Your front door is the way your house introduces itself -- and those who live there -- to the outside world. The most prominent feature on the face of a house, it is the architectural equivalent of a welcoming smile or a scowl.
It is a portal that is rich with meaning, ritual, symbol and ceremony. To settle for something generic and anonymous is to miss an opportunity to make a good and lasting first impression and to say something about your values, attitudes and outlook.
But don't expect the front door to carry the burden all by itself. Think in terms of "front entry," a collection of elements that work in concert with the door. Supporting elements include:
* Sidelight: This is a tall, narrow window next to a door. Often two sidelights are used, one on either side of a door. But even when only one is used, the effect is to make the doorway appear wider, more substantial and more important-looking.
In addition to boosting the status of a front door, sidelights allow more daylight to enter the house and provide views to the outside. If privacy is an issue, choose frosted or rippled glass panels rather than clear. Decorative leaded or beveled glass panels are other options.
* Transom: A transom is a window above a door. While sidelights broaden the look of a doorway, a transom gives it more height and stature. A transom can span only the door itself or it can extend over the sidelights to create a truly expansive-looking doorway.
Like sidelights, transoms come in a wide variety of shapes, widths and heights. Elliptical or arched transoms can provide welcome relief from the relentless rectangles of most doors and windows.
* Porch posts and railings: These are strong architectural elements that give shape and structure to an entry. Porch posts, from classic Greek or Roman columns to shapely Colonials, help create the boundaries of a sheltering entry. They also help create a sense of procession that tells visitors they are making an important transition on a kind of bridge between outside and inside.
Railings, also available in an infinite variety of styles, work in much the same way. Even when there's little real danger of visitors tottering off the porch, railings provide a reassuring sense of enclosure and security to those approaching the front door.
* Architectural trim: Made of wood or urethane, architectural moldings can add much-needed ornament to a front entry. Combine a classic pediment above a door with fluted pilasters on either side. Just replacing anemic-looking molding with heftier versions can boost a front door's morale.
* Color: Painting a door and its surrounding elements a more prominent color than the siding or window trim will draw attention to it. An entryway is a good place to depart from play-it-safe neutrals. Consider something darker and dramatic or bright and bold. Or use a combination of two or three colors to emphasize the surface dimension of the door and trim.
* Step-up materials: Rather than bare concrete, think about slate tiles, brick or flagstone for a porch floor or the steps leading up from a sidewalk. Natural stone and brick are organic, earthy materials that help an entry relate to the outdoor environment while distinguishing itself as an area of transition between indoors and out.
* The niceties: Details such as a brass door knocker, a substantial door handle, a decorative door bell escutcheon, a mail slot, a single rocking chair or a wood bench, potted flowers and a new welcome mat all lend dignity and worthiness to a front entry.