You can break the rules but you must know you are doing so and why.

Entries should present a memorable aspect of the house.
Guests are ready to learn something about the residence and its occupants when they enter. You must take advantage of this opportunity. Reward them with some exceptional architecture – a special space or detail or view.

Don’t make the guest look up at the owner. The exterior floor should be essentially at the same level as the interior floor. See also the Gerald Ford Rule – don’t make people climb a step and negotiate a door at the same time.

Don’t let the entry be dumb. Inflect towards the guest. For most houses, we know from what direction most guests arrive. The entry should bow towards those guests. Entries that face the street directly often appear dumb – in the technical sense of the word. They do not greet the guest. They do not wink about the knowledgeable architect who knew they were coming. If the house faces south and the guests arrive from the west, the entry needs to somehow acknowledge that fact. This is a way to humanize a home.

Entries should generally be smaller, lower-ceilinged, spaces. We come from the out of doors. The scale of the grandest living room pales before the ceiling height outside. It is good to squeeze people through a low ceilinged and or narrow space and then show them a grand space. The living room can feel grand in comparison to the entry. The entry can feel grand in comparison to the front porch. Squeeze people through a smaller space before presenting a large room.

Entry geometry should always inflect towards the likely path of the guest. The occupants know how to use the house because of repetition. Guests may not. The hall or opening to the living room should be wider than the path to the kitchen. The entry geometry should lean towards the public spaces and away from the private spaces. The front door should open in the way that presents something public and important. It should not open to present the coat closet door.

Front entries and rear entries may be different in that guests or delivery people may be waiting to be allowed in at the front entry. That means there is more need for weather protection at a front entry.

Front doors are often disastrous!

Some houses have a pair of doors. What is that about? Even in California or Florida, I can’t imagine the purpose of a pair of doors. No one ever opens both doors. A front door is usually an important psychological boundary. I can imagine throwing open the pair of french doors between the house and the back yard. Often we want to connect those two spaces. They are both within the family or personal domicile. The front yard, on the other hand, is almost always a somewhat public space. We do not control who is in the front yard. We do control who is in the entry. Double doors at this boundary make no sense. Of course, they make even less sense in a northern climate. They make it relatively impossible to seal the front door even when it is closed (because the second door does not provide the rigid jamb that a wall can.

Because it is the front door, Owners often want to spend some extra money. The American market is overflowing with horrendously designed, very expensive, front doors. These doors almost never have anything to do with the rest of the house. Avoid! An overdesigned (whether well designed or not) front door obviously does not fit. The message is clear. The Owner spent a lot of money (or even worse, spent very little money on a bad fake) with no guidance from the architect. It’s not a good introduction.

This is also an example of the “We don’t hire the designer in Indianapolis” rule. We don’t like to use designed products. We like to use plain materials and arrange them in a unique way. We don’t like tiles and doors and sinks with applied designs. Details and finishes in our houses regularly remind occupants and visitors of the sentient creator in the background. I don’t think store bought design provides this humane wink.

We have collaborated with local craftsmen on many unique wood doors. A simple flush insulated metal door can be punctured and painted or otherwise decorated to make a door that is specific to the Owner at relatively small cost.

Glass in a door is less expensive than a relite. In the north, this glass must always be insulated.

In the north, we use something we call the igloo entry. One enters an igloo by climbing under the edge of the wall and back up into the space. This allows the warm air (the lighter air that tends to rise) to remain inside. We accomplish the same thing in our houses by lowering the entry and placing three risers between the entry and the main floor.

For a variety of reasons, the interior floor is almost always higher than the exterior grade. A “sunken” entry has the added advantage of moving this grade change indoors. One never has to shovel snow off the interior stairs.

In warmer climates a reverse strategy is appropriate. Keep the cool air in the space by raising the entry. This is the corollary to a “sunken living room”. It is also consistent with the strategy of using the entry as a constricting transition between the sky as ceiling and whatever ceiling one provides at the interior spaces.

In both directions a stair near the front door is a dud. In the north a stair to the basement allows the cold air to rush in and down. In the south, the “prom stair”, that grand stair coming from the bedrooms to the entry, empties the upper floor of cooled air whenever the front door is opened.

A stair opening into the entry is also generally the wrong answer in conventionally arranged two story homes. The entry is a transitional space. It is shared with guests and therefore feels partly out of the house. It often has harder floors. It does not make sense to walk through the entry on the way from your bedroom to your kitchen.

Arctic Entry
This is a greeting space with doors at both ends. The strategy is that the interior door is always closed when the exterior door is open, maintaining the thermal enclosure. I am not sure how often the Owners actually open and close all these doors, but we do it anyway. We do try to make sure that the interior door is a pocket door so that in warmer seasons, the door can disappear.

Entry Heating in the North
Entries are a great place for a radiant floor. (More on radiant floors some other day.) Snow and ice get melted and evaporated. It’s a win, win, because this is an excellent source of clean, unpolluted, humidification for the house, too.