From the October/November 2009 Issue:

Opening Statements

  • Writer: DENISE DIFULCO
  • Designer: KAREN TAYLOR

Hints on choosing a proper front door for your home

Choosing the wrong front door for your home is a lot like pairing a good suit with cheap shoes: It undermines the impression you’re trying to make.

But in the case of doors, price is no guarantor of success. In fact, many homeowners make the mistake of choosing a door that is too elaborate or overdone. A mismatched style, inappropriate material, or improper scale can detract from your home’s exterior and lessen its curb appeal.

Al Bol, principal of Bol Architecture in Berkeley Heights and a member of the American Institute of Architects, has seen it happen all too often, especially with homeowners enamored of elaborately carved wooden doors. “Where does that come up in tradition?” he says. “It’s as if they’re living in a castle, and here they are walking into their split-level or their modest Cape or Colonial.”

You definitely want to choose the best door you can afford — one that is going to provide security and hold up to the elements. But how does that translate to a proper front door for your particular home? Here are some considerations.

Practicality

Before choosing any door, it’s important to examine the existing entryway. “In foyers the light that comes through the door is usually the only light,” says Sheila Rich, owner of Sheila Rich Interiors in Monmouth Beach, a state certified interior designer, and a member of the International Interior Design Association and allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers. That’s critical when deciding whether the front door should have glass or sidelights.

What type of glass and how much is appropriate should be determined also by privacy concerns, she says. While you want your front door to be welcoming and attractive, it also needs to keep you and your family safe. Frosted glass, for instance, lets light in while keeping peering eyes out. However, it also prevents you from viewing visitors, packages, passersby, and the like.

If you’re replacing a door to make it more energy efficient, you’ll want to choose one with double- or triple-pane insulating glass — not just something that looks pretty.

Style

Certain door styles are tried and true for certain types of homes, especially traditional homes. A rustic door with exposed bolts won’t look right on a stately painted Colonial, just as an unadorned, contemporary door will look out of place on a cottage-style home. Some manufacturers specify which of their door styles complement what type of architecture, but if you’re in doubt, ask a professional or do some research.

Generally speaking, the shape and configuration of panels, glass inserts, and grilles shouldn’t clash with windows or existing architectural features. Also beware of art glass with elaborate motifs. While it’s popular and can enhance the look of some homes, it’s not always a good fit. Plain beveled or beaded glass is as classic as a strand of pearls and never goes out of style, but even a classic comes with caveats: In large panels, it can be dull or devoid of personality.

Color

Lighter colors tend to hold up better under exposure to the elements, Bol says. But don’t be afraid to experiment with colors that complement your home’s color scheme. “Matching the door to the shutters is a safe way to get it right,” Rich says, “but to do something special, go with a contrasting color that lets the door stand out.” Red doors, which some people associate with luck or hospitality, give a home character, but they should be avoided where they might clash with other colors (for instance, purple or green). Wood grain doors tend to look best on the styles associated with them, such as Craftsman, Prairie, Mission, and Spanish Colonial.

Scale

Size matters, especially when matching a door to an existing facade. Double doors provide a dramatic entry, but if the front of the home is too small, they can be overwhelming. Same goes for sidelights, transoms, and arches. (Or, conversely, they might look good on the outside, but are too large indoors in proportion to your foyer.) The scale of any new door trim also should be proportionate to existing trim around exterior windows, says Stacey Ruhle Kliesch, an architect in Ridgewood and president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Material

Natural wood doors can be stunning in look and in price. However, not all of them hold up well to the elements, so they’re best reserved for homes with a portico or overhang, Bol advises. If you plan to paint your front door, the best natural material is fir, he says. “It holds up well on the exterior and you avoid the cost” of more expensive woods, he says. Fiberglass is easy to maintain and paint, but it has a texture that inaccurately replicates a real wood door. “A good manufacturer (of wood doors) wouldn’t want you to see the grain,” Bol explains. “That would mean it didn’t weather properly.” Fiberglass, wood cladding, and steel with a polyurethane foam core might not be the most-desirable materials, but they are the most energy-efficient.

Denise DiFulco
a regular contributor to Design NJ
writes from her home in Cranford

Illustrator Karen Taylor’s website is 222.ktaylorrenderings.com.

Caption sources: Provia Doors and Stacey Ruhle Kliesch, AIA