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The Anatomy of a Door

This website pays homage to all the beautiful doors of the world. To ensure that we can speak with a common language and accurately describe our door photos, I thought we should discuss the anatomy of a door.

What are the critical architectural elements of a door? Let’s find out!

1. Door Frame

The door frame provides the structure and support for a door and can be broken down into four key elements:

a. The Head

The head of a door is the horizontal piece at the top of the frame which forms the ceiling of the doorway. It can be plain or decorative, depending on the architectural style and desired effect. Some common shapes include flat, arched, or angled.

Bright blue door surrounded by patterned blue and white Portuguese tiles. The door head is highlighted with white rectangles. There is a text overlay that reads "head"
Bright blue door surrounded by patterned blue and white Portuguese tiles. The door jambs are highlighted with white rectangles. There is a text overlay that reads "jambs"
Bright blue door on a facade covered in blue and white Portuguese tiles. The sill of the door is highlighted with a white rectangle and there is a text overlay that reads "sill"

b. Jambs

Door jambs are the vertical elements on either side of the doorway, supporting the head and connecting it to the floor. There are two main jambs:

  • Hinge jamb: This holds the hinges that allow the door to swing open and closed. It often has a slightly thicker profile to accommodate the hinge hardware.
  • Strike jamb: This is the side where the door closes and latches.

c. Sill or Threshold

The sill (aka threshold) is the horizontal piece at the bottom of the frame, resting on the floor.

Bright green door with stained glass sidelites and a pointed arch transom. The mullions are highlighted and there is a text overlay that reads "mullion"
Red door with two slabs separated by a mullion. the door is set in a red tiled wall. There is a transom light decorated with iron work grilles. The lites on the door itself are covered with decorative metal grilles. The mullion is highlighted with a white rectangle and there is a text overlay that reads "mullion"

d. Mullion

A mullion a vertical construct used in doorways with multiple door panels or sidelights. It divides the opening and supports additional panels, creating wider or more visually interesting entrances.

2. Transom

The transom is a horizontal crosspiece located above the door. A transom can be purely structural, or it can incorporate a window known as a transom light or fanlight.

Here’s a breakdown of the key elements of the door’s transom:

a. Transom Bar

A transom bar is the horizontal beam spanning the top of the doorway or window opening. Transom bars provide support and stability, especially for larger door openings. Transoms also provide visual interest to a door and can make for more visually interesting photographs.

Wooden door with semi-circular transom highlighted with a white rectangle. There is a text overlay that says "transom" and points to the rectangle
Teal door studded with metal and a semi-circular transom hosting a shelf of plants. The transom bar is highlighted with a white rectangle and there is a text overlay that says "transom bar"
Pink door with an antique transom light highlighted with a rectangle. There is a text overlay that says "Transom Light" and points to the rectangle

b. Transom Light

A transom light is a window set within the transom bar. Transom lights allow for additional light to flood into the space behind the door.

Doors can feature transom lights in a variety of shapes including rectangular, arched, round, and fan shaped.

Transoms are especially common in Victorian, Georgian, and Colonial architectural styles. I’m a big fan of Georgian-style fanlights (aka fan-shaped transoms).

3. Hardware Elements

There are several key hardware elements that contribute to the functionality, security, and overall aesthetic of a door. Here’s a breakdown of some essential hardware components:

a. Lockset

The lockset includes the core locking mechanism and all associated components. I’m most concerned with the aesthetic elements of a door. The keyhole is the element of the lockset most likely to come into play when assessing whether a door is photo-worthy.

b. Door Knob or Handle

The door knob or handle is what you grip to open the door (obviously!) From a door photography perspective, the door knob can help identify a door’s architectural style.

Dull red door with 2 slabs and 8 panels set in a stone frame. The door knobs are higlighted with a rectangle and there is a text overlay that reads "door knob"
Cream colored door with a modest semi-circular transom light. There is a large metal knocker on the door with the face of a lion. There is a text overlay that reads "knocker".
Door slabs painted in bright colors with a few hobby horses surrounding the slabs. There is a text overlay that reads "slabs".

c. Door Knocker

Knockers were historically used for people to announce their arrival at a home or place of business. Now, knockers are largely decorative and add visual interest to a door.

4. Door Slab

The door slab is the flat panel that swings open and closed. The slab plays a critical role in both the function and aesthetics of a door. Here’s a breakdown of the key architectural elements:

a. Door Rail

Door rails are the horizontal components spanning the width of the slab. Door rails can be single (solid rail) or multiple (divided by stiles). Door rails provide structural support and define the height of door panels.
Rails can be plain, molded, or have decorative profiles depending on the style of door.

Black Georgian door with a semi-circular fanlight and pilasters flanking the door. The rails are highlighted with white rectangles and there is a text overlay that reads "rails"
Black Georgian door with a semi-circular fanlight and pilasters flanking the door. The stiles are highlighted with white rectangles and there is a text overlay that reads "stiles"
Purple Georgian door with a semi-circular fanlight. One panel is highlighted by a white rectangle. There is a text overlay that reads "panels"

b. Door Stile

Door stiles are the vertical components framing the door panel(s). Stiles connect the top and bottom rails, creating the overall slab structure. Stiles can be wide or narrow, contributing to the visual weight and style of the door.

c. Door Panel

Door panels are the flat sections within the stiles and rails, filling the open space of the door slab. Panels can be solid wood, veneer, engineered wood, glass, or other materials.

d. Door Glazing

When door panels incorporate glass, the glass itself is called glazing. Glazing can be clear, frosted, textured, stained, or incorporate decorative grids.

Double door with twin glass panels set in an imposing stone frame and with a circular antique glass transom window. There is a text overlay that reads "glazing"
Double door with twin glass panels set in an imposing stone frame and with a circular antique glass transom window. The two panes of glass are highlighted with white rectangles. There is a text overlay that reads "sash"

e. Door Sash

The frame holding the glass in place is called the door sash.

5. Decorative Door Elements

Beyond its basic function, a door can become a beautiful subject for photography with the addition of various decorative elements. Here’s a breakdown of some key features:

a. Moulding

Moulding, also known as casing, is the decorative trim added to the edges of panels or around the entire door slab.

Green door with two slabs separated by a mullion and a semi-circular transom light. The facade near the top of the door is covered in light green tiles. The decorative moulding on the door is highlighted with white rectangles and there is a text overlay that reads "moulding"
Wooden door with semi-circular transom. There is a lamp above the door highlighted with an arrow. There is a text overlay that says "lamp".

b. Lamps

Placed flanking the doorway or embedded in a fanlight, lamps provide illumination and enhance the entrance with their design. Options include wall sconces, lanterns, or post lights.

c. Pilasters

Pilasters are decorative columns that often flank doors and add an air of grandeur. Pilasters can be fluted, paneled, rounded and may feature decorative capitals.

Black Georgian door with a semi-circular fanlight and pilasters flanking the door. The pilasters are highlighted with white rectangles and there is a text overlay that reads "pilasters"
Lime green door in a rounded stone frame surrounded by blue, green, and white Portuguese tiles. The dentil shelf is highlighted with a white rectangle and there is a text overlay that reads "dentils"

d. Dentils

Dentils are small, rectangular blocks positioned under a molding like a shelf or cornice. Adding a dentil shelf above a door can create visual interest.

e. Sticking

Sticking is a raised or recessed pattern on the door surface that adds texture and visual interest. Common forms include raised panels, beadboard, and decorative moldings on rails and stiles.

Purple Georgian door with a semi-circular fanlight. The sticking is highlighted in translucent white. There is a text overlay that reads "sticking"
Close-up photo of a transom window filled with stained glass. Parts of the caming are highlighted in red. There is a text overlay that reads "caming"

f. Caming

Caming is the lead or metal framework holding individual glass panes in place, often used in stained glass or decorative window inserts. The design of the caming itself can be a decorative element.

g. Lites

Lites are individual sections of glass within a door, their number and arrangement impact the visual openness and style. Examples include single lites, divided-light grids, or stained glass panels.

h. Escutcheons

Escutcheons are decorative plates surrounding the keyhole, doorknob, or handle. They can be simple and functional or ornate and elaborate, adding a touch of elegance to the door.

i. Grilles

Grilles are decorative elements applied to glass surfaces. Grilles can mimic the effect of divided lites without the fuss of individual glass panes. Grilles can also give a door a distinctive and appealing look.

Top half of a bright yellow Georgian door with an ornate fanlight. The lites are highlighted with rectangles and there is a text overlay that reads "lites"
Wooden door with two slabs. The door frame is white and there is a triangle with golden rays in the transom. The escutcheons are highlighted with a white rectangle. There is a text overlay that reads "escutcheons"
Close-up of the transom of a gray door. The transom window is covered in metal grilles. There is a text overlay that reads "grilles"

6. Door Overhangs

Door overhangs offer protection from the elements and add architectural interest to an entrance. Here’s a breakdown of some popular types:

a. Portico

A portico is a substantial, roofed structure supported by columns or pillars that projects outward from the doorway. A portico provides shelter from inclement weather and shade on a sunny day. A portico adds grandeur and formality to a doorway, particularly in classical architectural styles.

b. Alcove

An alcove is a recessed area in the wall surrounding the doorway. An alcove is less prominent than a portico but still provides some shelter from rain and sun.

c. Awning

An awning is a simple canopy made of fabric or metal attached to the wall above a door. Awnings can be fixed or retractable. Awnings are meant to provide basic protection from sun and rain while adding architectural interest to a doorway.

A wooden door with two slabs and a semi-circular transom made of different shades of wood. The door has a portico around it supported by 4 columns. There is a white rectangle drawn around the portico and there is a text overlay that says "portico"
Black door set in a tiled frame. There is an octagonal transom window and lamp above the door. The door is recessed in an alcove. There is a text overlay that reads "alcove" and the alcove is highlighted with a white rectangle.
Green door with a rectangular stained glass transom window. There is a metal awning above the door. There is a cafe next to the door with stacked chairs. There is a text overlay which reads "awning"

7. Antique Door Features

Antique or historic doors often boast unique features that speak to the craftsmanship and design sensibilities of their era. Here’s a deeper dive into the three features you might encounter on your door photography adventures:

a. Bootscrapers

Bootscrapers were practical additions found mainly in 19th and early 20th-century homes, particularly in entryways. Made of cast iron or stone, they were embedded in the threshold or nearby steps, allowing people to scrape mud and grime off their boots before entering. Styles varied from simple flat plates to more ornate designs with scrolls, geometric patterns, or even animal motifs.

Today, bootscrapers act as charming reminders of a bygone era and can sometimes be repurposed as doorstops or decorative elements.

b. Stained Glass

This decorative technique using colored glass pieces held together by lead camework was particularly popular in Victorian and Gothic Revival styles. Found in door transoms, sidelights, or even small panels within the door itself, stained glass adds vibrant colors and intricate patterns to the entryway.

Designs often portrayed geometric shapes, floral motifs, religious scenes, or even family crests, reflecting the owner’s personality and artistic preferences.

Antique stained glass adds a touch of history and elegance to any entrance.

c. Iron Work

Wrought iron was a versatile material commonly used in antique door hardware and decorative elements.
Hinges, handles, knockers, escutcheons, and grilles could be crafted from iron, featuring intricate scrollwork, geometric patterns, and sometimes even animal figures.

The hand-forged details added a touch of artistry and durability to a door adding significant value and character.

Purple Georgian door with a semi-circular fanlight. There is a potted plant and bootscraper in front of the door. There is a text overlay that reads "bootscraper" with an arrow pointing to the bootscraper
Modest wooden door on a yellow facade with a small stained glass pirate embedded in a circular window. The stained glass is highlighted with a white rectangle and there is a text overlay that reads "stained glass".
Top half of a dark blue door set in a bright blue tiled wall. The transom and lites are covered in iron work. There is a text overlay that reads "iron work"

Reference: Sources

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