Lots of old homes have the mysterious second front door. Some were added in renovations over the years, but others are original.
The explanations for these original double doors are all over the map. Many folks finally give up hope of finding an answer to this architectural mystery, but I have some ideas for you.
If your old house has two front doors, there are a number of reasons. Depending on your home’s style, age, location and size the answer might be different.
Some of the explanations can range a bit on the mythology side, whereas others seem more logical. I’ve included the most likely theories here. Let’s see if we can’t unravel this quirky architectural anomaly once and for all.
Theory #1 Symmetry
Old homes in the Georgian, Adams or Federal styles are built on rigid rules of symmetry. The front facade, especially, must be perfectly symmetrical and sometimes rather than have a single door in the center of the house, two mirror image front doors gave not only a more pleasing design, but added utility. If your house is built in these formal styles from the 1700s to the early 1800s, this might be a likely explanation.
Theory #2 Ventilation
Old houses didn’t have air conditioning and therefore have vastly more windows to help keep the structure cool on muggy summer nights. Many second front doors on homes, particularly Bungalows, lead from the front porch to the master bedroom. This way, couples could open the windows and doors, turn on a couple fans and enjoy a cooling breeze. This design was kind of a poor mans sleeping porch.
Theory #3 Formal vs Everyday
I have the good fortune of having a neighbor who has lived in his house since he was born 90 years ago. And his house has two front doors. So, while researching for this article, I stopped by to ask what his family had used them for. His response was interesting. “Other than Sundays and when my parents had visitors we weren’t allowed to use the [formal] door. We never asked why. That was just the way Mom and Dad wanted it.”
So, apparently some houses reserved the formal entry for special events and visitors. This makes sense in the homes where the second front door leads to a bedroom.
Theory #4 Rooms to Rent
Another theory that makes sense to me was that often these double front doors were to allow the owners to rent out a room if needed. Whether it was for a stranger to help cover household costs, or a young couple just getting started, the two front doors allowed for a bit more separation and privacy. The second front door allowed easy access to a bedroom without disturbing the home’s owners.
What do you think?
I know there are plenty of other theories about why an old home might have two front doors. Maybe you know one that I haven’t heard. It may be that you have access to someone who knows the truth, definitively. I’d love I hear any other ideas in the comments below. Let’s hear your thoughts and try to crowdsource an answer to this architectural mystery.
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146 thoughts on “Why Does My Old House Have Two Front Doors?”
The house I grew up in was built in 1927 in Sacramento, CA. It had two front doors – one on each side of the fireplace. Both doors led into the same room in the house. We only ever used one of the doors but I remember opening the 2nd door, so I know it worked. I feel like “symmetry” seems to be the best answer, although most of the houses in our area did not have 2nd front doors. The newest owners have since boarded up the door and made it more of a window. Too bad.
I hear on TV house Reno shows often ideas and bafflement on the 2 door thing….but I know for sure why a lot of people had 2 doors. My husband was born in an old house built in the 20s…his granny told him that she added that extra door in the 30s to rent out a room to, usually, a single person and give her , the home owner, some sorely needed money during the depression.
Usually these rooms had a bathroom connected to the room, the bathroom having 2 doors…access to the renter and also the home owner. We just bought a Victorian home in Florida and sure enough, you can see where they patched clapboard over what was once a second door on the front of the house…and as always, the room that used to have the door has a bathroom with two locking doors. Renting rooms was really important back then !
Thank you for sharing this with us.
We lived in a two front door house in the 1950s. The house was built in the early 1930s . My mother was in real estate . She told me it was a Dallas city ordnance . Houses built in the 1920s and ‘ 30s were required to have two front doors. I wish I knew how to check this.?
Our house is located at 2527 Cathrine in oak cliff, Dallas county .Texas
Me I’m 88 years old
My great grandfather built a camel back house on Rampart street NOLA. One side was for the parents. The other side was for nanny an the 5 children. House is still there an has never flooded.
Room for Let
Early America was based on Agriculture. This meant migratory workers were always moving from one crop to the next. You’ll notice in old architecture where these homes still stand they were in cropping areas. The home owners would “Room for Let” the extra rooms.
So AirBnb isn’t the first to do it!
Additionally this was common during the westward expansion era.
After a while it just became a common architecture feature. So if your neighbor had one, you’re wife would want your to build yours just the same of course! Back in those days a lot of people just built like the neighbor’s house because plans were often scantly found.
I was told the extra outside door, often to a bedroom, was to make a trip to the outhouse easier, and more discrete.
THEY ARE KNOWN AS “LIFE & DEATH DOORS” – YOU ENTER WITH NEW BORNS AND ARE CARRIED THRU IT THE DAY YOU PASS FROM THIS WORLD…
That’s certainly how some people used them. But that’s more about tradition and local folklore. The doors were often used to move caskets out for a home wake, and so the tradition began for some to do the opposite for a birth. But that’s not their PRIMARY function.
The reason the door was there was way more boring. It was simply an easier way to move large items in and out of the home: hence Caskets going through them. The doors often went straight to the parlor. Not all houses had them, and not all houses needed them, but some houses had tight corners, a lot of walls, ETC…
You had a formal door for guest and a regular door for the ones who lived there. Yes, when you had guest you would greet them through the formal door that goes into the sitting area instead of the dining area. Also yes, the formal door is the door you only use twice in your life. When you are born and when you die. Come out to eastern PA and MD. Alot of homes like that
The front or entry hall door was for guests, the side door, often opening into a dining room (as mine does) or a sitting room was for every day use by the family. Servants would have entered and exited through a rear door. Dining rooms often were also used as a sitting room back in Victorian times. Refer to Photographs of New York Interiors at the Turn of the Century.
Yes, my grandmothers both had double front doors, and one was for the parlor, or sometimes called the “courtin’ parlor”.
I grew up in a bungalow built by my grandfather in 1927. It had two front doors…one into the living room and one into the front bedroom, which was my room. I was always told that my room was called the bachelor’s room and the door gave him access for his comings and goings without disturbing the rest of the family.
I live in a home built in 1901 in Southern Ohio. Our front porch has 4 entry doors. One leads into the kitchen. One into the formal dining room. One into the parlor and one into our master bedroom. I’ve often wondered why there are so many doors.
I just love the two front door homes, I think it was for the gentleman to use the left door to go into the parlor to smoke pipes and cigars, the other door was for the woman to go into the part of the house that led to the kitchen.
The real reason why older homes have two front doors one was used for Births and deaths only, and the other was for coming and going, Your every day use door
Shakers built homes with 2 front doors one for women the other for men
I’m very late to this discussion, but came across the thread because I’m looking to purchase a California 1911 Craftsmen Bungalow with two front doors. Of all the comments here, yours seems to fit best with the house in question. The main/central front door goes to a living room space that is small and has a fireplace and built-in book shelves. Lots of wood there, and a sense of privacy. The second door, positioned to the right of the main door, and slightly smaller in size, goes directly into a long living/dining room combination space that ends at the kitchen door. There is also a large pocket door that can close these two rooms off from each other. So a man could go into his parlor, and his voice (and pipe smoke!) would not reach the kitchen area at all. Haha!
Some of these doors were for getting the casket in and out of the house for at home funerals.
Again, there is no truth to this. These are old wives tales and unsubstantiated myths that still through years of research, many of us curators and historians have yet to find any evidence for. The fact is, it’s could just be a second door going into a room that may have been an office, it could be added later for someone who wanted a direct route out from that room, it could have been a servant door, etc.
Yea they called them death and life doors. They used them in times of birth and death the other door is used as an everyday door.
My great great grand pop wrote about this in a journal. Crazy..
My great grandmother lived in a home that had two doorway’s. She had told the family when asked why the double door’s in front of the house. She said back in the day it originated from the idea that it was superstitious to walk out the same door you walked into. That by walking into a door you came as company to visit and was welcome but turn and leave in the same door in a manner of hostel or hate in any manner of it was to place bad luck on a person. Now I have searched this legend and yet to find it to be so.
You are correct. This is also a myth.
I’m renovating my 1900 farm house and after pulling some old paneling from a front room I found a second door that leads to the original porch or entryway. My friend that’s in construction said that most people years ago had their funerals at their home instead of a funeral home and one door was used as an entrance and the other was the exit for people coming and going.
These comments have really been eye-opening for me. I am a former president of the Sanderson Museum, a history museum in Chadds Ford, on the Brandywine River in south- east PA. A once very heavily Quaker area, the large house museum was built in 1852.
The house is stucco over fieldstone or rubble stone.
It also has 2 front doors. The Chadds Ford Historical Society also once told us it was a “funeral parlor” door.
I’m now inclined to think it was just a more formal parlor for company.
Thank you fellow historians.