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Curb appeal: How to pick the right color and style for your front door

Designer Annie Elliott says the front door reflects a homeowner’s personality. Here are her tips for getting the look just right.

(The Washington Post illustration; iStock)
5 min

D.C.-based designer Annie Elliott knows all about first impressions. It’s an important part of her job, dressing interiors so homes properly reflect the residents. But the designer says the exterior of the home is just as important. Neighbors, passersby, the general public: They all can make judgments based on the condition of your home’s exterior.

Curb appeal sets the tone for your home, and the entryway specifically helps to establish the mood, considering it’s the focal point of your exterior. Door style, paint color, hardware and decorations all work together to create an overall scene.

Here Elliott shares her rules for creating a beautiful entryway, with a focus on the front door.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What can the front door convey about a home’s residents?

It reflects the personality of the people who live there. It telegraphs to the world who you are and what your priorities are.

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You may have a very traditional white Colonial house with black shutters. It’s safe to paint the front door black or navy blue. That says a lot of things about the owner: “I’m just playing it safe. This is a classic house. I respect tradition.” If you paint it pink or bright orange, that says other things, like: “I’m going to have a little fun,” or, “I think there’s more than one way to be classic.” Those are just different interpretations.

How do you choose a paint color for the front door that works with the house?

Choosing a complementary color for your front door always works. (Complementary colors are across from each other on the color wheel.) So if you have a brick house, you can’t go wrong with a blue or green door. (Blue is across from orange, green is across from red.) If you have a yellow house, a violet front door would look nice.

In general, people are pretty conservative about their house colors. It’s a big investment and decision. If your house is white or light gray, you can do any color you want.

The one color I don’t like for a front door is white. … It looks unfinished. You would never have white shutters against a white house. It doesn’t look deliberate or intentional.

Are there color rules for the storm door, too?

This is driven by practicality for me. If your screen or storm door is made of wood, I suggest painting it the same color as the main door. That helps de-emphasize the outer door and keeps the color front and center.

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If you have a metal outer door, though, those are tricky to paint, so I think it’s fine to leave them metal. Ideally, you’ll have white or silver if your front door is a light color and black if the door color is darker. You want the outdoor door to be as inconspicuous as possible.

Should the sidelights be painted, or just the door?

People do it both ways. I usually say, in the interior design world, there is more than one right answer. Usually that is true, but in the case of sidelights, I strongly believe the sidelights should be painted the color of the house trim, especially if the trim is white.

Transoms (or windows) over the top of the door, they are detailed and pretty and intricate. If they are painted dark, you can’t see the detail. By painting the transom and sidelights a light color — matching them to the trim color of the house — it accentuates the pattern. Then it leaves the color to the door. It makes the door itself truly special.

It looks goofy if you paint all the woodwork around the door red and then the woodwork on the other parts of the house is white. It looks careless. But if I only paint the door — and I love that color and I want to use more of that color — in that case, if you have shutters, you can match the shutters to the door.

Are there exceptions to this rule?

Rules are made to be broken. There are two exceptions.

If your door is a stained wood and the sidelights are all stained wood, then that looks fine. It’s all one piece. It’s also okay to have painted sidelights with a stained front door. This is in keeping with my original rule.

The other exception is ironwork. If you have ironwork around your door, both the ironwork and the door can be high-gloss black. Sometimes the door itself is iron with glass behind. Only black — no other color!

How do you pick a front door style that echoes the architectural style of the house? Or does door style not matter?

I think it matters a lot. Any multi-paneled door, like a six-panel door, that’s a very classic door. Those traditional styles are best for traditional houses.

And when you get into modern houses, you need a slab door with no detail at all. It could have a window, but only something very simple and plain.

How do you select the right door hardware?

It’s funny, because you don’t think about hardware until you have to replace it.

Chances are, if your house is super modern, your hardware is going to be some tone of silver. I prefer nickel. (It’s going to age better.) But if your house is super contemporary, you might go with brushed steel, because it’s very slick and cool.

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