Old House Journal
Old House Journal
Making Porch Lights a Glowing Success
A glimpse back in time can help guide you to fixtures suitable for your old house. There’s a reason why so many historic districts offer guidelines on porch light: It’s easy to choose the wrong one. We’ve all seen houses that are historically accurate down to their mousetraps, yet sport those oversized carriage lights mistakenly associated with the Colonial era. (We aren’t sure why those came into fashion, exactly, but that’s another story).
Determining what kind of porch light is appropriate for your old house can be tough because lights are such ephemeral objects. Fashions change, and lights are subject to changing more often than most house parts owing to their small size and big cosmetic punch they carry. In addition, the thinking on what makes a light right has varied over time. Take, as one example, a 1932 issue of Home Architecture, which advised that “good entrance lighting will brighten the doorway, emphasize its architectural charm, light the faces of guests, and radiate a cheerful hospitality.” Yet, when it came to specifics on the placement and style of those entrance lights, the same article offered up a laundry list of options considered appropriate at the time: brackets or lanterns, wall-mounted or ceiling fixtures, lights hung above the door, or lights flanking it.
The good news is more than one light type can be the right choice, as evidenced by the wide array of originals we’ve spotted on porches through the years. While we can’t be sure of what lit up your porch or front door when your house was new, we can show you some possibilities that are appropriate for a range of architectural styles and eras.