Field Guide To New Row House Construction, Part Two


For Part One, Garages, click HERE.

Photo: Hidden City Daily

Front Doors and Stoops

Since the early 1990s, what’s become known as “Home Depot doors”–bare bones metal safety doors and their cousins, the faux-six paneled doors–have been the norm for new construction. Since they are so ubiquitous, we are compelled to think about other aspects of the design of the front entrance: stoops, lintels, recesses, transoms–or the lack thereof. But the door itself ought to be integrated into the design of the building and though solid wooden doors are expensive, the investment in an appropriate front door often indicates a seriousness of architectural intent. In that regard, a solid, flat metal door is the easiest way to punctuate a contemporary row house design.

A.  These recessed doorways are an unusual design choice in this neighborhood. The open vestibule could be seen as functional, providing shelter from the elements while entering the building, as well as a good place to keep umbrellas and snow shovels. However these benefits are not without significant drawbacks. Anything left near the door would be a target for theft and being out of the line of sight while opening the door is an invitation to muggers.  The slate-topped steps are a nice touch, but the lack of a lintel gives the doorway a half-finished quality.


B. Nothing says “welcome home” quite like this. What happened to the step up to the front door? These doors are more like cutouts that appear to hang in space. No lintel over the door either, just a row of vertical bricks.


C. Faux-colonial details like the pediment above the door on the right are almost as bad as the bare-bones door on the left. The pediment is all the more obviously out of place in a city where there is so much of the real thing, especially with a garage covering three quarters of the facade at street level.

Photo: Hidden City Daily


D. Colonial looks a lot better when the entire facade is designed in that style. This example makes far more of a commitment than most contemporary colonials, but undermines the effect by putting in a side-facing stoop with modern railing that is noticeably plain in comparison to the richness of the detailing around the door and windows.

Photo: Hidden City Daily


E. Here’s a real novelty, rounded rather than rectangular steps.  The shape and placement of the first floor windows are unusual as well, but different doesn’t mean better in this case. Still, it’s nice to see something that’s usually taken for granted called into question.

Photo: Hidden City Daily


F. A little color can really liven up a doorway, yet the vast majority of doors on new construction are black, white or gray. No doubt builders choose neutral colors to appeal (or at least not offend) the greatest number of buyers. Hopefully, homeowners will add a little more variety over time, as this  one did.  After he painted the grille work, trim and door, several neighbors followed his lead painting their doors as well.


G. We haven’t done an official survey, but it seems as though more than half of new construction in G-Ho features a side-facing stoop.  That’s too bad: people rarely sit on them since they don’t face the street (not that many people sit on front-facing stoops anymore anyway, but it is a Philadelphia tradition). The taller the side stoop the more aggressive and private it feels. These are of medium height and relatively inviting.


H. With its black brick and green rail this is one of the most attractive stoops we’ve seen, yet at five steps it’s on the tall side and it dominates the narrow sidewalk on this small street (Pemberton) in a way the older stoops did not.

Photo: Hidden City Daily


I. This is one of the more elegant door treatments, particularly in the context of a relatively traditional brick aesthetic. The doors are attractively minimalistic and the limestone (or faux-limestone) border creates a muscular pattern. Even so, despite the building numbers and the lights next to the door, the lack of steps combined with the doubled garages make it seem more like the back alley entrance.

Photo: Hidden City Daily


J. This stoop, on a high end project where the architect had both space and money to work with, is very appealing. It feels like a modern twist on traditional Philadelphia row house architecture. The gradual incline of the steps–a rarity in new construction–creates a gracious feeling.

Photo: Hidden City Daily

About the author

Stephen Stofka is interested in the urban form and the way we change it. A graduate of the Geography and Urban Studies program at Temple University, he enjoys examining the architecture, siting, streetscapes, transportation, access, and other subtle elements that make a city a city.

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  1. 2249 Fitzwater has cool entry stairs

  2. The article was about the front door, not infrastructure, but the photo labeled “G” makes me want to ask, “How was a whole new block of new housing built without the developer being required to underground the utilities?” Maybe the urbanists of the 22nd century will look back at all those charming wires and wonder how we could be so barbaric as to try to rid our cities of them, but I could not care less. City planners need to require undergrounding whenever possible, and to fail when you have a big development go in is to swing and miss at a very fat pitch.

  3. The pediment in C wouldn’t be so bad if it were actually centered!

  4. I like the awning in “G”, not so much because I like the awning itself but because of the comment it makes on the bay’s lack of protection to the person entering the door. A design opportunity missed.

    Perhaps that designer never lived in a row house or ever entered one during inclement weather.

    Many of the new construction Philadelphia homes have the “bunker” feel of Philly’s construction from the 1970’s. You can see what I mean in the row houses from the 70’s around 20th and Callowhill Sts, or in Head House…lots of dark heavy “safety features” like shaded recessed barred windows and doors behind walled yards of dark colored brick.

    What does that say about the designers who are creating this new urban vernacular for our city? Do they think its dangerous and scary? Is that what we want them to say about our city?

    Diane Menke
    Myers Constructs, Inc.

  5. I enjoy the colorful personalizations you mentioned in F. and have seen some great ones in Queen Village. Thank you for this thoughtful article!

  6. Keep these coming. I love it!

  7. I see I gag i have good reason to be sad


  1. Field Guide to New Row House Construction, Part 3 | Hidden City Philadelphia
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