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21 June 2010

The Death of the Front Door

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

24 comments:

Karena said...

I completely understand, so even when parking in the garage, I walk around and use the front door entrance,. I also like to see how it looks to others!

Karena
Art by Karena

Tricia Rose said...

When I lived in London most of my houses were terraced so a front door was your only choice! The best house was 1820 and had an imposing door leading into a hall with a lovely winding stair leading up and down, and it was always a joy to enter that lovely space.

I am now in a little cabin in California, and reconfigured the space to create a hall 9x6 - it gives a feeling of privacy, and makes the whole house feel bigger. Why creep in, when you can arrive?

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Tricia, Taking away space from a greater room to create a hall almost sounds revolutionary, and definitely inspiring! EEE

Squeak said...

Front doors have gone the way of the living room. Everyone with a house has a front door and a living room, but few people use them. They use the back/side door and the second living room (a.k.a. the family room). And yet everyone seems to want them - I've never heard anyone tell their architect or designer, "Please don't include a front door or a living room in my plans - I won't use them".

I use my front door every day (perhaps because I don't drive). I also use my living room every day. I didn't need a second living room, so I turned the "family room" into something I could use - a library.

Anonymous said...

Love this. On a related note - I hate it when a museum no longer uses the grand entrance and makes visitors enter though some back way, or worse, some 1970s inspired populist entrance. I wont name names of the offenders -but entering the Met or and National Gallery would not be same if one didn’t process up a great flight of stairs and enter through classical arches and etc. KDM

Lynne Rutter said...

i have a tiny 1870 cottage and that garage is under it. at 5 x 10 feet, the entrance hall is 20 percent of my square footage and doubles as a library. i always use the front stairs to enter the house and never tire of the sweeping view from my front porch. i am lucky that way.

many of my clients have had me decorate their 'garage-to back door passageway' to make more of deliberate and pleasant entrance out of that space.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Lynne, If you had any photos, I'm sure we'd all like to see...

magnus said...

Nothing to me is more welcoming, or speaks to first rate spic n' span housekeeping awaiting the visitor within more than a front door, in a dark color, varnished to a mirror finish and a brass door knocker and door knob polished to "within an inch of it's life". You don't polish your doorknobs or andirons? Don't claim to know how to keep a house then. I'm just sayin'...

little augury said...

Have always used the front door-In older houses there are less choices thank goodness. The back door is for groceries, the dog, and trash, however I do park around the back on a little pad-it keeps everyone guessing, and believe me in a small town they will, or make something up! pgt

Anonymous said...

Love Love Love your blog
How do I send you photos?

The Down East Dilettante said...

hmmmm, what a minefield. As I mentioned in response to one of your earlier posts, I live in the land of back door entrances, Down East Maine. It's actually kind of pleasant, and easier---shorter distance from drive for shoveling in winter, better protection from cold winds, and almost everything that's coming in stops somewhere at the back of the house, anyway. That said, I'm entirely with anonymous about public buildings. March right through those grand main entrances, none of this silly side lobby stuff.

Are the two points of view irreconcilable? Oh dear..

home before dark said...

I am, as always, torn about this. In my little house the garage opens now into my dining room (once the family room) and the kitchen is adjacent to that room. The front door opens onto a small foyer/hallway and to the left is the living room which now annexes the former dining room (total about 12 by 30). More than once I have been tempted to turn the living room into my kitchen, the room where life tends to end up in. Perhaps instead of a formal sense of arrival, by putting the kitchen in the heart of the house, we establish reality at the threshold and embrace what we are most of the time: comfort-seeking creatures. I confess I have yet to summon up my courage to do this.

ps my word verification is trucurap: reality spoken with a southern accent?

Marija said...

I love front doors. I love to use them, I love to have guests enter through them, and I love to look at them. I do, however, succumb to practicality and convenience. And so in building our home, we made our side door as important as our front. The only downside is that now two parts of our home are riddled with wellies, sneakers and school bags. But hey, we actually live here...

Landon Shockey said...

Fascinating post. I too love studying floor plans from previous eras. The 19th century plans in Andrew Jackson Downing's books are especially interesting to study. How much our American homes have changed in a little over a century. I'm quite fond of the historical banishment of kitchens, pantries and other service areas to the basement level. This leaves your guests socializing in the public rooms, not the kitchen. Whenever I visit someone's home, I ALWAYS go to the front door. Even if they are accustomed to everyone entering through the side! - The Arkansan Anglophile

Decor Arts Now said...

I totally agree. Bring back the front door and make it work! Walter Gropius' house in New England was designed with storage by the front door to make sure it was functional. I dislike homes where the front door is unused. Here is a link to the Gropius house http://www.historicnewengland.org/historic-properties/homes/Gropius%20House/gropius-house
best,
Lynn

Things That Inspire said...

One of the 'trademarks' of my architect is that he creates patterns in houses and parking spaces so that guests are virtually required to use the front door, not the side or back door. Such will be the case in the house we will be building over the next year; the driveway is designed with guest parking that is near the front door.

Interestingly enough, in Atlanta, there is a long standing tradition of the side entrance - the 'porte cochere' - a covered entrance that leads to the side. In many grand old Atlanta homes, the side enrtance was just as lovely as the front entrance, and was probably used more as a 'friends' entrance. My new house will have this too, as I don't like to park in the garage, and will probably use this as my parking area. My architect insisting on keeping the proportions of this area gracious. Some houses with porte cocheres (in Atlanta) actually have a gate that keeps the side of the house and the back protected, which in turn forces guests to use the front door. I won't have a gate, so I wonder whether guests to my home will use the front door or find their way to the side.

Mommy Mayhem said...

I love this! It is also so true!!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

I suppose I come at this from a different angle than everyone else being a city dweller accustomed to apartments. That said, I HATE apartments where one walks right into the living room or kitchen. I know many people say the building's lobby and hallways serve as the seperation but I can't disagree strongly enough.
I won't even LOOK at an apartment which doesn't have an entry hall. I live in a 450 SF studio, but I do have a long entry hall with a bench to sit and take off my shoes and coat, a table to place my keys, a mirror to make sure I'm not a mess and a closet to place said shoes & coats. I can't even imagine living otherwise. This way I enter my living space already decluttered and relaxed without bringing the cares of the world in.
I imagine the same can be said of a front door to a house.

Christa Pirl said...

I absolutely mourn the loss of the grand entry and vestibules...I often attempt to get clients to install at least some kind of stunning console or artwork to give a bit of that feeling whenever possible!

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Anonymous 7:24PM - photos can be sent to me email emilyeerdmans at gmail.com

columnist said...

Interesting post. I think there is one very good reason why front doors are less used, and that is because we no longer have staff to open them for us, and we're now the delivery boy with the groceries that go into the kitchen.

Your choice of the front door of Number Ten is an interesting one, as I often think how strange it is that everyone uses it, including those you might have thought would access the building by the "tradesman's entrance". But I suppose it's a matter of security.

24 Corners said...

I am drawn to using the front door of our new house where as my husband is drawn to using the side door which leads into the laundry room. I think it's partly because of where we park...I'm closer to the front door, he to the other, but I think even with no vehicle blockages, it would be the same for some reason.

Great topic! J~

Toby Worthington said...

It isn't so much the daily use of side doors that I find dispiriting, rather it's that path from garage to house.
Nine times out of ten, that back or side door is contained within the garage itself, and there are steps
to climb, and even storm doors that open out, and the
whole event is utterly prosaic. I can think of several examples of that situation, those unprepossessing entrances to houses that, once inside, are quite lovely.
But none of this can be remedied easily.

Janet said...

You made me giggle a little with this post. Mainers are notorious for abandoning the front door, which in the winter is often completely shrink wrapped to keep out drafts (a person pet peeve). Over time they often lose their walkways and *gasp* the front stoop! So, here's to front doors...and using them! It is like having good china and never taking it out of the cupboard.