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How to Adorn a Front Door - the Traditional Way

Updated on January 15, 2016

In a recent article we took an interesting journey through the history of the butlers’ bell which, thanks to period dramas such as Downton Abbey, has been witnessing something of a resurgence in popularity.

Butlers’ bells make beautiful, traditional doorbells. Virtually maintenance-free and definitely battery and electricity-free, they really can add a touch of period charm and elegance to a property.

Of course, it stands to reason that if you are going to adorn your front entryway with something as time-honoured as a butlers’ bell, then you are going to want to complement the look with other accessories. And why not? First impressions are lasting, after all. Here we take a look at some of the additional polished brass or chrome adornments that you may like to add to your door to make your welcome even warmer, with a few historical facts added in for good measure.

A Traditional Door Knocker

A practical necessity, but something that can be construed as very symbolic, the door knocker has been in existence since Ancient Greek times, although it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that it became a decorative accessory, rather than the simple iron ‘rapper’ bar that had been its form previously.

The Middle Ages were a time of much angst around the subject of evil spirits, so the door knockers of this time – still cast in iron - tended to bear something gruesome designed to ward them off, such as a gargoyle. The snarling lion’s head and dog style knockers were also formed around this time for the same purpose.

During the Renaissance period there was a rekindling of interest in art and design, and it was at this point that door knockers became far more ornate. Delicate figures intricately crafted in brass, usually animals such as squirrels or foxes, would now be the door knockers of choice for the more affluent set. The symbolic lion’s head became even more elaborate, and a little friendlier looking, and by Victorian times it had become the mainstay of many a trend-setter’s door.

18th century designers Robert and James Adam created the ever-popular urn-shaped ‘Adam knocker’ in the neo-classical style, and this is commonly seen in a black iron or polished brass finish. The doctor’s knocker was also created around this time and remains a popular style today. It is a very noisy knocker, designed to call doctors to attention during middle-of-the-night emergencies.

The lion's head door knocker was designed in the Middle Ages with a view to warding off evil spirits.
The lion's head door knocker was designed in the Middle Ages with a view to warding off evil spirits.
During the Renaissance period there was a rekindling of interest in art and design, and it was at this point that door knockers became far more ornate.
During the Renaissance period there was a rekindling of interest in art and design, and it was at this point that door knockers became far more ornate.

A Charming Letter Plate

A letter plate really can set off a front door and will always add that important finishing touch. If you are going for the traditional look to complement your butlers’ bell, opt for a period letter plate. You can choose the finish to match your bell, which will usually be polished brass or polished chrome, or go for something contrasting, such as antique or black iron.

A period letter plate usually incorporates a built-in knocker, and may be shaped or square-cornered. If you wanted to go for something particularly eye-catching, you could choose an embossed letter plate, such as the one pictured. The Gothic letter plate, also pictured, is another design that can truly bring the whole period home look to life.

Generally you will need to decide which type of letter plate best suits you. There are two main types: sprung and gravity. Sprung letter plates push inwards, and gravity letter plates lift up and outwards.

If you wanted to go for something particularly eye-catching, you could choose an embossed letter plate, such as this one.
If you wanted to go for something particularly eye-catching, you could choose an embossed letter plate, such as this one.
This Gothic letter plate is another design that can truly bring the whole period home look to life.
This Gothic letter plate is another design that can truly bring the whole period home look to life.

A front door can say a lot about the welcome that will be received by visitors, and as we have discovered, there are plenty of ways to make that welcome a very warm and inviting one. Matching your door furniture by finish and by design era demonstrates a penchant for fine detail. If you have such a penchant, we hope you enjoy adorning your period style door, and that you’ve found a spark or two of inspiration in this article!

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