In the old days, the front door was very important because it was the only way in and out for people and everything else, including light. These days most houses have an attached garage, and the front door has become vestigial: the family uses the garage door or the back door. The front entrance is forced into action only on Halloween.
We may not use the front entrance much anymore, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still important. In most houses, it remains the focal point of the front elevation, the natural resting spot for roving eyes. And for hundreds of years, front doors have been the battlefield on which different styles and fashions have fought. Colonial designers may have loved the simplicity of a basic, unadorned entry. But the Victorians thought it was the perfect place to exercise some serious decoration – to say nothing of a starting point for porches, pergolas, and Porte-cochere.
Door trim can be pretty sedating, just some painted 1×4 pine or 2-inch-wide brick mold on the side and top jambs. This treatment often works well for contemporary houses, but it’s never been a common feature of older house styles. In the past, the entry door was always the focal point of the front elevation and was decorated accordingly.
Enhancing the Entrance with Pediment
In most cases, designers and builders have a basic choice to make: do they want a flat head casing with a drip cap on top or a more ornate entrance pediment? And if they choose a pediment, should it be full or split? Their next decision is how much this piece of trim should be embellished. Pediments, for example, can be pretty straightforward, just a shallow triangle installed so that it slightly projects from the siding. And, of course, they can be much more ornate. Hand-carved split pediments are common in the older house styles. And the more expensive the house, the more eye-catching was the pediment.
Plainer styles, such as Federal and Colonial Revival, lean toward plainer head casings. A simple horizontal piece, the same width, and thickness as the side casings are a common solution. But usually, it is a thicker and wider board, sometimes with a crown or cove molding installed along its top edge. Typically, the amount of decoration used on the front door is significantly reduced on other entry doors at the side or back of the house. This approach certainly reduces costs a bit. More importantly, the trim makes a clear design statement: the front door is the proper entry of the house, and the others are merely portals of convenience.