We have invited Tim Gehman, our Director of Design for Toll Architecture, to share some design tips.
“A camel is a horse designed by committee.” It’s an old overused adage that is not only horribly derogatory in its implication that a functionally unique creature is less than perfectly designed, but also completely false. No, experience has taught that were a committee formed to invent an alternate horse for the marketplace, what would emerge would be a 15-hand high equine with bay-dominate alleles, in short, a medium brown horse. Regardless of the religious affiliation of its individual members, all market-aspiring committees cling to the Buddhist principal of madhyama-pratipad (the middle way); it’s too wise a business model to be ignored. In no marketplace is this more evident than home building.
Driving around any community built within the last 25 years one finds regional and local homogeny. Stop blaming the lack of variety on the home builders (they’re a temptingly easy target, large and unfamiliar); rather look to the buyers. Face it, if there were enough call for mid-century modern flat-roofed bungalows with oodles of curb appeal, builders would construct enough of them to make reflective stainless steel pipe columns a stock item in local home centers. Typical new-home buyers want consistency; it’s safe, but at the same time they want to be able to express their individuality. And for those without the time or inclination to spend their days planting a whirligig farm, manufacturers and builders offer products that are once-and-done architectural solutions to helping homeowners distinguish themselves.
The simplest path to achieving this aim on a new or existing home, and somewhat of a current trend, is an upgraded front door. The standard 6-panel colonial style supplied by most builders can be easily exchanged for something that better expresses an owner’s individual taste and highlights their home’s style. Here are some additional types one should consider, the basic features of each, and some guidelines:
4-Panel—Similar to a 6-panel, just combine the two small topmost panels with the two below them—a classy subtle alternative to the 6-panel that will work on any style home.
8-Panel—8 equally sized panels in two vertical columns – These have primarily been used on contemporary houses built in the 1970s, the Brady house had one of these. At some point these doors and the houses they adorn will become retro-trendy; just pray that day never comes.
15 and 18 Lite – Sometimes called French, these have panels of glass separated by muntins of similar material to the rest of the door; 6’8” doors-15 lites; 8’ doors-18 lites – These make for a smart, stylish, and subtle change that works with almost any style house. Those who fear the lack of privacy they offer can order it with frosted privacy glass, or, better yet, come to the realization that most people aren’t that interested in what their neighbors up to. Besides, what activity can they see through a glass door in the first-floor entry hall that they haven’t already witnessed on the second floor landing in front of that huge Palladian window?
French Country—A variation of the 15 and 18 lite with flat or raised panels covering the lower third — A personal favorite; it looks classy and unique. The unfamiliar yet finely balanced proportions of glass to panel help this style grab a lot of attention without orange paint.
Craftsman—Hardwood with V-grooved flat or raised panels and glazing in the upper third – Great for any home with arts and crafts bones as well as cottages, farm houses, and bungalows. It’s safest to stay with simple divided lites in the upper portion. For a more traditional look, get the drip cap (a small sill applied below the glazing). Stained and leaded glass options can get tricky and/or tacky. Instead, for added privacy and texture, try a seedy glass. Those who don’t live in Oak Park, Illinois, should avoid the Frank Lloyd Wright reproductions.
Rustic—Any door made with chunky hardwood that looks like it could fend off attacking Huns—These are best left to accent and secondary doors unless one lives in either an asymmetrically picturesque Cotswold cottage or a medieval castle.
Classic—This category is meant to be a catchall for various styles with no definable architectural period affiliation. Because of the varied array of available details, it’s hard to address these individually but here’s a brief overview. Because these are so available, advertised, and prominently displayed in home centers, they have the advantage of affordability, but the disadvantage of ubiquity. In the end, an owner may be disappointed when they find that their carefully crafted unique sense of style is exactly the same as their lawn mower-racing neighbor with the Yosemite Sam mud flaps. This is also the category that includes all of the oft-used models with oval or ellipse glazing. A quick note on these, if one is reading this from the sumptuous comfort of a Victorian drawing room with pocket doors and scrolled floral wallpaper in San Francisco’s Nob Hill, this is a perfect option in either etched or clear glass; if they’re not, this style may garner more eye rolls than envy.
Clearly, the choices are expansive and, if an owner has the means to go custom, nearly limitless, so choose wisely and keep in mind that a camel out of context looks ridiculous, but a camel in the desert may be one of the finest examples of utilitarian beauty ever devised, even if it is a bit lumpy.
Tim Gehman is the Director of Design for Toll Brothers, Inc. and holds a bachelor of architecture degree from Boston Architectural College.