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Why Does My Old House Have Two Front Doors?

Why Does My Old House Have Two Front Doors?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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130 thoughts on “Why Does My Old House Have Two Front Doors?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

    1. I visited my grandparents who lived in the “hills and hollers of Ky” their house had 2 front doors one into the living room and one into the master bedroom. Must of these small farm house consisted of 4 14ft by 14ft rooms in a square my grand pa told me the these house were built by people with very little money. The 2 front doors were for ventilation since a door is was much less expensive to build than windows with glass the 14ft by 14 ft dimension on rooms work out to waste less lumber and roofing materials.

  10. 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!

  11. I live in a 1917 3 flat in Wisconsin where the 2nd and 3rd floor apartments both have two front doors – they meet in a corner of the stairwell instead of being side by side. One opens to the living/dining area that flow together, the other opens into one of only two bedrooms.

    I have been in other 3 unit buildings in the area that also have the same two front doors going to each unit.

    I came across this thread wondering why that would be.

    There is a porch/balcony for each floor that one of the doors is in line with, making me wonder if it is for air flow.

  12. My house and my neighbors house are duplicate designs, built in the late 1930’s. I have a second door, that leads into a sunroom, that then leads into a bedroom. Her house had the second door, but it also had an extra door from the kitchen leading into the back bedroom. We have also believed these extra doorways were for renters to fill the housing need after WWII. I loved reading about all the other functions of a second front door.

  13. In the deep south, frequently the door that opened into a bedroom was where visiting preachers stayed when they were in town.

  14. I had wondered about the two-front-door arrangement for years, and heard many of the possibilities listed here. But one idea seems to make the most sense, to me. Prior to The New Deal and Social Security, many retired persons lived with their children, especially if one was widowed, unless they had other means. The generational-home wasn’t just a necessity, this was NORMAL, think The Waltons, with the older generation playing an important role in the household.

    So, why a second front door? Dignity and respectability. To be independent, to come and go as they pleased, without disturbing the rest of the family, and to receive guests at their own front door. Then with later housing shortages and renting rooms, or a desire to operate a home office or business, these extra front-doors came in handy.

    Incidentally, the second “front-door” on my craftsman was just inside the back porch which was inset into the house, and technically located on the side of the house, which was built on a corner lot. That area had it’s own gate, walkway, and stoop. Upon entering the “back door” one could go to the service door to the kitchen, or a door that would’ve led to basement stairs, or to the entry door that led to a bedroom. I believe it was arranged this way because my house was designed with the living and dining rooms at the front of the house, and the three bedrooms are behind them and the kitchen. Sometime in the past the porch was opened up to the kitchen, but the door from the kitchen to the back bedroom retained it’s exterior-style back door.

  15. All of the reasons for a two door front entrance sound reasonable. My home which is located in the LaVaca historic district of downtown (built in 1892) San Antonio has two front doors; one into the main hallway and one into the living room. I always thought the second door going into the front room was so I could watch football games from my porch. It’s was foresight of the builder. Just saying.

  16. Wow, this is a longstanding discussion! The first house I lived in in Knoxville was a Barber Victorian with two front doors, but they were not side-by-side. The footprint of the house had one bedroom more forward than the rest of the house. So the front of the house was more of an L. One front door faced the street, and the other front door was perpendicular to it on the master bedroom wall. By its design, it’s totally logical that my house was built that way for ventilation or for a parlor entrance, if that room had once been a parlor and not a bedroom. There was a fireplace, but it was one of the fancy, tiny ones that was more likely for coal than wood. Might there just be a wide range of reasons for two front doors instead of just one universal reason?

  17. We have 2 historic homes. One built in 1894 has 3 entries in the front, the other 1840s has 2 entries in the front. The one in 1894 was a “pattern book” house, the plans included that right at the start, I believe for ventillation and for ease in allowing for various events in the house. Rooms had different purposes back in those times then we have them now. For example, the place we call the kitchen now was not the kitchen in the 1890s. The 1840s house had an addition put on it in 1915 and they added a front door. I guess because they wanted to and perhaps to make the house look more symmetrical perhaps, just a guess.

  18. An older gentleman in TX told me those houses with two front doors built during WWII were so you could get out of the house quick if a bomb fell!

  19. My home was built in the 1860’s in Michigan and had two front doors when it was built. They seem to correspond more to weather than commerce or funerary arrangements – although that might have been an added benefit. There is a southwest/Winter parlor that had the chimney for the stove. The Winter parlor was smaller and easier to heat and keep warm by closing off the Summer Parlor on the northwest end of the house. My mom said lots of houses where she grew up in Illinois had this feature as well. Those were mostly owned by Dutch families.

    Our house had a big renovation in the 1890’s when they added the kitchen and the 1930’s when they removed the two front doors and added a vestibule and Federal styling to the front of the house. Prior to that I believe it must have had more Gothic styling as the end gables have pointed attic windows and the 4 over 4 windows have small hood details. She’s a lovely old lady but she’s wearing a lot of styles.

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