- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Robin Gilbert did not notice the Colonial home she drove past while house hunting until she saw the “for sale” sign.

The front of the two-story home, circa 1936, had straight lines and a portico with an A-frame roof and thin columns. Today, the portico is wider with two Doric columns and a sweeping curve to the roofline. The door is made of wood and has two sidelights.

“We had a very plain-looking front of the house,” says Ms. Gilbert, who has lived in Chevy Chase in Northwest for the past nine years with her husband, Peter Gilbert. “One of the main things we wanted to do is to give it curb appeal. The front entrance was a big part of making the door stand out.”

The front door serves as an entryway and is a way to welcome guests and make a statement about who lives inside, says Yanitza Tavarez, interior design instructor at the Art Institute of Washington in Arlington.

The Gilberts’ remodeling project, completed in August with the help of Anthony Wilder Design Build, turned their front door into a welcoming and inviting entryway, Ms. Gilbert says.

Homeowners such as Ms. Gilbert need to take a few things into consideration when designing and installing a front door, according to metro-area architects and interior designers.

Exterior doors can be made of wood, steel or fiberglass. They can be installed as a double door — more typical in upscale homes — or as a single door. And they can be plain or paneled, typically with four or six panels.

Glass panels, which may be leaded, can be incorporated into the door and can be clear or opaque.

Or the panels may have patina caming, a pattern inlaid on the inside of the glass bordered with bronze, or brass caming, says Anthony Linton, department supervisor for the doors and windows department at Home Depot in Northeast.

“I sell the door as far as durability,maintenance, look and style,” Mr. Linton says.

Wood doors, for example, are more traditional and natural looking, but require more maintenance and, every few years, must be sanded and refinished, he says.

Steel doors provide more security and require minimum maintenance, while fiberglass doors, also low in maintenance, are energy efficient, according to Home Depot’s Web site.

The cost for front doors varies according to type. Steel doors, for example, can cost $90 to $200 at Home Depot, while doors made of fiberglass can cost $300 to $1,400 and wood doors, $800 to $2,000, Mr. Linton says.

Installing the door can cost from $300 to $1,000, the price depending on the contractor, says Anthony Wilder, co-owner with his wife, Elizabeth Wilder, of Anthony Wilder Design Build, an architectural, interior and landscaping design and installation firm in Cabin John.

“The best way to do it is you literally cut the frame and door out and then get an entire new door with a frame that has been weather-stripped,” says Mr. Wilder, who helped the Gilberts with their remodeling project.

Cutting a door to fit an existing frame is difficult to do, he says, and can result in a product that has air leaks and is out of square, or out of alignment with the shape of the frame. He recommends hiring out the job.

“It’s 10 times harder, and it’s more expensive to hang your own door,” he says.

A tool that can remove the existing frame and door is a Sawzall, a reciprocating saw with a long blade designed for thin spaces, Mr. Wilder says. Shims, pieces of wood that taper from a half-inch to a point, can be wedged in along the frame to provide a tighter seal, he says. Non-expandable foam can be sprayed between the shims and in any nooks, crannies and cracks to prevent air infiltration, he says.

Installing a front door includes taking into account the style and architecture of the house, the type of lighting desired and the area around the entryway, interior designers say.

Mr. Linton asks his customers if they live in a historic district, since the National Trust for Historic Preservation requires doors and window frames to be made of wood to maintain a historical look, or under a housing authority that requires a certain type and look to front doors, he says.

Miss Tavarez recommends installing a wood door in traditional homes, such as in the Georgian, Federal and Colonial styles, and in homes in the arts and crafts style, which have a geometric look. For modern homes, which are minimalist in look with simple lines and lots of glass, she recommends a wood door with little trim or a steel door.

“How can you make it more interesting instead of having a plain square door?” Miss Tavarez says. “It’s those little accents that establish a style.”

Brass hardware, for example, works with a red door and bronze with a stained wood door, says Ann Principe, director of marketing for K.C. Co., a Beltsville distributor for Pella windows and doors.

“It makes your door unique. It doesn’t have to look like the one next door,” Mrs. Principe says.

The most popular doors K.C. Co. sells provide some kind of lighting, she says.

Besides glass panels in the door, natural lighting can be achieved in a number of ways, such as with sidelights, which are panels of glass placed next to the door frame; or the placement of a transom, a hinged window; or a leaded window above the door. The glass can be clear or treated to obscure the view into the home.

“The primary concern is how much glass you want in the door,” says Susan Gulick, owner of Susan Gulick Interiors in Reston. “Some people don’t like that you can see into a house. Those people want more privacy and may require a solid door.”

For visitors, the outside entryway can be lighted with artificial lighting from sconces located on either side of the door, light fixtures placed above the door or pendants attached to the portico ceiling.

“You don’t want to make it completely dark,” says Gopaul Ahluwalia, staff vice president for research at the National Association of Home Builders in Northwest. “If it’s really dark, it doesn’t look good and people don’t feel good.”

In addition to light, there is color to consider.

“You want to make sure the colors are cohesive,” Mr. Wilder says. “You don’t want to be too outlandish [and] out of context with the house.”

Traditional colors for doors are black and white with red, plum, cobalt blue and hunter green also popular choices, he says.

“It is really kind of a quick fix on enhancing the aesthetics of your home. Many times, the sun or the elements have beat up the door,” Mrs. Principe says.

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