Why Does My House Have Two Front Doors?

The Many Reasons for Two Front Doors

Dogtrot House has one roof over two cabins and an open space between
Dogtrot House at Frogmore Plantation in Louisiana. Photo by Stephen Saks / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Your house may not look exactly like the one shown here, but it may very well have two front doors like this one. If it does, chances are you live in or near a southeastern state of the US.

By "two front doors" we don't mean double doors, like double Mission doors or double Shaker style doors, side-by-side. We do not mean double doors like we see in the 19th century Carpenter Gothic house style or other Victorian-era American homes.

Plenty of structures have double doors, which may have some connection with the style we're talking about here—two doors, separated by windows or siding, both on the facade of one house.

Usually these homes are very small—1300 square feet or less. Many were built in 19th century rural America but also in early 20th century urban areas. Oftentimes these front doors will open onto a front porch. If a single front porch has been removed, the doors now may be separate entrances to a two-family dwelling, each with its own porch or stairway. Look more closely, and you might see that a large window has replaced one of the doors as older dwellings are remodeled.

Many reasons have been suggest to explain why some houses are designed with two front doors, and all seem reasonable. Here are some suggestions.

1. No Interior Center Hallway. In colder, northern climates, the hallway was a draft-keeper and heat separator.

The winter cold came in the front door to the hallway, isolating heated rooms behind the closed doors of the living spaces. In warmer climates, however, a hallway was a waste of space for less affluent settlers. the hallway was a luxury that many could not afford. But without a hallway, where do you enter the house?

Any front room with a door.

2. Function Separator. A household consists of people, and each person may have a different household task to perform. The "Master of the House" may have wanted an entrance separate from the household, and also separate from in-laws or guests. Perhaps two front doors, each going to a separate room, was the beginning of the modern motel or the duplex apartment.

3. Keeping Up Appearances. Hired help of a different social class would probably use the back door or the door à gauche—the door to the left. For households without servants, one door may have been kept to enter formal front parlors, ready to accept guests like the Lutheran pastor coming to call. The daily comings-and-goings along with associated chores would be separate from the entrance of esteemed visitors.

4. The Death Door. It's long been believed that one door was reserved for the dead, lying in repose in the front parlor, with a door dedicated to that solemn function of the soul escaping the bonds of earth—or the neighbors coming in to say their last farewells.

5. Early Home Offices. Sometimes two-doored homes are found in university towns. Teachers and professors may have given private tutorials or music lessons from a room separate from their living spaces.

Other professionals like preachers and doctors might have a front office space for clients to come and go.

6. Status Symbol. If your neighbor has one door, why should you not have two? Two doors indicated that the house probably had more than one room, which was a real symbol of prosperity for the American pioneer class. This reason makes sense when you consider that many mid-century homes (and even today's houses) make a show of the number of garage doors attached to the dwelling.

7. Bathroom Reasons. A slew of outhouse explanations always come up when explaining why a house may have two front doors, especially the "getting up in the night and not disturbing anyone" line of reasoning.

8. Easy Exit for Smokers. It was common for men to smoke cigars (or cigarettes later on) after a meal. Wealthier homes would have a "smoking room" like a smoking car on a train, specifically for the purpose of taking a smoke.

Homeowners prosperous enough to have a separate dining room may not have had the means for a separate smoking lounge, but a door to the front porch right off the dining room would be the next best thing. The other door would be the "main" front door, that led into the front parlor—a "nonsmoking" room.

9. Fire Exit. Some people think of the second door as a fire escape, which is a credible theory in light of 19th century wood stove that could set the whole house on fire.

10. Evolution of the Dog Trot House. America is a land of trees, and Americans have a long love affair with log cabins. Early prairie homes were often single-room huts of rough timber. As people prospered and children became adults, another log cabin may have been built nearby, as living space or a separate kitchen. Distancing the fires of a kitchen from living quarters made sense for people without many resources. Eventually these homes came under one roof, like the photo shown here. The open area between the living spaces was a semi-shelter for domesticated animals, so these homes often were called "Dog Trot" houses. Other names include "Double-Pen" and "Saddle Bag," indicating the architecture/s dual design. Some people think that every house with two front doors is the evolution of this type of home. Some people even think the Dog Trot house begat the house with a center hallway.

Dog Trot houses are still built, usually in the southeastern United States. The practicality has been lost, except for the cooling breezes that sweep through the open area, but the design remains for aesthetic reasons. The symmetry of two front doors is pleasing to our eyes, giving balance to the design of where we live.

A second front entrance still exists for many of today's homes—think of the door from the attached garage. Now our second front door is enclosed in a 21st century status symbol, the multi-bay garage. One look at a 20th century raised ranch house or a split-level ranch style and you'll come to realize that our houses STILL have two doors in the front—and the guests still have the pleasure of entering in through the main door in the front.

The garage is left for the Master of the House.