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Opening the right door

Despite myriad home styles on the streets of America, and the varying styles of doors and other exterior details, the logic behind choosing the appropriate doors, details and fixtures rarely varies. Richard Bubnowski, Assoc. AIA, Richard Bubnowski Design in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., asserts, “Regardless of style – whether it’s arts and crafts, bungalow, colonial or modern – it’s still a product of the height, the width and the proportion of the door and should relate to the windows and all the other architectural elements around the house.”

Entryways should be designed as the focal points of any home’s front exterior. The exception to this rule can lie with modern architecture. “Sometimes the big joke about some really great modern houses is you sometimes can’t find the entrance, as opposed to a traditional arts and crafts or bungalow where there is a lot of symmetry and everything revolves around the entrance,” Bubnowski says. 

“We try to pick up elements in architecture and reinforce those details around the doorway,” Bubnowski explains. “In good design, you pick up on a concept or theme. All the little details, as subtle as they may be, should reinforce that concept or theme as a whole.” For example, if Bubnowski designs a house with strong horizontal lines, he selects a door that features a horizontal grill pattern. “It sounds like common sense, but you’ll still see it done incorrectly too often,” he says. “You’ll see a nice piece of architectural work yet the door doesn’t work.”

Each home style – whether it be modern, colonial, ranch or craftsman – doesn’t have a defined set of rules for entry door selection. “There aren’t certain rules that would apply to a Victorian that wouldn’t apply to arts and crafts,” Bubnowski says. “You’d choose a different door, but it’s still a matter of picking up a home’s architectural style and reinforcing it throughout the house. If you’re using a certain pattern in the upper sashes of double-hung windows, in most cases logic would tell me to do something similar to the door. It has to be compatible; you don’t want to do something so different it looks out of place.”

Material selection tends to be a product of personal preference and environmental elements. Although many contractors select composites and synthetic materials, Bubnowski still prefers wood. “It’s not a right or wrong thing; it’s a personal thing,” he notes. For houses where natural wood dominates the design aesthetic, such as Western red cedar shingles, clapboard or cedar, he’ll use the door as an opportunity to introduce color. “I try not to use too much natural wood because the door will lose a little bit of its prominence. It’s a good opportunity to use an accent color on the door,” he says. “I’m a little old-fashioned in the sense I think doorways and entrances are important to discover as soon as you approach a house.”

Compatible details

Selecting compatible hardware and keeping finishes consistent are key design considerations. For example, a  colonial or Victorian-style home wouldn’t be harmonious with a rustic-looking, heavy, bulky lockset and corresponding hardware. “But if you’re doing something in arts and crafts, prairie or Western camp style, you might want to go with a hammered copper look. Don’t force hardware, though,” he cautions. “A lot of times with hardware people will find something they really like and force it on a door where it doesn’t make sense.”

Many doors include side lites, and as with the door itself, side lite selection should be dictated by proportion, scale, balance and massing. Shutters on either side of the entry door also are nice details in traditional architecture. “In a perfect world, we’d go with an operable shutter, which if you close them the window opening would be sealed,” Bubnowski says. “In a lot of cases, people might still use that detail but it’s a faux shutter because it would not cover the entire opening if closed.” Even when using a faux shutter, though, size is critical. If the door is 3 ft. wide, for example, choose shutters that are 18-in. wide so if they were to close, they’d seal the door.”