How to Make an Entrance

When it comes to the final touches, door hardware is key.
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I am often called upon by clients to make recommendations on what improvements they should undertake in order to make a house more appealing to buyers. The usual things that come to mind run the range of painting, cleaning, and decluttering. These are all worthy endeavors and will often result in a better sale price.

Period door hardware

The one thing that sellers should not change is the original door hardware. The original knobs, escutcheons, and hinges are sometimes referred to as a house’s “jewelry,” as if the house were an aging matron and the hardware merely a strand of pearls. This is not the case. The metal that joins the door to the house is just as important as the other components that are thought of only as decorative elements.

When we bought our house, we were fortunate to have the massive, original front door, with all of its hand-wrought strap hinges, bronze nail heads, handle, and lock—all of it patinated to the kind of finish that confers gravitas on such a mature dowager. To my despair, however, the original screen door had been removed at some point prior to our ownership, only to be replaced by the kind of screen door I knew growing up. Our front door was obscured by a machine-made scrap of aluminum that stood as an unhappy, corroding, and squeaking witness to the passage of time. This was the first thing to go. A friend of mine likens this to the scene in a much-loved film where at the onset of some disagreeable weather, the protagonist hurries home to find shelter. As she attempts to open the screen door, it is carried off to the mournful, grey, and desolate landscape that Hollywood portrayed as Kansas during the Depression.

I don’t know where the current taste came from in replacing the handle with a lockset comprising both handle and lock. What was so offensive about the originals that they had to go, ultimately consigned to that vast ironmongery in the sky? Similar to the asteroid impact that killed all but the smallest creatures 65 million years ago, key escutcheons are the only things to have survived, no doubt also owing to their diminutive size. In the spirit of preservation and economy (you’ll save money if you don’t buy new ones), leave the originals in place. Unless there is a compelling reason to replace the handle and lockset (broken? rusted beyond restoration? stolen?), spend your money on some other aspect of the house that needs attention.

This same advice goes for hinges as well. They are frequently replaced for reasons that defy comprehension. I was recently involved with the sale of a very pleasing c. 1938 Tudor Revival that had many of its original details; always a treat to experience something that has been well-maintained and carefully renovated. This happened to be the second time that I offered this house for sale. The first set of sellers had proudly showed off to me the “new” hinges that they had bought for their front door in an attempt to get the house ready for sale.

Period door hardware, P.E. Guerin hardware

Good-looking though they were, these brass hinges in the Eastlake style were a poor fit for their original door. Every time I opened the door, I thought I could hear them exclaiming: “Look at me! I’m old-fashioned! Aren’t I pretty?” I have no stylistic prejudices, but the choice must appropriate to the period in which the house was built. Each part of this house was designed by an architect or builder, and as such, each piece was chosen for its beauty and utility. Every member of it has a role to play in a chorus where all are singing in unison. Adding parts for no reason, or because we think it looks more “updated,” only makes for a discordant note in an otherwise harmonious composition.

One of the greatest works of architecture I have ever experienced was a plantation known as Millford near Pinewood, South Carolina. It is considered one of the finest Greek Revival houses in the United States and is known for its spectacular condition in addition to its fine collection of Duncan Phyfe furniture. While I shall never forget its breathtaking beauty and exquisite composition, my most abiding memory is of its interior door hinges -- robust pieces of hand-cast brass that only had two screws per hinge to affix them to monumental mahogany doors weighing several hundred pounds each. Doing their job admirably for more than 180 years, it’s hard to imagine their being replaced with anything from Home Depot.

You may have good reasons to replace your door hardware, but boredom should not be one of them . . . or just because it seems like an “improvement.” Need something to do? Clean out your closet.

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Supplier of architectural woodwork: stairs, mantels, paneling, wine cellars, furniture, doors & more.

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