Posts Tagged ‘doors for old world houses’

Select the Right Door for that “Old World” Look

November 23, 2008
choose a door to match the style

Choose a door to match the house style, as on this French Country by New South Classics.

Some details matter more than others, and the selection of the right doors can mean the difference in having an “authentic” Old World look or not.  In short, a door should embody the architectural character of the building.  Subtle differences in door design and construction point to the authenticity of French, English, Italian or American classic residential design.  Doors are often the focal point of a design and at least the element of your home’s design that will be noticed by everyone before anything else.  It says “welcome” and speaks volumes about you and your house before anyone even steps inside.  There is no better way to make a first impression. The question you have to ask is;  “what style is appropriate for my design?

French country paneled door

French country door by Pinecrest

Because doors can vary greatly in price based on whether they are exterior or interior doors, the material they are made of, how they are made, where they are made and whether they are new, or antique, it is important to shop around and learn all you can about the above.  The style of the house will dictate the style of the door and the importance of the main entry door(s) may determine the style of all the exterior doors.

I like to think that there is a priority of exterior and interior doors as in primary, secondary and tertiary importance.  That will help you select doors that say something about the spaces they serve.  For instance, the door above would be fine for the front door, but perhaps a little to elegant for the kitchen door, but it’s style may “drive” the choice for the kitchen and other exterior doors.

classical American door

classical American door

Where to start?  Door manufacturers usually have a number of styles available and categorized into groups such as “southwestern”, “French”, “Tuscan” or “English”.  Eliminating all doors that do not fit into your particular style home makes it much easier to narrow the choice down and focus on details of the correct selection of doors available.  You will find that several key elements of door design make it American, English, French, “Tuscan” or whatever. 

For instance, Historic American “frame and panel” solid wood doors (which replaced plank doors) are often composed of six raised panel construction and painted or stained.  These typically have standard proportions and placements for the vertical and horizontal elements around the panels known as “rails”, “stiles” and “muntins”.  All doors will be contained in the casing or door surround.  These, too, have styles that are traditionally correct for the door style you have selected.


Example of a portico with door by Historic Doors

Doors may be dressed up in a number of ways including the addition of a portico.  A portico refers to a covered entrance usually supported by columns.  Porticos are also called surrounds, overdoors and entablitures.hey add a refined element to an entrance by framing the door and adding an architectural element that is attractive and functional  as seen in this example by Historic Doors.

Note: You may want to take a look at some of the reference books I have suggested  in previous Blogs, if you want to learn more about the correct style door and surround for a particular place, time, or region (along with do’s and don’ts of proper construction).  You can also refer to many door web sites that offer a variety of interior and exterior door styles to get an idea of manufacturers and prices.  The choices are endless and like everything else, not all doors are made equally well and prices will vary depending on quality.

Classic Gothic style

Classic Gothic style

You will notice that each region of Europe and each region of a particular country has a door style that is specific to that region and particular time period.  While Old World European doors have many similar characteristics to one another, it is, again, the small details or variations that make one door more suitable for a house style over another.  These doors may be classical, rustic, Gothic, Arts and Crafts and many in between.

Traditional plank construction

Traditional plank construction

Some doors employ a combination plank and panel construction while others reflect a true plank tradition with arched tops and decorative, medieval hardware such as studs, and wrought iron strap hinges which come in a multitude of styles.  This style with its distinctive detailing is common in Spanish, and Mediterranean architecture and as can be seen below, in France.

cottage door with glass above

Plank storm door with combination panel door and divided lights above

Arched top or top radius doors are very common in France.  These may be solid with two to three raised panels, all glass with divided lights (window panes), or glass above a single or double solid panel as in the door on the quaint cottage in the Loire Valley pictured at right.  Note the vertical plank “storm door” on the outside with its diagonal and horizontal bracing.  The arched top is alao seen in double arch top doors for wider entries where two doors are desirable.

double radius top door

double arch top door

Of course double arched top doors are available in all the varieties described above. and lend themselves particularly well to French and Italian style architecture.  A similar effect may be achieved by selecting a double radius top panel (glass or wood) in a full arch, flat arched panel in square top frame and casing.

French door with transom above

French door with transom above

Nothing is more frequently used than the “French window”  which as become known here as the French door.  Its simplicity and practicality allows a space to receive maximum light and openness by swinging one or both door panels inward or outward, effectively doubling the width of a single panel door.  Again, these may be solid wood, all glass or any combination thereof.  French doors are often topped by a glass transom spans both doors below for a taller effect.  More elegant options include a fan light above and even flanking the doors with side-lights for more light as in this photo of a house outside Paris.

Simple glass panel door by Stewart Brannen Millwork

Simple glass panel door by Stewart Brannen Millwork

What if you prefer painted doors and trim?  Well, there are several options you may want to consider…..Solid Wood doors can be painted or stained.  If stained, be sure to see samples of the various wood species to see how the color stain you prefer affects the wood you have selected.  The manufacturer of the doors can provide samples for you to select from and offer advice on which stain and wood will result in the color and effect you desire.

Many woods and finishes are available for interior and exterior application.  Not all manufacturers offer the same selection.  It is important that careful attention is paid to the wood species that will be best for the intended use and selecting the right finish for that species of wood.  You should do the same with trim and casing to be sure that those and the doors match.  “Distressing” is often available to emphasize the aged look you desire for your Old World door.

MDF paint grade door

TruStile MDF paint grade door

If you plan to have painted trim and doors, MDF or medium density fiberboard may be the right choice for you.  Interior and exterior MDF doors are available in paint grade and are environmentally friendly.  MDF is an engineered wood product made from recycled and recovered wood fiber.  They are more stable and durable and more affordable than wood in many cases.  As with other doors, there are many variations of MDF doors with different construction details.  Better doors are solid MDF with solid wood edging systems along both edges for strength where hinges and door hardware attach.  Look for similar detailing along the top rail if doors are to be hung as is the case with pocket doors.

popular bungalow door detailing

popular bungalow door detailing

The Arts & Crafts or bungalow style doors ranged from plain to ornate.  The most common were frame and panel, and board and batten.  These doors often had decorative panels, beveled, leaded or etched glass in addition to the basic door.  Some, as shown in the door to the left had an iconic square shelf supported by square rectangular blocks with rectangular windows above.  French doors (single or double) were also common for exterior doors and usually had rectangular glazing and (or) rectangular panels.  Often exterior arts & craft doors had sidelights and transoms above.  English and Japanese influences are evident in much of the detailing of the bungalow right down to the doors.

Garage door

New South Classics French country style plank doors with flat radius top

Don’t forget the garage door!  Because they are large and there may be two or three of them, the garage doors will influence the character of the house and must be attractive as well as functional.

carriage house doors with diagonal planking

carriage house doors with diagonal planking

Even the garage should be designed in the detail you expect of an Old World home.  It must reflect the character of the house and look as much a part of the house as any other aspect of the design.  Sometimes it is good to pick a style such as plank or panel as the motif for your major doors and continue through with the garage so there is continuity. 

Garage doors on a New South Classics Mountain Home Garage

Garage doors on a New South Classics Mountain Home Garage

Often these doors are referred to as “carriage house” doors and they can have as much character as any other door.  The character may be determined by the color, materials, and detailing such as hardware.  Character can be added through careful consideration of paneling, whethre vertical, or diagonal, with cross bracing and the addition of windows. 

The window options are similar to other windows with respect to size of glazing, muntin width and spacing, etc. 

Strap hinges add character and may be functional or decorative.   

Hardware produced by the local blacksmiths at their forge and anvil was common to many early American homes.  Some sources today feature their own blacksmiths using 18th century tools and techniques.  This hardware is carefully built to ensure that it will function, as designed, for many years to come.

Garage doors may have the traditional appearance of carriage house doors, yet open vertically with an automatic garage door opener.  There are even openers designed to swing out on hinges.  If you use hinged doors, just remember to widen the opening by four to six inches to allow for the width of the door panel and hardware.

wine cellar doors

Apex wine cellar doors

Specialty doors are also available for most any need.  Often special rooms require a door that says something about that space while still adhering to the Old World door look you are after.  These doors may be solid, paneled, fully glazed or any combination of these.  Wine cellars, for instance, are great opportunities for a special door.  They add to the character of the space and provide an opportunity to make something special of the space that will enhance the experience of storing and displaying your wine collection.

Speak-easy grille

Speak-easy grille

This blog is not intended to explain all there is to know about door detailing.  It is hoped that this blog will make you more aware of the importance of selecting the right door for your house and give you access to a few of many sources to research options available to you.

Make sure that your architect or designer has considered all the appropriate door options in the right “style” for your new home.  This may get them started in the right direction.


Early American hand forged classic by Kayne and Son

The correct hardware adds to the distinctive appearance of your Old World door.  Many manufacturers offer stock period hardware from which to choose.  Others offer custom made hardware for handles, hinges, bolts and other forgings custom designed for your doors.

For additional material that may be of interest, be sure to visit New South Classics at

Bruce Eason, AIA