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

  1. We bought a very old house on a farm. It has two equal doors in the front. When we first saw the house, elderly owners had one of those front rooms as a parlor with ornate and very nice furniture. The other was a family room.

    1. That,s exactly what I was told when we bought a old farm house in 1978. We still live there left the two doors alone and get complements all summer long from people who remember these homes. I was 26 then I will be 68 next week. Love this old house.We still use the original spring on the farm across the hill that is piped into the house since the 20,s no filters used for everything. The old farmer who sold us the house took me up to the headwaters of the spring, lifted a rock and showed me a black and white salamander. Told us as long as they live there the water is good. Salamander still lives there and the water always tests good.

  2. we were told when we bought this old log house circa 1850…that Germans who built a lot of them in this general area were very superstitious….it was traditional to have one door to go into the house, one to leave even if they were really close to each other

  3. The story oldtimers tell me about my two doors is that the other door to the bedroom was for the doctor, as during the time of the great influenza the front room was for quarantine. My house was built on 1919.

  4. My understanding is that one door is often a bit wider than the first; that’s because that door was the funeral door. When funerals were held at home, some homes had a second door that led directly to the parlor. It was a bit wider to accommodate the coffin. People would arrive for the funeral through the standard door and leave through the funeral door. After the service, the deceased was carried through it feet first.

    1. I thought the 2nd door after the front making a small room was for a kind of climate control.
      To keep the elements like harsh wind from disturbing the home and probably keeping the heat inside without losing as much when the door opened.

  5. 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.

    1. We bought a very old house on a farm. It has two equal doors in the front. When we first saw the house, elderly owners had one of those front rooms as a parlor with ornate and very nice furniture. The other was a family room.

  6. 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.

    1. This is the only explanation that makes sense in my Grandparents house which was a small 3 bedroom farm bungalow built in the 1940’s. My Grandfather built the house, himself, and was a farmer who could get quite dirty working the farm. My Grandmother reserved the Livingroom for company, gatherings, and special occasions. They were not superstitious at all and were rather practical. Thinking about this explanation and the layout of the house, my Granddad could enter the home, through the master bedroom, go to the bathroom then into the main part of the home after cleanup and before dinner. This makes the most sense for them, the way they used their house in rural South Georgia during the 1940’s.

  7. 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.

    1. I was told two front doors were for funerals so you come in one door and circle out the 2nd door during viewing

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

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