Tips from the Architect: Home Entryways

September 13, 2016

The entryway of a building can be designed to function in any number of ways. Using elements that reveal insight into the project's overall character, the door and its immediate surroundings can create an atmosphere of intimacy, awe, sparse functionality, or stylistic expression. The front door of a house usually serves as a more formal entry, creating a first impression for visitors and passersby alike. Below we outline a few of the elements that make up the local vernacular of home entryways in the Northeast United States, both traditional and modern in style.

Entry Door

The entry door of a typical residence consists of several panels with small decorative profiles, horizontal rails, and vertical stiles that create a multitude of patterns and configurations. Door panels are usually produced in rectangular shapes, sometimes with an arched top. On more modern door panels, decorative profiles are often abandoned in favor of the flat shaker style or even a completely flat door slab. To introduce light into the entry hall or vestibule, opaque door panels can be replaced with any kind of glazing - translucent or obscured. More often than not, the front entrance of a house will consist of a single entry door, but some owners desire a double door to give the entry a more extravagant feel.

Sidelites and Transom Windows

  • Sidelites - Vertical panels of windows on one or both sides of the entry door. 
  • Transom Window - A transverse horizontal window at the top of the door. 

Sidelites and transom windows are used as additional fenestration to allow more light into the entry. The transom window is typically either a rectangular, elliptical, or arched shape - often called a “fanlite” - that features more elaborate designs made up of radial elements shaped by mullions (or vertical divisions), often made with lead. Fanlites are frequently found on colonial revival or classical revival designs. While not all doors feature these design elements, one can mimic the effect by using pilasters or panels in their place.

Porches

While not all houses feature a front porch, you will typically find them on classical revival, greek revival, craftsman, or prairie style designs. Porches come in many configurations, heights, and sizes. Some familiar examples include the wrap-around porch which traverses the corners of the house, the double height porch that extends to the second story of a home, and the centrally located front porch. The front porch can provide an added sense of welcome and outdoor space that is protected from the elements.  However, a porch is not necessarily a large element. It can also consist of a small overhang with a simple flat, hip, or gable roof with or without brackets, providing a house with a more intimate and modest character.