Thursday, August 04, 2005

Who Needs a Front Door?

Top of the Morning to ye.

Who Needs a Front Door?

You do, I assure you.

I’ve lambasted the snout house in this space before, while trying to make some sense of the forces that create it. And the A Number One reason I don’t care for the genre is that they don’t have a front door.

I use the term “Front Door” because it is a handy shorthand for the most prominent entry in a house. In a snout house, the garage door is made into the front door, ostensibly because we worship “truth” here in the States, and the truth is we arrive home by car more times than not by a large margin, so why not acknowledge it?

A. Because it’s ugly

B. Because the truth ain’t true- you haven’t arrived yet when you’re sitting in your car in the garage.

C. Because everything needs a head, or it’s visually disorienting.

Can we please take “A” as a given, and not waste time explaining it? Maybe not. People in snout houses have the same pride of ownership and regard for their dwelling as everybody else. It’s not a heresy trial here, we seek to persuade, not shout down the apostate. They just don’t think the front door is important, and don’t miss it.

Well, look at it as you may, the garage is a utility structure. Barns are utility structures. Outhouses are utility structures. Gardening sheds, even Playhouses are utility structures of a kind, and no-one thinks they can’t be picturesque, or at least presentable and appropriate in the landscape. So why beef about garages? They’re just stables for horsepower, instead of the horse power that used to be in them.

Would you nail your house onto the butt end of an outhouse? Or a barn? Or a shed? I didn’t think so. It’s not the primary occupation of the home to shelter automobiles, and to place the garage front and center is to place the human occupants lower on the domestic totem poles than the cars. That’s what makes the home visually disorienting to the passerby, as well. It shows no way for the human to enter. It confuses the viewer by offering no visual clue of the purpose of the structure but one: Park the cars indoors. And so it makes the street a forbidding scene for people, and discourages the very IDEA of approaching the occupants. And it’s the idea that matters here, not the practicality. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Cable Guy will still interrupt your dinner. Your forbidding streetscape emits a vibe to the passerby that says: No people here.

If you take a sort of Omega Man delight in looking fortresslike on the streetside, you’re fooling yourself. You’re only weeding out the nice people. The people committed to annoying you will find the entry door the designer hid around the side, or worse, knowing that you ignore that too, will walk around back to your sliding glass doors and surprise you.

You are prepared for a surprise visit from anybody 24/7, right? I was just wondering what that mirror next to the front door used to be for, the one you looked in before you opened the door. I guess people in snout houses get up early, and never hang around their houses in their pajamas.

The front door has become mostly ceremonial, it’s true. But that ceremony is important, no matter how diminished the frequency of use is. The home is a manifestation of the highest form of human cooperation, the family, and it deserves to have a way for visitors to the home to approach it, and its occupants, properly. The front door is the star on the map that says: “You are here.” It’s good manners to display one, even to the people who never ring your doorbell. It is a visual as well as practical detail.

B. There’s a kind of infantile logic afoot in the world that’s as old as the Apple. The fruit in the garden, not the computer. It consists of mistaking correlation for causation, or makes a puerile observation about a minor detail and claims it proves or disproves the whole thing. And the argument, such as it is, is followed up with a “talk to the hand” gesture. Case closed, because I said so.

Well, the lament you hear, followed by “talk to the hand,” is that the house is for the occupants, and the occupants enter through the garage, so snout houses are fine, and did I mention talk to the hand earlier?

You haven’t entered the house yet. You’re still in the garage.

So the whole house of logical cards is built on sand, to mix the metaphor. What’s missing is the realization that the snout house occupants enter it every day like burglars, or hired help.

The garage is grim inside. You get home from work, and the first thing you see is the weedwacker, and the trash you forgot to place on the curb yesterday, but now you can’t see it any more because the door closer light winks off, and you’re fumbling with your keys, and you dropped your briefcase on your toe, and Ow! I cracked my shin on my kid’s broken bike that we can’t hang on the hooks we got for it because I ran it over in the darkened garage yesterday, and the frame is bent.

Elegant huh? This is the real “truth” in the snout house entry. And in a Northern clime, you’re freezing your patoot the whole time you’re fumbling with those belongings.

And when you finally get inside, what do you get? You’re in a grim hallway, no sense of entry, a utility area most likely, piles of laundry, the coats and bookbags your kids shrugged off right on the floor. No wonder you head for the liquor cabinet first.

C. Let’s reshuffle the deck, and get a better hand.

If at all possible, the home needs three entries, if you ask me. Since you read this far, I assume you’re asking me, anyway: Formal, Casual, Utility. The garage door is the utility one, in my little world, by the way.

Put the garage to the side, or in the back, or attached to the house with a passageway. A driveway to a garage behind the house, with a port cochere roof over a side entry is nice. Your children can play in the driveway when they need a hard surface, instead of the street. You can have a roof over you head if you’re unloading groceries and such into the house. The side entry can be the defacto, casual, everyday entry for the occupants, and you can trail your hands along the tall phlox or whatever you have along the short path to the house from the garage. Ah, that’s better.

Have this side entry be a decompression chamber from outside, the outside which is the decompression chamber from the garage, with a place both inside and out to place a parcel for a moment, while you’re in out of the weather. The coat closet is just inside here, of course, but it’s not grim spot, it has a little bench to sit on, and a window that shows late evening sun, if you’ve got it, and it welcomes you home like part of the family, not a scullery maid or dustman. If the weather’s really beastly for a good part of the year where you live, the decompression from travel and the exiting the vehicle to the house can be accomplished entirely enclosed or under cover, of course. But you can do it.

The front, ceremonial door, the one you take your kid’s pictures in front of in their Easter dresses and suits, the one you invite your colleagues from work to approach when they come over for a Christmas fete, the one the paperboy approaches when he’s “collecting” if they still do that, the one the trick-or-treaters can see to approach, is there to show the world that even though your house wears sneakers most days, you have wing tips in the closet, as it were. Or Prada pumps, or whatever.
Beware Home Depot

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