Anyone who has watched any US television drama or film cannot fail to have noticed the famous brownstone properties that proliferate in New York City, Brooklyn and the surrounding boroughs. The houses are so named because of the distinctive sandstone used in their construction, but it is their culture that interests as much as their design, with the townhouses mostly having steps up to the door that serve as a front yard social space. These ‘stoops’ are gathering points for friends and families, with summers in the city being unthinkable without people hanging out late on the steps, sharing a cold beer and a chat.
The brownstone stoops also inspire their own decoration, with flowerpots and lighting on the steps adding to their appeal. Here in the UK, we don’t have brownstones, but we do have townhouses and homes with plenty of steps up to the door. So what can you do to bring a little touch of New York to your very own stoop?
The first thing to do is to think socially. The stoop is a place for sharing stories or sharing a late evening drink, so you are going to want somewhere to sit down. Many staircases will conveniently have a low wall either side of the steps and the stairs themselves may also be great to sit on, but if you want something a little more comfortable then you can buy in a low bench.
In the US, the stoop may be home to an old chair or two, but narrow UK steps won’t always have the room, so some low concrete or stone benches that fit the space are ideal, even on just one side. From here you can sit and wave at the neighbours, or call them up for a chinwag. Maybe you can even fit a small table in, to hold your glass and perhaps a paperback.
Plants are a must for any stoop and you can choose between something like bulbs that you may need to plant each year, or a more permanent small tree, such as a bay. In fact your stoop may be the ideal home for an urban herb garden, just so long as you don’t mind passers by taking a bit of your rosemary now and again.
As your stoop is open to the elements and the sometimes sticky-fingered public you will want to choose planter and pots that are both heavy and not valuable. Even the nicest neighbourhoods suffer from plant theft, so don’t put out anything that you could not face losing for sentimental or financial reasons.
Having substantial pots packed with soil means that they are hard to steal and will not fall down the stairs in a breeze. Run them up one side of the steps so that you have enough space to get in with your shopping and you don’t have to shift them all when having a new washing machine or sofa delivered. Small trees can work and it is always good to have a selection of plants that give your steps a dash of green or some colour for much of the year. You may also want something that casts a little shade, or is at least big enough to house an umbrella or sunshade if needed.
Of course, you may prefer to keep things simple, so a couple of pots at the top of the steps will also give you a good approximation of a decorated stoop. A simple porch light will add to this approach, although the more extravagant can add clear light up tiles or bricks into the facing side of the steps. This can be a big job, but it can also be used to open up more light for the room or hallway that sits the other side of the steps.
And remember, your stoop is what you make it. If you just choose to decorate it with some neighbours and the sound of chatter then it is more than doing its job.
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