Spice up the curb appeal on most American homes and you’ll likely add a few architectural details and lots of ornamentation. But spruce up the front elevation of a mid-century modern home and a different rule applies: the simpler, the better.
“If you drive down a residential street built in the 1980s and early ‘90s, you’re faced with a row of garage doors, which isn’t very attractive,” says Bay Area architect John Klopf of Klopf Architecture. “In the case of the Eichlers, the garage doors are covered with the same siding as the rest of the home, and the intent was to blend those doors into one seamless surface. They were not intended to stand out.”
In Eichler developments, not unlike other mid-century modern neighborhoods, since the front entry door and garage doors cover 30 to 50 percent of the front elevation, they have astrong impact on streetscape presentation. Even though doors were originally envisioned as plain and undecorated signature features of the Eichler design, they oftentimes are the first place homeowners turn when they want to address their home’s curb appeal.
“Mid-century modern homes are about simple, clean lines,” says Michael Tauber, who heads Michael Tauber Architecture, based in San Francisco. “Each element is simple—the wall planes, the roof beams, the walls of glass. They all have their place. This applies to the front door and the garage doors as well.”
Doors must be tough enough to withstand the wind, rain, scorching sun, and would-be intruders, yet stylish enough to make a good first impression. As their home’s original doors crack, warp, and get brittle over time, and hardware breaks down, MCM homeowners find themselves at the crossroad of deciding how to repair or replace their doors without damaging their home’s innate aesthetics.
“The beauty of a mid-century modern home is their simple and straightforward use of materials, whether it is the exposed beam ceilings, the walls of glass, or the concrete wall blocks,” Tauber says. “The garage and the front doors are the first things that people encounter about a home, and they’re part of that equation. Keeping it simple and modern stays within the idiom and style of the home, making the house look and feel complete.”
If your front entry door has seen better days, the easiest fix, assuming repair is still an option, is to renew what’s there. Since front door repair is a relatively small project, most general contractors are not inclined to take on the job unless it’s tied to a larger one. Instead, you may want to consider a specialty contractor or a handyman, or try doing it yourself.
Home-improvement contractor John Wilcox, who takes on smaller projects through his company Bay Area Siding Repair, points out that full replacement of an original front door with a new painted one is a two-day job. His company’s price ($1,000-$1,500 range) includes gutting the old door, purchasing a new plain solid-core wood door and post, basic hardware, installation, and paint. A pop of color—with no other added flourishment—and perhaps a new doorknob and escutcheon plate represent the only visual flair the door needs.
“The benefit of upgrading the door is that you can add things that weren’t available on the originals, like peepholes,” Wilcox says. “Over time, the door post gets loose, so this is an opportunity to also go in and replace it.”
If you want an exact match for your original entry door, try lumberyards like Southern Lumber in San Jose. At Southern Lumber, for instance, you can bring in your original door, and for nominal fee ($160, including door), a shop worker will cut and drill a replacement door to fit your existing framework and hardware. Otherwise, for do-it-yourselfers, a simple paint-grade, solid-core exterior door will cost as low as $54 from Home Depot.
Door hardware also fails over time. There was a trend in the 1950s and ‘60s to decorate modern doors with large geometric plates, called escutcheons, which were placed behind the doorknob and crafted in circular, diamond, square, star, and crosshair shapes.