Open the door on color by painting your front door
April 9, 2013 12:00 PM
Lemon yellow door.
Lilac and green trim.
Contemporary door in 'Dr. Who' blue.
Mackenzie Carpenter's front door.
Red door pops.
Purple and iron filigree.
Sometimes white is right.
By Mackenzie Carpenter Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
What does your front door say about you?
Creative? Elegant? Exuberant? Colorful?
Now that temperatures are finally warming up, it's time to paint away the gloomy winter. Why not use your exterior entry to say something about your interior? Dispense with same-old, same-old brown, black, gray or dingy white and cover your doors in gleaming cherry red, "Dr. Who" blue, grass green, daffodil yellow and every color in between.
So how about it, Pittsburgh? Dubliners have done it for centuries. Our weather is just as gloomy as Ireland's and we all could use a lift.
When I recently moved into a 1906 half-duplex -- charming and full of light on the inside, gloomy mustard brown brick on the outside -- I remembered the doors I'd seen in Ireland. There's actually a poster, "The Doors of Dublin," a vivid collage of that city's crayon-box-colored doors that first appeared in 1970, around St. Patrick's Day, in the window of the Irish tourism offices on Fifth Avenue in New York City. It became a potent tourism marketing tool. Demand for copies of the poster was immediate, and it's still on sale today, while Dublin's doors play a starring role in tours of the city.
While I don't live in an 18th-century Georgian mansion on Merrion Square, I realized I could do something more cheerful with my front door than what was already there -- an iron gray that perfectly matched the December sky above. So I went to Home Depot, looked around, and saw THE color: "Retro Avocado." Over the course of two weekends, I painted my own front door.
I am not sure what all my neighbors think, but I received compliments from two of them, including the nice woman who lives directly across the street and has to look at my door every day.
That got me to thinking: Why can't Pittsburghers go a little brighter when it comes to the front stoop? We seem to shy away from color, even though there are posters for sale online dubbed "The Doors of Pittsburgh" and "The Doors of Allegheny City." They're pretty, but less about color and more about the variety of shapes and designs in our historic houses.
Indeed, a recent inspection of the city's neighborhoods turned up a shockingly low number of brightly painted doors: almost none in Squirrel Hill and the South Side; a handful in Shadyside (including one set of double doors in a shocking pink) and about two or three dozen -- mostly purple or orange, go figure -- on the North Side, mostly on the Mexican War Streets.
Surprisingly, in Manchester, with its elaborately restored houses, nary a colored door could be found, although homeowners were adventurous with bright door "surrounds," pilasters, columns and scrollwork. And certainly, we Pittsburghers love our big burled oak doors, for good reason -- no need to paint over those.
But for those with doors already painted some subdued color, couldn't we please get a little more adventurous?
"In Europe, in general, they have a lot more courage than we do in the States," said John Lahey, president of Fine Paints of Europe, which makes high-quality Dutch paint, known for its depth and high gloss. It also sells a special kit just for painting doors.
He has noticed an uptick in demand here for colorful doors "because people go over to Europe and see what's been done and want the same for their homes."
Researchers at PPG Pittsburgh Paints did a study on the colors used for exteriors of houses in Holland between 1600 and 1900, said Dee Rice Schlotter, PPG's national color brand manager. Much to their surprise, they discovered that colors in the old days were much brighter than they are now, and varied according to the type of house, from provincial farmhouse to stately Amsterdam canal house. Those historical Dutch colors, she said, were known as ultramarine blue, or Ultramarijn; canal green, or grachtengroen; Bentheimer yellow, or Bentheimergeel; Zaans green or Zaansgroen; and ox blood red or Ossebloedrood.
The old, brighter paint formulas were made of resin, egg yolk, water, pigment, linseed oil and turpentine. Today, they're synthetic -- acrylic resins -- and not as vivid, she said.
According to PPG's data, the most popular colors for doors in the United States are "Wet Coral," a red/orange; "Phantom Mist," a dark gray; "Purple Basil," an eggplant; "Cavalry," a dark blue; and "Lichen," a fresh spring green. PPG has more than 60 independent dealers throughout Western Pennsylvania, and they make Olympic Paints, which are sold at Lowe's.
The move to green and red/orange, a shift from the traditional, patriotic red, "gives you more of a modern look," Ms. Schlotter said. "People should absolutely paint their front doors a different but coordinating color than their shutters. It's the perfect way to welcome friends and create a true center of interest for your home."
Indeed, the door on Cynthia Pearson's old wood-framed Victorian -- and the siding that surrounds it -- is widely admired in her East End neighborhood. The door is a berry color, the trim is "Pilgrim Blue" and the siding is a pale green, or "White Grape." The paint, she said, was made by PPG (although the paint was done a dozen years ago, so she's not sure they still make those colors).
"For months after the paint job was finished, people stopped us to tell us how much they liked the colors. Some just honked and gave a thumbs-up as they drove by," said Ms. Pearson. One friend, however "thought it was too much, and another told me, 'It's so Martha Stewartish, but I still love it.' "
An artist friend helped her choose the color palette, and it's important to mix and match and experiment before committing to a particular shade. In Pittsburgh, some colors work better than others; some soft pastels that pop in tropical climates can look dingy in our northern light.
Whether you opt for orange, pink, purple or a modest shade of magenta, it's time to think differently about your front door. Paint it an interesting color and then send us the image. We'll post it in our own album of Pittsburgh's doors.
• Is your front door bright and bold? Have you admired someone else's door? Email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them @PittsburghPG and look for our online album.