porch is at Blithewold, a 1908 mansion and
gardens open to the public in Bristol, Rhode
Island. There, off the master bedroom and
taking in the breezes of Narragansett Bay, is
a spacious sleeping porch with original hang-
ing canvas beds. “Visitors love that space,” says
former director of horticulture Julia Morris.
“It seems to capture their imaginations.”
According to Joseph E. Wing, an agricul-
tural writer, the man with a sleeping porch is
blessed: “Be he rich or poor he can have his bed
out where he can see the stars, where the cool-
ing health-bringing breezes surround him. No
millionaire can have more of the really satisfy-
ing things of life.”
In 1910, House & Garden magazine
declared “sleeping outdoors seems to have
progressed well beyond the fad stage. The
practice appears to require but a single trial
to convince even the most skeptical that ‘night
air,’ that bete noir of our grandmothers, is in
reality a pretty fine thing to get into one’s
lungs in large quantities.”
The Book of Little Houses, published in
1914, extolled the virtues of the plein-air custom.
“Many sleeping-porchers state that less sleep is
required outdoors than indoors,” it stated. And
catering to diehard fans who wanted to indulge
themselves beyond the balmy evenings of summer, the book offered an ingenious solution to
that off-season downer of climbing into an icy
bed: Place double doors between the house and
porch, attach casters to the bed, and roll it out
from inside, nice and warm, when it’s time to
sleep. Another idea: Put a radiator, “twice as large
as ordinarily needed,” in a protected spot on the
porch — just make sure to turn it off and drain it
at the first sign of extremely cold weather.
After World War II, window air conditioners became popular; central air followed,
and sleeping porches gave ground to artificially cooled bedrooms. Summer camps and
vacation homes are their last bastion, pleasant
echoes of a simpler time.
Architect Christopher Dallmus of Design
Associates in Cambridge and Nantucket,
Massachusetts, designed a new sleeping porch
for a client who was renovating her Federal-style Nantucket house. “We put it on top of
an enclosed porch and adjacent to the master bedroom, and it fit in beautifully,” he says.
“The owner asked that it be air-conditioned,
but I hear her grandchildren like to sleep
there with the windows open.”
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