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Published: Thursday, 2/21/2002

Front entry is the key to homes curb appeal

"Most everybody, when they're thinking of  building a new home, no matter what price range they're in, they want something that will impress someone." "Most everybody, when they're thinking of building a new home, no matter what price range they're in, they want something that will impress someone."
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Updating the appearance of your home and improving its curb appeal is as easy as remodeling your front entry.

No doubt, one of the best real-value remodeling projects is a new front entry. Like cosmetic surgery, with its rejuvenating benefits, a well-designed entry will have a dramatic impact on general appearance and strengthen the all-important first impression. It will personalize your home, give it instant panache and add value and beauty to the interior as well.

Although the first thing that comes to mind when planning a new entry is the door itself, it should be far from the only thing to consider. The front entry is the gateway to your home, and the door itself - while the center-stage star attraction - is only one element of a cast of players that includes paving, lighting, landscaping and hardware.

A project like this can cost several thousand dollars - but really enhance the value of your home. So it's important to work with an experienced and licensed contractor to ensure top quality.

Sue Olson, who with her husband, Dale, is owner of Arden Homes in Perrysburg, says, "Almost everybody wants a really neat foyer. They feel it makes a statement when they come in. Most everybody, when they're thinking of building a new home, no matter what price range they're in, they want something that will impress someone.

"We did one not too long ago," she says. "When you walked in the front door, there was a really cool sitting room to the right, and a balcony with a split staircase. People would walk in and go, 'Wow!'"

Soaring foyers are de rigueur for those who are building high-end homes these days, but Mrs. Olson says that they are not simply for the well heeled. Quality homes at the lower end of the scale are now featuring heavy, well-made front doors and side windows "so that people can peek in and see that beautiful wood foyer," Mrs. Olson says.

Here are some other things you will need to consider in the design of your entryway:

First and foremost, consider the weight of the door with respect to the structural capabilities of the wall it will attach to. If you are installing a door in a standard two-by-four frame wall, a large, heavy door is not going to work. The door will be too heavy for the wall it's installed in, which means the whole wall will shudder every time the door is opened or closed. Before shopping, ask your contractor or architect to visit with you to assess what makes sense for your situation.

From a design standpoint, you will want to choose a door that blends with the architectural style of your home. There are many products on the market. If you're not sure how to choose size, shape, finish, color and style correctly, hire a pro to help you out.

You may want to consider an oversized center door, possibly with sidelights, as an alternative to double doors. A single, large entry door is a big hello without being gaudy. A 42-inch wide door is more massive and it feels fabulous when it closes.

If you want a single door that can also be a conversation piece, you might want to think about a center pivot door - which rotates about its center as opposed to hanging on side jamb mounted hinges.

This type of door usually requires special custom hardware because of its weight and style. And custom hardware is expensive. Expect to pay $500 to $1,500 for the hardware alone.

In addition to deciding on the style, type and size of door you want, you will have to make choices about materials and finishes. Remember, it's important not only for your new door to look good but to be able to stand up to daily use. Solid mahogany or oak, solid core doors with hardwood veneer, sheet metal or fiberglass doors are good choices. Fiberglass won't warp, split or crack and is a great choice for an exterior door that gets a lot of sun and is exposed to the elements. It's an expensive initial choice, but fiberglass is well worth the price because it lasts forever and doesn't require maintenance.

For traditionalists, however, nothing will ever replace the warmth and beauty of solid hardwood. If you opt for a natural wood door, be sure to include its maintenance on your chore list. Use a high quality, light furniture oil to wipe down the door, inside and out. Be sure to wipe excess oil from the door and hardware, and buff with a soft cotton rag. You'll find that the oil will clean, seal and keep the door looking like new for years. Annually clean the door with an oil-stripping product and start the process over again. If the sun has bleached the wood, you may want to apply a stain first. Then, try adding a little stain to your maintenance oil to keep the color even.

If you want to make a truly unique and personal statement, think about investing in an artisan-made door. Often one-of-a-kind, they can be made out of anything, including glass, wood, stainless steel or combinations of these and/or other materials. Everything, including the hinges, can be custom made. Unique doors are expensive, but look upon them as "functional art" and the price won't hurt so much.

Proper installation of any exterior door, regardless of cost, requires fitting of weather stripping and door bottoms that will lock out air and moisture. Another area to pay close attention to when shopping and choosing your new door is the threshold and doorjamb because they frame the door much the same as a frame does a picture.

For wood and veneer doors, if you can't buy the door prefinished from the factory with a finish carrying a written guarantee, use furniture oil on hardwood, with a weekly maintenance program, especially if the door is not shielded from the sun's harmful rays. Avoid on-site applied hard finishes, i.e. paint, varnish, polyurethane, etc., for solid hardwood doors because they are nearly impossible to maintain.

Here's a tip on ordering a door that you are going to have painted: Buy the door from the supplier with a factory-applied primer. If the door joints fail, the manufacturer will not be able to refuse the warranty for reason of faulty primer sealer.

If you're living in a quality home, you should install hardware that not only provides safety and privacy but that is consistent with the value of the home. Handsets, lock-sets, latches, ball-bearing hinges, knockers and viewers all should be the best money can buy - which means solid brass or bronze - and selected as a package to complement the style of your home. Many manufacturers now offer tarnish-free finishes and some have lifetime guarantees.

Names you can trust include Baldwin, Schlage, Kwikset, Elite, Jado and many others available at better hardware showrooms.

Avoid inferior-quality materials. Brass-plated steel hardware and inexpensive deadbolt and latch hardware may look good but could fail within five years. Top-quality hardware is expensive, but you get what you pay for.

Installation is expensive regardless of the hardware. So insist on the best. Hardware failure can mean major surgery on the door to retrofit new hardware, which then may or may not fit properly.

Lighting should be an integral part of your entry design project. Think of it as a crescendo to the centerpiece, which is the door itself. It begins with soft ambient and safety lighting at the sidewalk and along the pathway, continues with subtle specimen tree and plant lighting, then crescendos with wall-mounted, recessed or suspended lights illuminating the door.

Remember, a door alone does not an entry make. It is the final note in an orchestration that includes paving, landscaping, lighting and overall design that lets you, and your guests, know that you've arrived.



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