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" I have a 5 year old home designed in the Federal style.  I currently have a steel front door with the common "six-panel" design.  I would like to replace the door with something more elegant but want the design to be appropriate for a Federal style house. Can you give me some suggestions for doors? I would appreciate any suggestions!  Thank you!"
Author's Reply:

The plain, flat Federal Style façade is the perfect foil for the most decorative and elegant feature of the Federal Style exterior: the front entrance. As the accompanying photographs illustrate, the front door itself is generally very simple and it is everything that surrounds the door that is ornamented.

The two photographs on the left are of homes designed by Salem’s woodcarver/architect Samuel McIntire. To many, McIntire’s designs are the loveliest of the Federal Period. The Gardner-White-Pingree and Cook-Oliver entrances demonstrate characteristic Federal Style notions: attenuated proportions in the columns and pilasters, elliptical porch with a flattened projection, delicate fan light and sidelights, and carved husk flower drops and swags. These motifs and proportions were repeated on the doorheads, cornices, and mantles inside the homes.

The Gardner-White-Pingree House, Salem, Massachusetts
The Cook-Oliver House, Salem, Massachusetts
Click for Enlarged, Printable Drawing
In the best examples of Federal Style designs, the door proper is divided into three vertical panels that are duplicated on the opposite side of the centerline. The topmost panel is the shortest. The remaining panels are either the same size or the middle panel is larger that the lower panel. All six panels are the same width. The drawing to the right shows the division and the dimensions for a 36” x 80” door. The original model for this door is found in the 1796 1st Harrison Gray Otis House which was designed by Charles Bulfinch and can be found on page 163 of our book. Although an interior door is illustrated, the proportions for an exterior door would be identical. Since no one will carry a pre-made door consistent with these proportions, a cabinet shop, lumberyard with a custom door manufacturing department, or a millworks will be able to supply you with it.
In the Pingree example, the mahogany door is left unpainted but as the photographs below show, a very lively appearance is added by painting the door red, green, and even black on the exterior.
Detail, Gardner-White-Pingree House
61 Beacon Street, Boston, Massachusetts
21 Beacon Street, Boston, Massachusetts
The area surrounding the door could be given more detail by adding decorative drill work (61 Beacon Street photo), fluting (Pingree House photo), or applied, carved rosettes, husk flower drops, and swags such as those used by McIntire on the Cook-Oliver and the Cotting-Smith Assembly House (pictured on the left). Applied ornaments may be carved in wood or made from composition material and painted. For composition ornament, Decorator’s Supply of Chicago is an excellent choice. Wood workers who specialize in period furniture would be familiar with these ornaments and most likely willing to make them for you in wood.
The Cotting-Smith Assembly House, Salem, Massachusetts
The Phillips House, Salem, Massachusetts

Finally, a brass door knocker, flower pots with classical motifs and shapes, painted louvered shutters, and an exuberantly waving American flag would all add Federal Style to your home.

We wish you success with your project!

Lawrence Smith and MaryBeth Mudrick, authors, Federal Style Patterns 1780-1820

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