Front door is getting bigger even if the house is smaller

It has 'wow' appeal, even from the street

March 09, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Average American house size: down 4 square feet. Average American front door size: up 7 square feet.

The new American home, which has billowed by 50 percent since 1970 to 2,320 square feet, deflated gently in 2002 for the first time in seven years, according to a Department of Commerce report.

Contributing to the cool-down in big houses, builders say, was a wave of first-time owners, spurred by low interest rates, buying small starter homes, and high-end homeowners staying put and not trading up because of economic and homeland security issues.

But one feature of new houses stands tall, and taller - wider, too.

It's the front door. That's "entryway" to you. A kind of one-trick pony that even the family forgets to use (the bell rings, you open it), the front door is currently the ambitious focus of dimension, design and dollars in the construction industry.

Once the point of heartfelt and humble, hand-grasping welcome, where the doormat greeted you too, the new "decorative entry system" says "Welcome" from about 500 yards, with what looks like a portal into another dimension, not the foyer.

In strong evidence at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas in January, the package includes doors at least 8 feet tall and 3 1/2 feet wide, in pairs, with sidelights or windows, and a transom window above that can be taller than the doors.

"It's the `wow' appeal," said Joe Pompei, the owner of Pompei & Co., an entryway retailer in Medford, Mass. "In the past you would have picked up a typical Home Depot-type catalog door. Now, people are going way beyond that. It's a style statement."

Pompei has executed entryways that cost as much as $40,000. Builders report that an entryway can now be 10 percent of a construction budget.

"The house started with the doors," Lynn Bachman said of her new home in Eden Prairie, Minn. Bachman , a food stylist whose clients include Pillsbury and Land O' Lakes, chose a pair of 12-foot-tall mahogany doors from a catalog and customized them with four types of glass. "An entry is a statement of the person who lives there," she said.

The industry standard for a front door, which is 3 feet by 6 feet 8 inches, has been steadily eclipsed in the past five years by examples that are in many cases keeping up with the scale of houses, entry halls in particular.

"You go into large homes, open the door, and you might be looking at a 32-foot ceiling; it used to be rare that it was 10," said Russell H. Underdahl, chairman of Pinecrest, which is at work on 400 doors for a royal family that he would not identify.

Gopal Ahluwalia, a spokesman for the National Association of Home Builders, explained that though only 9 percent of Americans have double-door front entries, the price of the project had risen, to within a range of $2,500 to $25,000.

"You can't show off the inside of the house," Ahluwalia said. "What is visible is more critical to the homeowner than anything else. You could put gold bars between the walls and it wouldn't matter."

In a home valuation study commissioned by Therma-Tru in 2002, respondents added an average of 6 percent to the asking price of a home with an "enhanced entryway." The company's new Classic Craft entries, priced at $1,200 to $3,500, are up to 40 percent more expensive than its medium-range models.

"We're seeing customer willingness to spend more," said Dan Templeton, a vice president of Therma-Tru.

"The perceived percentage of return on the investment beats out kitchen and bath improvements."

Mike Threlkeld, the president of Volunteer Lumber Sales, a door vendor in Knoxville, Tenn., summarized the appeal of the new entryways his way.

"You can see them from the road," he said.

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