August 2007 Issue
Making an Entrance
An attractive approach to your home offers visitors a warm welcome.
On a winter day seven years ago, a large chunk of snow and ice slid off the steep slate roof of Jo Ann Ross' Lakewood home and knocked her to the ground as she stepped onto the front stoop to pick up the morning newspaper. Not exactly a lightning bolt from heaven, to be sure, but the incident was enough to make the now-retired math teacher realize that the abbreviated gabled structure over the front door wasn't enough to protect visitors from the elements.
The next summer she and her dentist husband Frank built a new covered entrance to their home, a 10-by-12-foot addition supported by stately columns painted the same shade of white as the trim and door on the 78-year-old house. The couple completed the project by adding hanging baskets of ferns, a quartet of wicker chairs, and planters at the edge of each step. "We wanted our home to say, ‘Please come in - don't stay away,'" Ross says of the change.
According to Dan Keiser of Keiser Design Group in suburban Columbus, a well-designed covered entry - one with an elevated roof line proportionate to the size of the home that complements its architecture - is one of many elements that can transform a front door into a grand entrance.
The advantages of investing in more than just a welcome mat are both practical and aesthetic in nature. A well-appointed front entrance is easily distinguishable from lesser portals, eliminating the first-time visitor's question of which door to use. "I've been to houses where you can't find the front door," says Tom Craven of Craven Landscape Architecture in suburban Cincinnati.
An attractive door also draws attention away from the massive three-or–four-car garage that dominates the street view of so many new houses and provides the homeowner with a space to express his or her individual style. "It's an indication of what's on the inside - a sneak preview, if you will," adds Becky Spak, senior designer at Sherwin-Williams Company in Cleveland.
A welcoming entrance starts with an inviting pathway leading to it. Craven says he considers how guests typically arrive at the home, and whether they're pulling into the driveway or parking on the street, before creating a landscape design scheme directing them to the entrance.
This is particularly important, he says, if visitors can't easily see the front door from the street. A statue, fountain or specimen plant such as a Japanese maple, for example, may be strategically placed in the front yard to draw people up the front walk. More specimen plants near the front door, together with splashes of seasonal color that complement the exterior, could be used to catch the eye and reinforce the door's status as the main entrance.
In the evening, lighting can be employed to direct foot traffic. Craven advises against creating "a runway effect" by simply lining the front walk with rows of lights. Instead, he recommends staggering their placement, taking care to illuminate steps and other possible hazards. Security can be enhanced with artful landscape lighting - uplighting a tree to eliminate a menacing shadow, for example - without turning the front yard into a parking lot. Ronald Reed of Westlake Reed Leskosky, an architectural and engineering firm in Cleveland, advocates replacing the overhead fixture in the covered entrance with a sconce or two to provide softer, more flattering light. "Lighting anywhere should make people look as good as they possibly can," he explains.
When it comes to selecting materials for the front entrance, Keiser urges homeowners to "put your money where people are going to see and feel it." Natural stone, brick, concrete pavers and stamped/colored concrete are all preferable to plain concrete for walks and stoops, as are properly proportioned columns to 4-by-4 posts for covered-entrance supports, and solid brass, oil-rubbed bronze or brushed-nickel hardware to cheaper imitations. Similarly, brick, stone or wood siding is more desirable than vinyl siding in finishing the area around the door.
Reed likes to engage the ears and nose as well as the eyes and hands. He describes an entrance to a South Russell home where guests are lured down a path by the sound of water rushing over a 20-by-8-foot slate wall, and the scent of planted aromatic herbs. To the side of the water feature is the entrance to the contemporary residence, a 6-by-8-foot, center-pivoting glass door with a satin-finished stainless-steel handle that is "very silky and velvety on the hand," he says.
Decorative trims, sidelights and transoms (windows above the door) can be used to further highlight the entrance. The latter two fill the interior entry with natural light during the day. Sidelights also provide a good view of who's ringing or knocking, in lieu of a peephole or window in the door. Keiser says competition among manufacturers has produced a sky-is-the-limit selection of exterior door styles. He considers solid wood the most desirable material for a front door. "It has some weight to it, some added thickness, a nice texture, the richness of stained color," he explains. His second choice is a stainable fiberglass door stamped with a wood-grain pattern. The best boast a graining so authentic that they're easy to mistake for the real thing.
For those who prefer to paint their door, the options include every shade in the paint-chip rainbow, from tried-and-true neutrals in the same color family as the house body and trim selections, to contrasting bright pink and electric lime shades - colors that are as appropriate for a door to a Cape Cod or a contemporary residence as they are for a Victorian "painted lady" or tropical island bungalow.
Spak notes that burnt oranges and clays are popular for doors on today's proliferation of tan-colored homes, while Barbara Richardson, director of color marketing for ICI Paints in Strongsville, singles out burgundy, hunter green, navy blue, charcoal and, of course, black. "We're seeing more and more trims going darker than the color of the body [of the house]," Spak says. "That in turn allows for the door to go darker as well."
Finishing touches to the front entrance include planters and hanging baskets, as well as decorative practicalities such as a doorknocker or doorbell, mail slot or mailbox, a protective kick plate, and a bench or chair where people can drop bags and packages while closing an umbrella or searching for a key.
Keiser recommends carefully considering the size and number of items to be installed, as well as the amount of foot traffic to be accommodated, before building or replacing a stoop or covered entrance, because people routinely underestimate the space they'll need. He concedes, however, that the front door is not always the most used, especially if the occupants do little or no entertaining. In fact, a house he's currently designing has a front entrance that's been created simply to provide some balance to the structure's appearance. "It's not even going to be used," he says.