If you’ve ever seen the Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” commercial, you’ll never forget it. In the commercial, women are confused because the actual burger is dwarfed by the bun. Isn’t the beef what a hamburger is all about? What does this have to do with porches? Keep reading…
A couple weeks ago, Keith Rice, one of our branch managers, and I visited Baltimore for the Remodeling Show and Deck Expo. We had quite a wait at the airport before our flight back so we had time to reflect on the show. Trade shows are crazy. There are tons of companies selling all different widgets. Some booths come with pushy booth reps standing in the aisles shoving literature into your bag. Others sit back and let you peruse their booth at your leisure. At the end of a day or two, you typically come away with a couple good ideas, a couple products you like, and maybe even some clarity about a guiding principle or direction.
As Keith and I sat at the airport and sorted through our thoughts about all we saw at the show, Keith finally paused and said…
“Where was the wood?”. As my brain retraced the vendors and aisles, I realized he was completely right. With the exception of one booth selling pine for framing, there weren’t any other wood vendors. No Brazilian hardwood booths, no carved corbels, just no wood products. It wasn’t that long ago that the only thing that wasn’t wood on a porch was the screen and the clickity clackety door handle. Yes, there are difficulties using wood in an outdoor environment. But, are we ready to leave it behind?
Wood is beautiful. Wood is real. Wood is good. Then where is the wood? What is taking its place? Are the other products here to stay? Why? Every porch or deck builder you ask will give you a completely different answer to these questions. Some deck and porch builders may focus on the newest and best synthetic building materials available and fancy themselves forward or progressive. Some deck and porch builders will continue to focus on wood and stake their claim as the affordable deck or porch company.
For me, this question isn’t about price or new newest wiz bang material. It’s a philosophical question and a very important one. What do porches represent in my client’s lives? What did they represent in the past and what will they represent in the future? The porch is an American institution. In the 1940’s and 50’s and 60’s, the porch was where people spent their time. They enjoyed conversation after work, enjoyed a lemonade after working in the yard, and the kids enjoyed a brief drop in the chair before riding another 3 hours on their bikes. Neighbors would walk by, see you sitting on your porch and come grab a seat. The porch represented conversation and community.
Then modern marvels such as artificially cooled air, pictures on a big box and other indoor innovations came to be. We all moved inside. We could have that same relaxing time without a bead of sweat, without any dust blowing in our eyes and without the strain of the small print on an old fashioned book. We could sit in comfort and style in comfy indoor chairs, in our air conditioned houses, watching television. We had arrived. But now we realize that we had not arrived. While novel and easy, those indoor amenities failed to provide some key elements that lend themselves to more authentic passing of family and relaxation time.
What elements of that old open front porch or that old rickety back porch were the timeless treasures? Well, for one, fresh air! Theirs nothing more re-fresh-ing than real fresh air. There is nothing more exhilarating than a breeze carrying the sweet smell of fresh cut onion grass or the wafting scent of a newly bloomed flower in your yard. What about conversation? What about lack of background noise? How about a gentle breeze, the sound of a summer rain, and being able to hear the humming of a tune from your beloved as they sit, partially covered by a throw with their wiggling toes dancing beneath? What about the sound of a crackling fire with a couple super warm blankets, 2 warm ciders, and your best friend giggling beside you on your screened porch?
Where’s the wood?
Your modern day porch will allow you to recapture air, and breeze, and scents. But since it’s a modern day porch, should all the building materials be completely modern? Should your porch builder toss the wood in exchange for materials that never need to be painted, never need to be stained and ones that will never warp? Should your porch builder skip the wood and be the first to order the newest shade of brown on the fanciest new synthetic wood boards? When you are interviewing an outdoor building company, ask them for their philosophy. Sure new synthetic materials have tremendous performance capabilities – things like rot proof, warp proof, and splinter proof. They also have their own aesthetic properties. They have no real grain but they may have grain patterns. They have no real knots or natural imperfections. They don’t look like real wood because they’re not real wood.
Wood is good.
Wood is good but synthetics are also. You can enjoy a natural cypress natural wood floor but still have a porch door that won’t sag over time. You can have a natural wood timber mantle frame but still have a white picket’ish railing that will not need to be painted.
Synthetic is good too.
Check back in a couple weeks for the second part of this series about choosing and combining materials for the best of both worlds. We look forward to sharing our philosophy and a couple neat ideas we did see at the show!