Front door makes home's first impression

October 14, 2007|By Ann Tatko-Peterson | Ann Tatko-Peterson,McClatchy-Tribune

Every time Edith Nettleton walked through her front doors, the ugly gold-colored bullet glass glared at her.

The double entry doors of her Walnut Creek, Calif., home were original to the house and in desperate need of an upgrade.

So, Nettleton turned to Custom Exteriors, the Pleasanton, Calif., business that had installed her windows four years earlier. And in the spring, down came the old wood doors and up went fiberglass ones with half doorlites.

She selected her doors from Therma-Tru's Fiber-Classic line, which uses AccuGrain technology to emboss grain texture on fiberglass, giving the doors a real wood look.

"I heard this was a better material that would last longer," she said. "I didn't want to paint the doors. Although my old wood ones held up well under paint, I'd also seen some painted wooden doors that were not attractive."

She hired a finisher to apply a natural oak stain. For the doorlites, she chose Crystalline, a decorative glass made of glue chip and clear bevels with a rounded bright brass caming (the metal bands that join the glass panes together).

Having found hardware she liked elsewhere, Nettleton purchased a Baldwin handleset in oil-rubbed bronze, which she had installed with the doors.

The end result?

"They're beautiful," she said. "Every time I come in from my walk, I think about how much I love my doors. I'm very happy with them. I haven't seen anybody's doors that I like any better."

That's not to say there aren't more ornate doors, decked out with elaborate sidelites and transoms. Or more unique doors, with custom details such as a speakeasy (a small opening at eye level that lets you look outside) and hand-forged wrought iron.

When it comes to entryway doors, it's really a matter of personal preference. And the choices are staggering, from type, style and finish of the door to glass designs and hardware options.

"I wonder sometimes if our big catalog gives people too many choices. They can take a long time to look through and narrow down their options," said Jeff Kendall, co-owner of Custom Exteriors.

"It's the first thing you see from the street, so it's essentially the first impression of your home," said Mary Boozer, co-owner of Elegant Door and Window in Dublin, Calif.

But before your personality can resonate, prospective door hunters need to wade through the basics and particulars of selecting an entryway door.


Exterior doors usually come in one of four types of material: wood, fiberglass, steel and multi-density fiberboard.

"Wood doors are gorgeous and there are natural variations of color and grain patterns, but they need a lot of upkeep," said Meghan Britton, sales manager of Royal Window and Door. "They have to be stained and sealed every few years."

Also, wood can swell in heat or contract in cold temperatures. Improper fits can make a door energy-inefficient. Direct sun also can cause the wood to split or crack.

Fiberglass is the No. 1 choice in material for exterior doors.

"It's not going to ding and dent. It's incredibly durable," Britton said. "They have this saying, [that] you can leave the door out in the desert for six years. When you come back, all the paint and seal are going to be gone or curled up, but underneath that, the door's still perfect."

Therma-Tru was named the top-rated fiberglass door maker by Consumer Reports. Auroa, by Jeld-Wen, features a permanent finish with ultraviolet protection, "like a sunscreen," Boozer said.


The choices can be overwhelming, from rustic to old world to classic.

"A lot of customers who come in have no idea what style to choose," Boozer said. "Sometimes they'll bring a picture of their home and ask us to help them decide."

The house itself may help direct the style. For example, some new construction high-end homes have higher ceilings, so owners can choose either an 8-foot-tall door or a transom above a standard door.

Including sidelites also depends on the existing space in an entryway. Double doors can be replaced with a single door and two sidelites. Sometimes a single door can accommodate one or two sidelites if there is additional wall space beside the door.

"This would require a structural change, so you'd need to talk with your contractor and get a permit from the city," Britton said.


Choosing hardware can be easy if you match it to the door's metal accents. Then you have to select only a style of handleset.

Popular high-end hardware includes Emtek, Baldwin and Schlage.

Split-finish hardware is an option if you want to match your interior handles while keeping the exterior separate. On the interior, Kendall said, the two popular options are a levered handle or round knob. The levered handle has become the more popular choice.

But as Kendall points out, "If you have young children, you can use the child-safety devices on knobs, whereas a levered handle is more challenging to child-proof."

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