Q&A / 

Exterior Door Design: Decorative Glass Doors

There has been a significant shift in exterior door design over the past five years. When I go to the huge International Builders Show each year, the door manufacturers all have their new door designs on display. More and more all you see is decorative glass in the doors. There are several reasons for this. First, they simply look splendid. Second, they allow more light to enter what can often be a dark space. Finally, I believe that the door designers are borrowing from the past. It was common to have glass in doors 100 years ago.

My First Two Houses

The first two homes my wife and I owned both had glass in the entryway. The first house was built in the 1920s and actually had a full lite door. This is a door that has one enormous glass panel approximately 28 inches wide by 6 feet tall! It was plain glass but I suspect it was leaded or decorative glass at one time.

Our second house, built in the early 1900s, had a large front entrance hall outfitted with a large door flanked by glass sidelights on either side of the door. The funny thing was that the door looked out of place. It was a newer wood six panel door. The sidelights had been covered over with wood as well. The previous owner had modified the door for security purposes.

All you had to do was go to the house next door to see what it had looked like originally. The house next door was of similar size and nearly the same design. It had a breathtaking front entrance door. The top half of the front door was leaded glass with full height leaded glass sidelights. The finishing touch was a leaded glass transom window that capped the top of the entire door system.

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It Disappeared

One night all of the leaded glass disappeared. Thieves stole the glass while the homeowner was gone. This happened in the early 1980s amid a huge housing boom in Colorado and California. The homebuyers out there building the fancy houses had an unquenchable thirst for old decorative glass. This thirst was satisfied by thieves who came East and targeted older houses in cities like Cincinnati, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. My neighbor was heartbroken as you can imagine. You can still see his glass. All you have to do is visit someone's house out West.

Turning New Into Old

My current house is just 15 years old, although it looks like a 100 year old house. My wife Kathy designed it and I started building it in 1986. It is a Queen Anne Victorian home. We wanted two windows in our family room to look authentic. These windows are just above the television and stereo cabinets. It was very common in Victorian homes to have wide but short transom windows that were about 5 feet off the floor. My guess is that furniture was placed under them just as we placed our entertainment cabinets. I used standard fixed glass windows with insulated glass, but we had special custom stained and beveled glass inserts made that fit over the factory made glass. The look, as you might imagine, is stunning. Anyone looking at the windows would think that they were indeed 100 years old. The cool thing is that I get the old look but have high performance modern glass to save money on my utility bills!

Artists in Your Town

To get stained or beveled glass made for your home you might not have to look too far. Open your Yellow Pages or your favorite search engine, and see if you can't find stained glass shops. You might be surprised with your search results. Most places will gladly work on custom designs.

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