated to covered porches to sleep when it got too hot indoors; Japanese architecture went on to inspire the work of Americans Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles and Henry Greene. Sleeping porches first appeared in the States in the late 1800s on the top floor of Victorian houses, and they continued to have their day in the sun (or the moon?) on Arts and Crafts bungalows through the 1930s. Shuttered sleeping porches became especially common in Charleston, South Carolina, which is said to have inherited the quirky architectural preference from its trading partner Barbados.

There’s something delightfully off-kilter and surprising about seeing a bed on a porch. It’s about the least fussy, most playful and down-to-earth home decor decision one could make. How could anyone ever dislike the sort of person who sleeps on a sleeping porch?

While reading about sleeping porches, I came across one lady who even said she slept on a dog bed on her porch every night. A little extreme but just goes to show that one could make a screened-in porch into a sleeping porch with minimum expense.

The HGTV article also quotes a woman in Santa Fe who says that, “I found by sleeping outside I became complete. When I wake up, I feel rested and satisfied. Living that close to natural surroundings really brings me peace.”

I’ll have to give it a try one day when I live in a neighborhood where I don’t have to sleep with one eye open. (But what’s the fun in that?)

What about you? Do you dream of a sleeping porch?