The Dutch Door: A Breath of Fresh Air

Dutch DoorThe Dutch Door has been around since the 17th century. And through the centuries its iconic design has been found in homes across the globe. But this door has a special relationship with the earliest American colonies where it was almost a necessity of colonial home design.

History

This unique piece of architecture became popular in the American colonies of New York and New Jersey, which were originally settled by the Dutch before the English took over. This area still exhibits a strong Dutch influence in its colonial architecture.

The Dutch Door may have been invented in Holland, but its popularity in America was unrivaled. The door solved a very big problem in colonial life. Prior to 1887 when Hannah Harger invented the screen door there was not a good way to allow fresh air into the kitchen and keep the critters out.

At this time America was largely a rural population and most people lived on farms. Barbed wire had yet to be invented either and so many farms had various animals milling about the immediate outside of the house. The dutch door not only allowed fresh air in, but also kept these animals out of the house (along with pests like mice) and kept the children safely within the home. The Dutch Door also allowed for the owner to accept deliveries and have conversations with visitors without permitting access to the house.

Anatomy

Dutch Door HardwareDutch Doors are essentially made up of two independently moving doors (one on top of the other). They require 4 hinges unlike the typical 3 hinges on most doors. The bottom portion contains the doorknob and lock, and the top portion contains a latch to attach the two portions together. When latched together a Dutch Door will perform the same as a traditional door. Often they are found with a “perch” on top of the bottom portion, which is similar to a window sill. And some had windows on top while others did not.

Finding an original Dutch Door today is a real treat because they were made in a time when home building was not yet standardized. The sizes and materials you’re likely to encounter will usually be unique to that particular region giving each door its own individual story.

The Dutch Door is a rare find these days and is a period appropriate addition to most houses built before the 1880s. It harkens back to a different era when people would have a friendly chat with passersby from an open door or set a pie to cool on the top perch of their Dutch Door. And it’s another trend that like the sleeping porch is poised for a revival in today’s home.

Do you have/want a Dutch Door on your home? Comment below and share your story!

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by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and author. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and son Charley.

http://www.austinhomerestorations.com

7 comments

  1. wayne cyr on said:

    Scott I appreciate you enthusiasm and the quality artisanship with in the services that you company provides. Bringing something old and in need of repair back to life is trully a wonderful thing. I hope to be part fo your team.
    Wayne Cyr

  2. You’ll need to consider the functionality and suitability of the styles of exterior Dutch door hardware you would like to buy.

  3. bruce boatwright on said:

    Have you ever seen a glass dutch door, like you would use on a patio? Does such a thing exist or would it be custom built?
    Thanks, enjoyed the web site.
    bruce

    • Never seen a glass one before, but if it can be dreamed I’m sure it can be built.

  4. A friend has an old dutch door, the house seems about 1930 vintage. The bottom section has a narrow crack between the vertical and horizontal pieces (stile and rail?), which may be preventing the lock bar from the top section from seating correctly. Also the quadrant seems sticky.

    The crack doesn’t seem to go more than 1/2 way down the width of the rail. Would epoxy filling of the crack be a reasonable repair?

    Are brass quadrants waxed or oiled as maintenance or just washed off?

    • Phil, for a crack that is causing the door or lock to not seat properly a better repair would be to squeeze some wood glue like Titebond III (which is a waterproof glue, good for outdoors) into the crack and clamp the rail and stile back into place until the glue dries. Filling with epoxy will fix the problem cosmetically but the door will likely continue to split in time.

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