House & Home

Curb Appeal Starts at Your Front Door

Whether you are selling your home or just want to update its tired look, that first impression your home gives from the street or sidewalk—its curb appeal—is key to how your house is perceived.

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Whether you are selling your home or just want to update its tired look, that first impression your home gives from the street or sidewalk—its curb appeal—is key to how your house is perceived. And at the very center of curb appeal is your front door and the area around it. It's where you welcome the world to your home, and it sets the tone for your entire house. The good news is that upgrading the impression your front door gives the world can be accomplished for as little as a few hundred dollars. It's really a matter of dressing up what you have with some strategic replacements and additions.

Renewing the Finish

Front doors take a lot of abuse both from use and weather—in particular, the harmful ultraviolet rays in sunshine. A wood front door will need a new paint job every five years or so to look its best. If it's stained and varnished, it will need attention more frequently. Like any paint job, a front door will only look great if you put in the prep time and use top quality paint: Thoroughly sand down the existing finish, brush on a primer, and follow with two thin top coats, while sanding in between each application. The same general routine applies to varnish, although it is even more important to be careful of brush marks and to paint in temperate weather with the door in complete shade. Consider color carefully-your front door is a great place to express a little personality with a strong primary color, as long as it still works with shutters, trim, siding colors and other aspects of your house.

Kick Plate

Typically brass and attached with small brass screws, this finished piece of sheet metal offers protecting against scuff marks and really dresses up the door. It is attached to the lower portion of the door and runs with an inch or so of the bottom and sides. Typical sizes for a 36-inch front door are 6 in. x 34 in. and 8 in. x 34 in. Kick plates range in price from under $20 to more than $50; look for solid brass that's as thick as possible and protected with a clear finish with lifetime protection against tarnishing and corrosion.

Lockset Upgrade

This is the most expensive piece of hardware on or around your door because of its role in security, but these days it also offers a wide range of handsome aesthetic choices. The term lockset refers to a door handle and lock, which can be combined in a number of ways: a handle with a keyed lock, a door handle and lock with a separate deadbolt, and a handle and deadbolt that are connected visually and mechanically. Door handle styles include a "D" handle, a round handle that you grasp, and a lever handle. It's important to pick a lock that offers the degree of security you need. Once that is satisfied, take some time to pick the look that will make the best statement on your front door. You'll see lots of new finishes—satin nickel, hand-rubbed pewter, and hand-rubbed bronze—as well as bright brass. Prices range from less than $50 to $300 and more depending on the security rating of the lock, the quality of the materials, the design, and the finish. Typically, you can replace a new lock in the edge and face holes already drilled in the door.

New Light Fixture

Most porches and entries have had their light fixtures for decades. There are lots of choices under $100 at home centers; higher quality fixtures can easily double the price. If you want a real conversation piece and it will fit with the architecture of your home, consider a hand-crafted fixture in iron or copper. You will probably want to match the finish of your lockset, and make sure to pick a size that's in scale with the other elements around your front door. Light output is also important: You want to have a well-lit area without creating an annoying beacon for the neighborhood. Your front lights should also create as little shadow as possible when visitors are standing at the door; often smaller fixtures on either side of the door or a pendant light hung from the porch or entry ceiling is a good choice. Replacing an old light fixture with a new one is very simple—just remember to flip the circuit breaker that controls the light to off and to use a tester to be sure.

Upgrade Your Doorbell Button

Because doorbell buttons are sold separately from the chimes they actuate, it's easy to upgrade this decorative feature and will cost you from $5 to $25. Hand cast versions and converted antique doorbell buttons and escutcheons run considerable more. Again, match the style of your home and the finish of the other hardware elements on your door. Installation is very straightforward and either involves low-voltage wiring (two wires) or none at all (wireless chimes).

Or Consider a Door Knocker

Depending on how you like visitors to announce themselves, you might want to consider a door knocker for the handsome authority they bring to a door. Most are die cast and brass plated in traditional styling with a finish that will keep them from tarnishing, but there are some very attractive, solid-brass, hand cast versions that carry out nature themes as well. Prices range from as little as $10 for a flea market find to $250 for unique castings; home center versions typically run less than $5 up to $20.

Mail Box or Slot

Even if the mail is only delivered to your mailbox out on the curb these days, a flush-mounted mail box or a mail slot have a traditional appeal and can be a convenient way for neighbors to leave things for you when you're not home. Mailboxes, which are attached directly to the wall or siding, range in price from a few dollars for a thin sheet metal version to several hundred for a detailed architectural casting. Style and quality differences are obvious. Mail slots are available at architectural salvage yards in solid brass, and in at the home center in a brass- or nickel-plated version for under $20. Mail slots do require you to cut a hold in the door or wall, and they don't promote good energy efficiency.

Add House Numbers

This is another way to put some gilt on the lily and serve a practical purpose. Thin brass or nickel house numbers can run under $5 a piece; thicker examples can double or more in price. These are typically screwed to the wall with small matching that are included, but numbers "plaques" are also available that frame the numbers in a matching metal.

Replace Door Trim

Many homes built in the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's have door trim-inside and out-that is very ordinary and looks like most of the other houses in the neighborhood. Carefully prying this door surround (the technical name is door casing) and replacing it with something more decorative is a way to alter the look of your entry area dramatically. Options range from fluted pilasters (wide vertical trim that looks like square columns) to keyed arches. You do have to be careful not to get too carried away or you can end up with a style that doesn't work with your home or existing front door style. However, don't limit yourself to wood trim; some of the most impressive looks are achieved in urethane and PVC. These materials have the advantage of being very stable, are unattractive to wood-eating pests, and can't rot. These are also as easy to work with as wood. Replacing door trim does require some moderate carpentry skills or a careful handyman. The materials range from $75 to $250.

Other Effective "Curb Appeal" Upgrades

Although you wouldn't want to add all of these elements to your front door or the area around it, renewing your door itself and enhancing it with some of the features can make a big difference. But if you're on a roll and looking for a bigger change, you don't have to stop there. You might also want to consider landscaping changes like replacing old, monolithic foundation plantings with some more exciting shrubbery and ground cover, or changing the direction and materials of the path to your front door.

But if you just want to keep it simple, consider:
  • Adding landscape lighting along your front walk
  • Replacing your mailbox or lamp post with something that has more style
  • And of course, don't forget a new welcome mat in front of the door