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What's Up Magazine

What a Difference a Door Can Make

Jan 12, 2011 05:47PM ● By Anonymous

The right door can add beauty and distinction to a building. When you choose yours, ask what goes best with the architecture and your personality. There are many possibilities, so select wisely.

Choosing a door color from among many has only been an option since the late 19th century. Before the Civil War, all paint was mixed by hand. Pigments were ground on a stone slab. Ready-mix paint, sold in sealed cans and made using pigment that was ground at the paint factory, was an exciting innovation, which promoted the concept of multiple house colors.

Even before ready-mix paints, front doors were painted to contrast with their houses, but the choices of colors were limited. Although painting was kept to a minimum during the 17th and 18th centuries and clapboards were often left bare, wood trim was painted as an accent in addition to the front door. A popular color was dark red.

The door itself has an illustrious history. The earliest doors were designed to provide practical protection against intruders. They were wide and built of hardwood, generally oak. Paneled doors first appeared as early as the late 16th century in England, while they were not common in the United States until the 18th century. These early doors were often elaborately carved, gilded, and molded. Two panels were set within a frame. The favorite front door of the Georgian period was the six-paneled door.

Inside doors were often simpler, consisting of two, four, or six panels. Smaller 18th-century townhouses had four-paneled front doors.

Annapolis’ Historic District harbors some of the finest Georgian doors in the country. The Hammond-Harwood House, designed by William Buckland and built in 1774, is a masterpiece, in part because of its entryway, according to G.E. Kidder Smith, author of Source Book of American Architecture. He notes how the classic Georgian facade is understated except for its “impeccable” front door, which is paneled, flanked by classical pilasters, and capped with an elaborate fanlight.

Various styles borrowing from earlier eras were popular in the 19th century. These included Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate.

Some doors featured two vertical panels that narrowed toward the top, resembling Doric columns. Other doors were ornamented with a reeded lower half; still others had a rectangular frieze or a central carved circle. Fanlights provided much of the decorative interest for buildings.

Handsome etched glass and stained-glass fanlights, sidelights, and panels provided additional decoration and color as the Victorian era adopted increasingly ornate styles. Most doors were made of softwoods, although some grand homes had a door of mahogany. Today’s exterior doors are made of a variety of materials, which include wood, steel, and fiberglass. Interior doors are usually wood and either solid, hollow core, or semisolid. Hollow-core doors are the least expensive but also the least substantial of these.

Fine brass hinges, unusual knobs, and door knockers—new or antique—add further glamour to your doors. Use your imagination and select quality doors that can add value and attractiveness to your home or your workplace.
If you would like to refresh your door with a new color, go right ahead. After all, the eighteenth century is behind us and the palette is endless.

Editor Nadja Maril is a nationally known author and antiques appraiser. The front door of her home is painted bright red.