Would you plunk down hard-earned money to go to a spa that made you enter through the kitchen? If one's home is one's sanctuary, then shouldn't the experience of entering it be given just as much thought and sense of ceremony? As more of us use the side or back door, chances are we are first greeted by "unprepossessing garage passages or dreary mud rooms, " to borrow Toby Worthington's succinct words.
It probably started out of convenience (or laziness as my more exacting readership may have it). With arms full of groceries or dry cleaning, why walk around to the front? No doubt the attached garage is also an accessory to the crime. But while service entrances are useful and practical, we have become so used to exiting and entering through them that the front door has become almost totally irrelevant. This really struck Mr. EEE and me when his sister reconfigured her property so that the driveway circled around the back of the house leaving the front door completely marooned without even a path leading up to it.
As the astute Mr. Worthington continues: "Think of Don Draper coming home every evening (well, almost every evening) through that mean little back hall and having to put his hat down on the nearest available surface. We've not gone much beyond that, it seems to me."
Mr. Worthington's comment goes to the heart of the matter. Sure, houses and their usage should adapt to modern life, BUT if side entrances are the new way of life, then houses should be reconfigured to accommodate and enhance this shift. When my students and I look at domestic interiors through the ages, one of most important things we examine are floor plans. Much thought was put into how rooms were arranged to maximize use and enjoyment of a space.
For centuries, many cultures have believed in the importance of providing a transition from the hurly burly of the street to the inner sanctum of the house. In the Ancient Roman house, there are actually two zones one walks through before entering an inner courtyard: the vestibulum and the fauces.
This is why our houses have foyers and entrance halls, which now languish unused and have become dead space. By entering into the kitchen or another random area of the house, we lose the physical (and mental) shift from our public life to our private one, where we set aside our workaday worries and embrace the joys and comforts of the home.
Top photo of 10 Downing Street from number10.gov.uk