I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point over the course of this past winter the front door to my building went from looking acceptable to looking downright shabby. The building is perched on a hill next to Boston Harbor, and it gets pretty windy in these parts – every winter the front door is battered with snow and ice, and years of this wintry abuse has taken its toll on the door’s paint job. It’s worn down to the primer coat in places, and the paint around the inset panels is chipped and peeling. The surrounding side lights and transom window aren’t in much better shape.
The front door provides visitors and passersby with their first impression of the building, so I think it’s important to keep it looking decent. And of course some regular maintenance will go a long way toward preventing costly repairs down the road. With this in mind, I volunteered to repair, repaint, and generally spruce up the front door and surrounding trim. Here’s what needs to be done:
- The transom window needs to be reglazed. I’ll remove all of the old, cracked and failing glazing putty from around each glass pane, prime the wood dividers, and apply new glazing putty. I have some glazing experience – I spot reglazed the salvaged french door I used between the dining room and living room last year – so hopefully this part goes smoothly.
- Scrape/strip all of the peeling paint from the door and trim. I did a quick lead paint test on the door and trim, and, interestingly, the test was negative. There’s only one or two coats of paint on the door and trim, which suggests that it was completely replaced within the past 20 or 30 years. But the fact that there’s no lead paint here means that I’m free to scrape off the peeling paint rather than use a wet stripping method, which will make my job much easier.
- Prime everything. I’ll use a shellac-based primer to spot prime any knots or stains. The new glazing putty will need to be primed with an oil-based primer, and I’ll use an all-purpose exterior primer for everything else.
- Caulk all of the joints and seams in the trim.
- The hinges on the door are really rusty, so I’ll remove them, prime them with Rustoleum rusty metal primer, and spray paint them black.
- Paint everything
The only thing left to decide is paint color. As long as I don’t choose anything too weird, my neighbors don’t have strong feelings about the front door color. The giant, sandstone portico surrounding the front door is painted a medium blue-gray. It matches the sills and lintels around the building’s windows, and I have no plans to repaint it. So I’d like to find a color that complements the portico. My first thought was to paint the door and trim a glossy, formal black, or a dark navy, but I couldn’t quite picture how it would look. So this past weekend Mara and I headed across the harbor to Boston’s South End for some inspiration.
The South End is the largest Victorian brick row house district in the country. It’s made up of block upon block of impeccably restored row houses that were built at around the same time as my building in the mid to late 19th century. And many of the row houses in the South End are built in a very similar style to my building, with bow fronts and some Greek Revival architectural elements. It seemed like a good place to check out a variety of different front door colors that might suit my building. So let’s check out some doors, shall we?
A brightly colored door like this turquoise door looks great with white trim, but I don’t think it would be right for my building.
Unlike my building’s front door, most of the doors we saw were double doors without a lot of surrounding trim. This single red door with side lights and a transom was the most similar door we saw. The door and trim are painted different colors, which made me wonder if I should keep the door and trim different colors on my building as well. Also, I think we may need a planter of some sort by the front door for flowers and/or a little topiary thing.
Seeing all of these nicely restored entranceways reinforced the fact that my front door is looking pretty crappy. But it also made me even more unsure of what color to paint the door.
Finally, here’s a photo of a row house just down the street from my building in East Boston, taken soon after it was built. This building is very similar to mine and was probably built at around the same time. Obviously, the photo is black and white, so it’s impossible to tell what colors were used, but it looks like the front door was painted a dark color, possibly black, which makes me think I should stick with a dark color for my front door. I’m currently leaning toward a dark navy door but I’m still not sure whether I should paint the surrounding trim a different color. So I’m officially soliciting opinions – what color should I paint my front door?