Starting at the front door!

When I arrive at a client’s house for the first time, I take a big breath to stifle my nerves and then I don my hyper-observant, leave-no-less-than-ideal-items-unnoticed lenses. (They just happen to look like the same prescription glasses I was wearing when I pulled up, so no one is the wiser.)


Via Claffisica
From the property line, forward, I try to take it all in. Even if some items are not in the budget to be improved upon, I’m madly redesigning the mailbox, replacing the asphalt driveway with cut stone, and—quite often—mentally repainting the front door. Here’s why.
You are Home TDC
Via Thrifty Decor Chic
The 90s, (and their siblings, the 80s), called and they want their wood doors back. Even here in stylish Santa Barbara where the townhouses are tony, there are far too many Golden Oak stained front doors–plain or with a leaded glass oval in the center or demilune at top, paired with–what else?–brass  hardware. (Yeah, I know. Brass is back, but more on that later.) And they could look so much better. So easily. With a bit of black-ish paint.
Oak front doorYeah doors, we’re talking about you.
I try to go back in time to a florescent-lit Home Depot aisle in 1992, and wonder if the thought was, “Real wood is natural and beautiful. Why cover it with paint?” And that totally makes sense—if the answer wasn’t, “Because real wood makes a much better tabletop, floor, or rustic plank wall feature than it does a door—especially one paired with leaded glass.” (Caveat: Spanish doors are the exception and look best with stained wood in almost every case I can think of.)
Black door with demilune
Via The Decorologist
Side note: Funny how these days people pay big money for things to look chippy, rusted and beyond “gently used” when in eras past poor people were saddled with them because they couldn’t afford to replace them. Back then, a smooth stained and finished front door with a leaded glass window and a brass handle so shiny it resembled gold would make you look like you had arrived. Now it just makes you look like you’ve arrived at a dated front door.
One King's Lane Dresser
This dresser used to say you couldn’t afford another one. Now it say you can afford $2,999.00 at One King’s Lane.
Three, two, one…and we’re back on topic.  So when we arrived at the Open House for the house that is now our home and I saw the front door was goldeny oaky with a leaded demilune at top, my first thought was, “Bleck.” My second thought was, “I know how to make it better!”
Front Door BeforeOur door, before.
It was the very first home project we tackled.  Because, don’t we all know good design begins at the front door? (And sometimes at the base of the driveway which is why I say we also need a new mailbox.)
JB was kind enough to remove the door and prep it for me by covering the glass and hinges with painter’s tape.
Front Door duringPrepping the beast.
And so the transformation began.
Up until recently, if I were espousing my fondness for door transformation with a swift coat (or two) of paint, in the next breath I’d add, “Choose black.”
Thank goodness the day before I painted our door, a design mentor of mine suggested, “Add a drop of white to make it a very dark charcoal. It’s softer than black and will make your door stand out from all the other black doors out there.”
Front door almostAlmost there…

And was she right? A resounding, “Yes!”  Black doors have become kind of A Thing and that wee bit of white (around 1/3 cup white per gallon of black) made for a softer, and less ubiquitous color.

Front Door BeforeOne more time. Our door before.

Front Door After
And after!*
*Try to ignore the the weird “spilled makeup” esque colorant the former owners used to stain the walkway. We’re still brainstorming what to do about that.
Funny story: our door turned out to be plastic, not wood. But the same designer friend had just turned me onto PPG True Finish  paint which apparently she has used to paint on Formica counters with good results. Now I haven’t, so I’m not recommending it until I’ve tried it myself. Just sayin’ this stuff offered great coverage for a plastic door when I was a bit concerned about how paint would adhere to plastic. So far, no problems!
Benjamin Moore black door
Via Benjamin Moore
I crossed my fingers that it was okay to skip sanding and just start painting. (It was.) After JB had done the hard part of removing the door and using painter’s tape to tape off the edges of the window, it was only fair that I dealt with the stinky part (that paint just smelled extra toxic than most, but also dried incredibly quickly, which was perhaps part of the toxic trade-off) and messy part of painting.
Charlton House black doorRichard Smith

Two, fast-drying coats later and that door was ready for re-installation. But we still needed a peephole.

I recently asked my carpenter what height he recommends for peepholes. His answer? “5′ from the bottom of the door, or eye level.”  Well JB is 6’2″ and I’m 5’7″ so whose “eye level” are we talking about? After a bit of a debate, we decided  5′ 3″ was a fair compromise but not before I said, “What about when we have kids? How will they see out?” This was the logical resolution:  if our kids aren’t tall enough to see out the peephole, they aren’t old enough to be left home alone to answer the door. Not to mention step stools have been invented.  So 5′ 3″ it was.

Black door lion head knockerOoh la la. Now we just need to add one of these!
We could tell our door was brand new which made me chuckle that the previous owners might have had this conversation: “You know what we need to sell this house? New wall-to-wall flesh toned carpet to match the newly flesh tone painted walls and a new plastic front door. With a demilune window!” However, I must say they were of-the-moment to pick oil rubbed bronze door hardware.
Problem is, ORB hardware fades to the background and all but disappears on our nearly black door. Now that old bronze stuff I’ve been convincing clients to update over the years, is not only of THIS VERY moment—perhaps even a tad in the future—but it looks AMAZING against black. Kinda like how a jeweler shows off his silver and gold against a black velvet backdrop. Even though ORB  gets a bit lost on the near black we chose, we’re going to keep it because 1) it matches the finish on the address numerals and the outdoor light fixture hanging on the adjacent wall and 2) we plan to have ORB knobs in the rest of the house and there’s something to be said for consistency.
Black front door with arch
Via Shelterness
If you happen to have a leaded window in your door, painting the door black or dark grey is a great way to make the blackish/grey color of the leading tie in like they were made for each other.
Now I love our door’s leaded glass which I hated before. It adds much needed light into the entry and is an interesting feature of the door. I’m actually glad it’s there.
Have you transformed a door with black/dark grey paint? I’d be happy to hear about it!
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