Why Does My Old House Have Two Front Doors?

By Scott Sidler • April 29, 2013

Photo credit Scott Sidler
Photo credit Scott Sidler

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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109 thoughts on “Why Does My Old House Have Two Front Doors?”

  1. I live in PA where we have a glut of some of the oldest houses in America…..a few dating back to the late 1600s, and many, many from the 1700s.
    There is only one explanation for the double doors, which was actually in practice by families through the 1950s. That is, when guests arrived, the one door led into the parlor. That was the only room kept in tip-top shape with the nicest furniture where the family never went except to entertain guest. All the other rooms were lived in daily, and because most old homes were on working farms, one would not want guests coming into the lived-in areas of the house. The other door would have led into the main living area.
    Bottom line: One door for guests to the parlor. One door for family with access to the rest of the house.

  2. A second front door was frequently into a bedroom so the man of the house go straight into the bedroom to wash up and change their “work” clothes (especially if they has a blue collar job and we’re dirty and sweaty. The front room was ONLY used on special occasions and held the family’s best furnishings and decor. Mother didn’t want anyone in there and kept it for company.

  3. When we bought our 1951 Dallas home we were told the two front entrances were because ours was a war widow house. The explanation was that in the post-WW2 period there were so many widows due to war casualties that there was a need for houses where a family could provide a room for the widow in their family to live, have their own private entrance, but still be part of the family.
    As my uncle died in WW2 and left a widow behind, I can see how this would have been an advantage.
    There were some similar homes in the neighborhood, not a lot.
    I’m not sure this explanation was technically accurate (I understood it came from the children of the original owner) but I found it touching: the idea of families pulling together after having made such enormous sacrifices.

  4. The home we rent has been owned by the same family since it was built in 1840. It was explained that the house had *three entrances – two still exist in their original locations, and one has been replaced by a built-in bookcase, with the framing still visible as decoration. The owner stated that women entered the home through one door, and men through another. They had separate quarters for socializing. The third door was a formal entrance for mixed company.

  5. We have two front entrances because we live in a factory town and they would rent out the front room to a factory worker for the week. These are called sleeper entrances.. we ghosted one of them when we bought the house because it was damaged and causing our outer wall to cave in.

  6. I cant decide on what i like better ive always known them to be a front door and upstairs door it makes sense that one was the main door for co. And a private door it also makes sense that they were dr.offices and or funeral parlors or for family funerals but i got a kick out of a bf door yea right im not agreeing with that one from the 1800s no way

  7. My first thought was the doors could have been separate entrances to a two-family dwelling, as families did tend to stay very close back in the day.

  8. Our house was built in 1904 and we have two entrances. Our porch is shaped like an “L” .. one of the doors is straight ahead and the other (our main entrance now) is to the left. It is called a “sleeper” entrance, I live in a very old town that had locks. (our name Lockland). The sleeper room would be available for men working on the erie canal and later for men who came down to work in the factories during the depression. Most of them would travel to find work and many houses offered these rooms for a small fee. The workers would stay during the week and sometimes return home on the weekends. They would also hot cot them so day shift would sleep at night and then someone would rent it during the day that worked night shift. Many of the houses have dirt basements and the closets are 9″ deep. The homes in my town are a piece of history and only if they could tell stories. We have houses built from the 1800’s and on, not one house is the same.. except the shotgun houses.

  9. I know in southern homes. The m8ght mave had up to 6 doors leading to outside from one room. I was told on a historical tour that doors were more piratical than windows. Easier to to open than windows. Easier when it came to entertaining.
    Another reason I have found. Is one door the main livingroom door would stay shut in the winter to keep the house warmer. The other opened into the kitchen. That usually stayed warm with all the cooking.

  10. Hi, I live in Texas in one of the first farm houses built in our county. Though there was an addition to the house in 1925, the house has 6 doors leading outside! All the old houses down the road have similar numbers and the old farmers say that yes, it’s for ventilation since it can reach the 100s. The common door placement tho is a door to the kitchen and a door to the living room. The door to living room more formal while the one in the kitchen let’s the hot air escape. And both doors are right next to each other in a corner.

  11. Here’s my two cents. I grew up in Rock Hill, SC which had several mill villages. Two front doors was common in the villages with one leading to a bedroom and one leading to the front room. The one I lived in had 4 rooms in a square with a bathroom in between the two large bedrooms. A porch off one of the back rooms was converted to a kitchen with appliances. I think before that they cooked with a wood stove. I was told by the locals that two doors meant that people working opposite shifts could enter and exit without bothering the other. Could be.

    1. Hi Jane!

      Wow, thanks so much for writing and sharing your input. That’s very fascinating and makes a lot of sense! We love hearing everyone’s thoughts and opinions on all things Historic Preservation and DIY. Happy Holidays!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  12. I agree with the statement, one was for guest, entering the formal room. One was used for everyday entrance. I have one of those homes. My home was built in the 1930’s.. I used the doors in that way. My right door went into the formal, Victorian parlor. The left front door, went into our comfortable den.

    1. This is a perfect example, enter into a formal (show) room. Other enters into a family room.( forgivable mess in polite society)

      And I design homes

    2. I live in the west and grew up in a town with many homes like these mostly 2 story homes with front door on the ground floor and a stairway and landing for the front door on the 2nd floor. These homes were built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
      We were told these were “Polygamist” homes but i have no proof that they are.

    3. We live in a home that was built in 1920. We have a wrap around porch with three front doors. One enters into a formal room, one enters into the family room, and one enters into a bedroom. Our staircase inside also has a door on it. Does anyone else have this? Does anyone know what that may have been for?

      1. I loved in an old family home that had this–a door to stairway. I was told it was because the upstairs was unheated. The door to upstairs was opened in the early evening to get some heat to the bedrooms — even at that it was still quite cold on those open prairie fields.
        This house also had the double front doors off the large front porch, one to a downstairs bedroom; and double back doors off a smaller back porch, one into kitchen and to the stairs leading to full basement. The basement, too, was interesting — half of it finished with masonry and half dirt floors where the mechanicals were located. I loved this old house!

  13. I live on a house built in the early 1940s for 2 single women. At less than 800 SF the house has 2 front doors, 2 back doors, 7 room-to-room doors and 3 closet doors. Holy doors Batman! Both ladies had their own front door, bedroom & kitchen and shared a bathroom and common room.
    I almost feel as if there should be 1 more room-to-room door to balance out every room having 3 points of access.
    The 2nd front door now works great for my home office.

    1. If you are certain the place was designed and built for these lady’s.

      It was common for the designer to be restricted by formality and taboos. Even if it was two sisters or to widowed lady’s, two friends, or a lesbians couple, it would be expected of the person hired to design them a home not to infer that they would be living together. (1940 English speaking taboo in Society)
      In this case
      (The blueprint can offend / insult the owners reputation among there peers even if there peers know their situation)

      1. That is a great point! Though the multiple doors in this case seem quite important for functionality and privacy in such a small layout, they would also provide greater personal autonomy (as planned by the designer, experienced the by the occupants, and perceived by society).

    2. Wow i have often thought that maybe these homes were for different occupants living there. My house also has (had) two front doors and two back doors. It also seems that there were more doors at one point that were just left as openings to the next room or hall because there are signs of hinges once being there.

  14. My grandparents home was built with 2 doors. They said the left one that went into the parlor was for guests. We never were allowed through that door!! The right side entered into a front room that opened into the dining area and kitchen. It kept grandmas parlor clean and ready for company even when she spent her day in the fields.

  15. It’s a shame you can’t attach a photo, here. I’ve been looking for an answer as to a specific house type for years. It’s a story and a half bungalow. The porch is always only one or two steps off the ground, and it’s wide and deep along the front of the whole house. Usually a shed dormer (sometimes with a walkout), but I’ve seen one with a pitched dormer. The front columns are plain round instead of the usual squared or tapered square shapes you see on bungalows. Along the sides and back are either floor to ceiling windows or even French doors. And the interiors are more Victorian, though you can see the Craftsman styles peeking through. The few I’ve seen have been built from 1890 – 1915.

    The best part about it is the front door situation. A middle set front door like any other – usually wood and kind of Craftsman like. But on either side of that, and perfectly symmetrical, are two French doors, one leading into the living area and one leading into the dining area. It’s been my dream home for years, and I’m hoping to put a specific name to it instead of just “bungalow with round columns and French doors” but I’ve researched until my “researcher” is sore and have found nothing.

    Any ideas?

    1. Perhaps a Coffin Door? Coffins needed to be kept horizontal (so the body didn’t slide). If it wasn’t possible to reach the parlor (best room) in this manner due to a staircase or fireplace or other tight corners, then a coffin door was needed. Frequently, it had a second door, interior and exterior. The inner door could be removed to carry the coffin on, or set up as a table to either rest the coffin on or set out food.

      1. There is no truth to coffin doors. This is all urban legend. There is no factual evidence from the period that backs up this silly myth that old people love to tell the young kids. It’s been debunked.

    1. It was considered not proper to take the dead through the door that the living used. Also some where along the way a large window was included in parlors so that people could observe the dead without going into the house.

      1. Again. There is no truth to coffin doors. This is all urban legend. Here is no factual evidence from the period that backs up this silly myth that old people love to tell the young kids. It’s been debunked.

        Yes people has funerals at home but they carried the coffin through the door it would fit. There isn’t one book anywhere from the period that ever describes this door being specifically designed for coffins. It’s all just silly myth that people love telling.

      2. There is no book of etiquette or diaries anywhere that’s state that. IN fact several diaries refer to the casket coming right out the the front door to the carriage. Out of the thousands of historic books and diaries I’ve read this does not exist anywhere.
        The reasons for these double doors are numerous. Some arE described in architectural books As the less formal door into a bedroom. Some are doors for domestic servants which makes much more sense than a silly coffin door which would get used very little. Other times a second door and front when into all lawyers or doctors room

  16. I LOVE LOVE LOVE old houses!!! We purchased a beautiful home built in 1906 that has 3 sets of double doors on the front porch. The one to the left goes into the parlor. It has the original glass windows on both doors and the original doorbell that you crank the knob to ring the bell. The second set are in the middle and go into a large open foyer. They are not as wide but have glass in them as well. These are more ornate and fancier than the other two and there is a beautiful matching window to the right of these doors. The third set go into the dining room. These doors are plain and solid, wider than the other two doors and are hinged in the middle so they swing to one side when opened. I researched and found that a doctor built the home and had his practice there. There wasn’t a funeral home in town at that time, so he also took care of the funerals. The parlor was his office, the middle doors to the foyer were for guests and family and the solid hinged door was for bringing out the caskets. There was also two rooms that are original to the house that had private entrances outside on a rear porch. There were no doors from those rooms to any part of the rest of the house. This, I believe, was for patients that had travelled long distances to see the doctor so they would have somewhere to stay while they were being treated. I guess people back then built their houses to suit their personal and professional needs as well as for symmetry.

  17. Just bought a house in Queens NY that was build in 1961. The two apartments, both have two entrance doors, one leads to the kitchen and the other the living room. I believe, the one in the kitchen, which is smaller, is for family members and the other for formal guests. It would also make sense that if there was a fire in the kitchen, someone could escape through the living room. Still a mystery to me though, that’s the first time I’ve seen this, after 40 years of apartment living in NYC.

  18. What a fascinating discussion that goes on and on for years. Has it been considered that the two front doors may have been constructed as an escape in case of fire? Sounds as if most times one of the doors led into a bedroom which most likely had a second door leading into the living room. I would think it likely a heat source would be located in the living room and, without a second outside door, someone might be trapped inside that bedroom. The Lapham Patterson House in Thomasville, GA is now a museum but was constructed by a man who survived the Chicago fire. Every room in the three-story house has an exit to the outside! So many theories discussed here, but this is my own theory about the main reason for two front doors. That it would be a handy entrance for company, ventilation access, private entrance for roomers were all beneficial, however.

    1. My home is a folk victorian style. It was built in 1900. It has 2 front doors, one opens into the living room, one opens into the dining room. They are at a 45° angle in the corner of the porch. Originally people had deceased at home for viewing instead of a funeral home. You came in one door and left through the other. It was bad manners and baf luck to leave through the same one you entered. Also one door was the formal sitting room/parlor where you would receive guests, the other more for family and everyday use. Another use was back then a lot of people worked from their homes. It was not uncommon at all for a doctor, accountant, seamstress, mayor or other professional to use the formal door and room for their office. So there many correct answers, which is where a lot of the confusion comes from. My home had wood/coal burning stove for heat and wood/coal burning kitchen stove. It had an elaborate cistern system but no indoor bathroom. These homes are fun.

    2. I am 68 years old and my grandparents have long since passed away. There home was built in the mid 1800’s and had a door off of there living room that they never used. I once asked my grandfather why that was the case. He replied that it was a funeral door and it was bad luck to use it. Years and years ago when a family member died the wake and funeral ceremony was held in the home not a funeral home.

  19. Hello, I live in an old mill house that has been in my husband’s family since the 1930’s. The house has two front doors. When I asked his 85 year old Aunt what the extra door is for, she and others have said that in the early days when some one died, they would have a “wake” at their home. The body would be laid out in a casket, I assume, in the formal front room and friends and family could enter in one door to view the body and exit out the doorway leading to the next room and ultimately exit the house via the other front door. So it seems that at least in the south, the extra door was for traffic flow. Also, I was told, like others have commented, that the formal front room was very rarely used. It had the nicest furniture in it and also there was a back to back fireplace that burned coal. My husband said that he had rarely even been aloud to look in the formal front room until he inherited the house a few years back. We are in the process of remodeling the home. I am switching the front rooms around because as it stands, and was tradition, the front room that has immediate access to the rest of the house was used as a bedroom. I don’t want my bedroom being the first thing seen when walking into my home. So, what was once the formal front room, will now be the master bedroom. It is an odd set up, but I appreciate the history of the home.

  20. I was born in a house with two front doors. The house was built in 1933 and like another on the farm, it had two front doors. Many neighbor houses had the same. I think my dad built it that way just because it seemed to be popular, and probably gave no more thought to it. When I was a teenager, one door for my parlor where I supposed to entertain my boyfriends.

  21. I have an 1882 Victorian Folk farm house, balloon construction, in Kansas. It originally did not have a kitchen or indoor plumbing, or electricity, and was heated with 2 potbellied stoves, and it had 2 front doors. I actually remember these doors still being there when I was a kid. (Mid 1970’s.) The 2nd door was considered a formal room door, for guests etc. Our town is small and the homes have all had interesting histories. Growing pains you might say. Part of the reasoning for the 2nd door was for formal entertaining, but it also corresponded with placement of the windows and helped with air flow. We still do not have AC and I can tell you, opening those windows at night makes a huge difference! The house has other quirks in that there are multiple doors to some rooms, like my bedroom having 2 doors, to the living room and one to the stairwell and kitchen. Two of the bedrooms upstairs are connected with a door as well. The one room is fairly large, and the connected room is very small. I thought maybe it might have been a nursery? The area at the top of the stairs is large enough that when we first moved in, we had our living room up there while we did some work on the down stairs.
    I know that a house that was once across the street from me was a boarding house. It didn’t have an indoor bath, but it had an upstairs outside exit. Part of the large room down stairs had been a communal dining room for boarders. So with my house in such proximity, and knowing that it was a late comer to the city limits, I wonder if it was a Dr.’s house with the connected rooms being patient rooms or surgery? The kitchen, bath and laundry room were added on, though part of the kitchen add on may have been a porch that the wall was just opened up more. There is an old well on the property as well. I know that up to the 1960’s it was still working with a hand pump. The meaning of the two front doors just depended on how the family used the house. Quite often it had a practical reason. As for the superstitions attached to that, having some sort of a story for the kids helped keep them busy!

    1. Interesting thoughts I’ve had as well of my house. It has the main entrance, another entrance to the left of the main door to a bedroom, our back door, and another backdoor from the third bedroom. So strange. It may have been some sort of office or business? It was built in the early 1930’s in Tx. This part of this city is known as the older part of the city. Closest to downtown, hence my theories of the house once being a business or multiple family home.

  22. My home was build in the early 1900s. I had the pleasure of the lady who owned it before my family, stopping by to see who lived in it now. She told me that her mother and father lived on one side, and her father’s mother and father lived on the other. They would share a kitchen, off the screened in porch, and bathroom was of course, by use of an outhouse. I loved she came by and told me this. She was born in this home 76 years ago.

  23. My husband and I are in the process of restoring a circa 1865 cottage which was built for the pioneer landowner’s daughter. It was a miniature replica of the main family home , c.1849, which only had one front door down stairs and one door above on the second level.
    The daughter’s cottage has two centered front door frames right next to each other. One is boarded up, we think in the 1920s from renovations for a restroom, and the other door is still in tact and used as the front entry. Originally, the house only had two rooms downstairs and possibly one or two rooms upstairs. There is a single centered door to the upstairs veranda. There was no kitchen or bathroom in the cottage when it was built in 1865.
    This is a very interesting web-site with great comments on the two front door design as we are currently trying to decide whether to restore the two doors or to change to a single centered front door, like the main house, especially since it is
    such a small cottage.
    I know the owner was a close friend to Mariano Vallejo. I do not remember seeing the second front door at Vallejo’s home, as stated by Jen in an earlier comment, so I will stop by to re-examine.
    As of this moment, due to all of the informative & speculative comments about two doors and in the spirit of restoration and preservation, I am leaning towards returning the cottage to two working front doors (as confusing and strange as it will look).
    Tamera

  24. The one side for company wouldn’t work for the area where my place is. It is in the hills and hollers in KY and nearly every older house has them all around there. The houses are small and where people lived generations ago in poverty. Company would not have been an issue to give up their sleeping and living space.

  25. My mother told me her Uncle had a farm in NC and the house had 2 front doors. She said the one to the right lead into the living room and the one on the left was for her uncle to use after farming all day (he was very dirty) and was closer to the wash room. So clean people right, dirty to the left!
    The house I live in was built in 1900 and had 2 front doors. My husband renovated and changed to one in the middle. If it was up to me alone I would have kept both doors!

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