Your Front Entry 

More than just a first impression.

Ironically, despite how much we like the idea of a beautiful front entry, most homeowners today do not actually utilize their front entrance on a daily basis. Unless living in an older residence that has an no attached garage, no decent back or side entry or where parking is closer to the front door, most folks in newer homes come inside through the garage. The age and design of a house has everything to do with how the front entry was originally intended to function - and good design solutions should vary as well, especially when you factor in specific homeowner requirements like handicap access or in-home offices. Regardless-- for any age house and with any client, there are some consistent key organizing principles to consider when remodeling or building a front entry that make it attractive to use. While first impressions are critical, it is important to note that these spaces serve multiple functions and can improve the “feel” of your house dramatically in ways that you might not even be aware are affecting you and your guests.

A handsome, well designed entryway does more to welcome your friends and family than a perfect paint job or a freshly clipped lawn. Depending on how it is developed, an entryway can add or detract significantly from the value of your property; it can even make or break a sale. When done correctly, a main entry should make you smile every time you drive –or walk¬- up to your house. It should also complement the interior space just inside the door giving you hints about how to circulate into adjacent rooms. On the exterior, an entryway is far more than just a door to get in and out or a “look” to enjoy. It is intended to provide clear visual signals about how and where to enter the house and should provide a clear sense of invitation. Finally, your front entry can act as a valuable buffer zone between you and the outside world from street noise or for visual privacy – adding to the sense of intimacy on the interior.

The front door of your home is a public point of entry into your private domain. If man’s home is his castle, then the front entry is the drawbridge! It is the key point at which energy and all things from the outside world flow into your private inner space. Often overlooked -or overblown- today, the front entry is THE key signature of your home’s personality. Unfortunately, too many entryways are boring portals, serving only as a way to get in and out of the house, increasing the likelihood that they will never be used at all. How many times have you walked up to the front of a home with two doors, uncertain as to which way to go? Depending on how it is developed, an entry can be welcoming or off-putting, intuitive or confusing, a pleasant experience or a chaotic one. Some even appear non-existent if left covered with vegetation or dwarfed by an attached garage.

Along with your roof line style and other exterior architectural elements, entryways are part of the architectural fabric of your home. A well designed front entry provides clues to the period, age and character of a house, the interior and its occupants. For older homes this is particularly significant. If you take a drive through a historical neighborhood, you will find entrances and porches in various shapes and sizes that served as outdoor gathering spaces for neighbors and families to sit and talk and which quickly identify the house as a Victorian or a Bungalow.

With the advent of the automobile and attached garages, entryways too often become subordinated by the private entry through the garage. The entry experience unceremoniously dumps homeowners into rooms with cleaning products and dirty laundry. Imagine how this affects you each day as you come home after work! In earlier periods, houses stood alone with detached garages that set the house apart as distinct, commodious architectural forms. As the demand for bigger attached garages has grown -especially those facing the street, one of the biggest challenges designers face is to try to set the public front entry apart as the natural focal point on a pleasing façade and to downplay the large and looming garage massing.

So what are the key components that make a good entry? A great way to think about the main entrance of a home is to regard it as a process, not just a door. It is really a sequence of places and spaces that start at the street. These small but important experiences bring visitors carefully from the public arena into your private domain in a sequence of planned events. These events provide clues that direct the viewer to the proper entry location and create an inviting and intuitive way to get there.

If you are remodeling or building a new front entryway to improve the look of your home don’t forget to carefully analyze the surrounding site and vegetation, the contours of the land, orientation to sun and wind directions, and the fabric of the neighborhood in which you live. Is the main entry close to the driveway or the more private side door? Are they both visible from the front of the house confusing the viewer as to the proper approach to your home? Does the path to the front door take full advantage of a best view of the home’s façade as you walk up to it? The shortest distance to the door is not always the best if it takes you tightly alongside the house wall with views of the hose, foundations and air conditioning equipment.

Once reaching the face of the house, the exterior space -usually a porch or stoop in front of the door- is equally important. Does this “outdoor receiving room” give visitors permission to be there even before the door is opened? Is there a sense of shelter and arrival? If your home is located high on a hill in the path of prevailing winter winds that blow mercilessly across the porch, you might consider an architectural detail or landscape solution to provide snow and wind barriers. A small roof or overhang can offer protection from the elements and additionally reach out to welcome visitors. If done, this element should extend out beyond the face of the door at least 2’-6” and should direct rain water away from the stoop below. Once on the stoop, can visitors hear the doorbell when pressed or see movement within to reassure them that someone knows they are there?

Additionally, a well planned entry is designed from both sides. An “outdoor receiving space” can also be invaluable if indoor space is tight and it can serve some of the same functions as an inner foyer. Once inside the door, is there a good staging spot to drop coats and boots? Does it dump you directly into the living room (or laundry room if a private entry) or is there ample space to remove your outer garments and orient yourself to being home? An inner foyer is typically the final stop in a proper entry sequence from the outside world to your inner sanctum. Adding a favorite piece of art, a photograph or furniture can make it an enjoyable experience. It sounds odd, but borrowing space from even a small living room to create a modest foyer can make the living room feel bigger and enhance the entry experience. A small foyer can be defined with architectural elements like interior archways, a floor material change or smartly placed furniture, cabinetry or hooks. No matter how lovely a space is, it must function well or it will not be enjoyed by the user and therefore not fully utilized.

Some thought should be given to the look of the private entry as well. It will work best if designed in tandem with the front entry so the two do not conflict if both are seen on the exterior of the building, especially if in close proximity. Landscaping, design variations, size and prominence help the visitor to know where to knock and wait. Private and public entries serve different functions but the same principles apply for both. If you are planning your mudroom and daily entry spaces, be sure to allow enough space for two to three people to stand comfortably, avoid door swings in the direct path and keep storage of supplies and equipment out of the main travel area.

Overall, whether you are remodeling or building new, consider the details required for a pleasant and functional entry experience as a key part of good home design. These are spaces that are utilized many times a day. Proper composition and proportion on the exterior as well as an intelligent use of space and light on the interior are additional qualitative components to enliven an entry design and create good chemistry between house and homeowner. For simple upgrade options, trim accents or decorative elements can help an otherwise bland exterior if all the other organizing principles are in place. A new door with glass,(frosted for privacy or clear for viewing) can change the character of the interior dramatically. The use of color and even something as simple as a new storm door can transform your home’s entry in unimaginable ways, update an outmoded home, and provide your home with a character and personality that is tailored to you.

By: Debra Moore
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