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by: Debbie Rodgers
A treat for adults and children alike, sleeping outdoors has long been a part of camping tradition, but many adults also have fond memories of childhood nights in their parents' or grandparents' sleeping porch.
The cover story of Architectural Digest's October 2003 issue featured a visit to the Montana ranch of Dennis Quaid where he has built a magnificent home that includes a wraparound Pennsylvania bluestone porch and a tree house for his son Jack. In addition, the actor "requested specially" a sleeping porch adjacent to the veranda.
In doing so, he joins the ranks of such luminaries as former U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, author Jack London and baseball legend Babe Ruth, all of whom enjoyed slumbering in screened-in rooms.
A sleeping porch has been defined as a well-ventilated, usually screened, porch used as occasional sleeping quarters. Before the advent of air-conditioning, families often created an area on outdoor porches where children would sleep during the hot summer nights. Sleeping porches were, more often than not, on a home's second storey, frequently above a ground-level porch.
It was during the Arts and Crafts movement of the early twentieth century that sleeping porches really gained public favor. Arts and Crafts architects often designed homes without abrupt divisions between inside and out, and sleeping porches provided an ideal transition space.
Unfortunately, modern houses don't often sport open-air sleeping quarters and our culture is poorer for it. Few of life's experiences speak of summery comfort as a sleeping porch does, and one is never out of touch with one's surroundings in the neighborhood when sleeping outside.
Happily, it's relatively easy to create a secure, comfortable place that makes outdoor sleeping a real joy again. If you can, choose a porch or balcony on a side of your house that is protected from the weather, or add a simple framework on a deck. A leak-proof roof with extended eaves is critical and helps keep inclement weather from blowing in directly onto the occupants.
If security is an issue, you'll feel safer in a second storey room. Privacy is easier to achieve on the side or back of a house, but even a room on the front of your house can be hidden from view of passers-by with the installation of matchstick roll-up blinds or fabric drapes.
The room should be screened in to protect sleepers from mosquitoes and other night-time insects. You can install window-height screens, or make entire screened walls of floor to ceiling panels. If you'd like to extend the use of the area beyond the warmest months, you'll want to install moveable windows or walls. These will also allow the room's occupants to better control the amount of outdoors that comes in -- a desirable feature during inclement weather.
You can furnish a sleeping porch with as many creature comforts as you desire, keeping in mind whatever exposure to the elements the pieces will have. Ceiling or floor fans will aid the night breezes. Bedside tables will provide a place for a book and reading glasses, or a cold drink. If you want to use the room during the day as a living area, use day beds, couches or chaises that serve the dual purpose of seating by day and sleeping space by night. Or use fold-up cots or roll-away beds. Kids will even enjoy sleeping bags on the floor.
Whether used for daytime catnapping or a full night's rest, sleeping porches can give you a chance to enjoy summer weather to the fullest, and experience some of life's pleasant, peaceful moments.