The history of the front door – part 1

A photograph of a rustic Tudor cottage with vines growing up the front of the building. In the centre of the picture there is a faded wooden front door.

In many parts of the world it’s not uncommon to see homes with no windows, but it’s rare to see a home with no front door. As the experts tell us, “the front door is one of the most important parts of your home.”  They have played a dual role in keeping people out and keeping inhabitants safe and warm for millennia – so have you ever wondered where the notion of a front door first emerged, and how it evolved into the kind of entrance we use today.

The earliest doors can be traced back to the ancient Egyptian era, when slabs of wood fitted with hinges were placed across doorways in no particular shape or form. Doors made from stone in early India were shown opening and closing in the manner of saloon doors, although much slower due to their weight. However, the first recorded wooden doors were built for King Solomon’s Temple and were carved from olive wood.  

Just as the origins of door knockers can reputedly be found in ancient Greece, many historical artifacts also show that the Greeks and Romans used many styles of doors including single, double, folding or even sliding doors. The material of choice used in those days was bronze due to its pliability and strength.  

In Britain, the front doors we use today have evolved through centuries of stylistic changes, influenced in part by our ruling monarchs.

A photo collage of various styles of front doors from around the world.

Tudor and Jacobean 1485-1625

Doors were designed to either halt or delay undesired entry into houses, or to impress. Master craftsmen were employed by the finest houses to construct richly detailed oak doors with elaborate carvings. The Tudor door design is still popular today.

Baroque 1625-1714

The front doors of this era were designed to be as equally imposing as they were impressive. The Baroque carved, or sometimes quite plain doors, were accessorised with elaborately carved brackets and in many instances flanked with pillars.

Georgian 1714-1830

The early Georgian doors were statuesque, filling the entire doorway and blocking out all light. These panelled, fairly plain doors were painted in dark colours or grained so as to represent wood. It was in this era that internal doors (carved or panelled) emerged as popular. In grander houses, the doors on the principal floors were often double doors with ornate bellrings and door handles. The grand houses’ upper floors, below stairs and more inferior houses would contain the simpler yet more fashionable panel doors.

Late Georgian 1765-1811

The intricate front door wood workings of the master carpenter remained, even though the overall size of the door was decreased due to the addition of the fanlight. Early in this period, the fanlights were a simple rectangular shape, but later the semi-circular or segmental type window was introduced.   

The main entrance doors and internal doors of this period’s grand homes were six-panelled carved oak, with internal doors being made from mahogany. It wasn’t until the end of the century that the buildings with dark green and black doors became peppered with the odd blue door.

Regency & early 19th century 1811- 1837

Occupying pole position feature of this era’s town house, was the plain or carved front door. The front porch regained popularity and the door designs became more inventive, with geometric panelling, reeded carved mouldings or with studs reminiscent of ancient Greek designs. Although the trend was to stay with the black or dark green front door, the  introduction of double panelled doors dividing reception rooms, brought about a huge change in the living dynamics of the household.  

In our next post we shall continue our trip down front door history bringing us right up to date with the variations in materials and designs we see today.

Images by WerbeFabrik, RonPorter

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