Entering a house involves a psychological shift as much as it does a physical one. We leave the public realm of the street and enter into the private, intimate world of the home. It’s a transition that affects our thoughts and emotions and if not treated properly may leave us with feelings of unease.

Imagine this example:
A suburban bungalow with its front door neatly placed in the front of its façade. The narrow concrete path leading to the front door is identical to the sidewalk and bespeaks an indifference to the front yard. Being unengaged, you move quickly to the front door and press the buzzer. The entry door is flush to the face of the house and there’s no canopy above so you’re forced to tuck in tight to the building to get out of the rain. After a short wait you enter the house and realize you’ve stepped into the living room. The hustle and bustle of family life around you makes you feel like you’ve interrupted something while the carpet under foot brings an uneasy thought to your muddy shoes. You’ve just arrived but you already feel like leaving. What’s gone wrong?

Entry to a home begins, in a very real sense, at your first sight of a building. The building appears, you get a hint to the location of the entrance and then you start your approach. There must be no confusion. Once you arrive at the edge of the property you should be given some suggestion of a threshold between sidewalk and entry, a line that when stepped across feels like you’ve moved from the public realm of the street to the more private sphere of the home. This can be treated in a number of ways from literally stepping through a gateway or arbor to simply changing a level or a surface under foot but the feeling created should be that of arrival. In our example the individual moving onto the property had little or no sense of change from street to home. They simply moved from one sidewalk to the next.

As you approach the house through the semi-public zone between building and street your thoughts should further transition to the more private ones associated with home. A step up or down, an altering of texture, light or smell, or a change in direction are all elements that will engage you and bring about this transition. On reaching the front door the entrant in our example is likely still thinking about their journey home rather than what awaits them inside.
The physical entrance to the home, the separation space between inside and out, needs to be a symbol of both entry and shelter. It should be differentiated from the rest of the building and provide a place of protection from the elements. This can be readily achieved by pushing the architectural form up, in or out at this location. In our bungalow example the unfortunate entrant was left to fend for themselves as they waited to enter.

As Christopher Alexander states in his A Pattern Language: ‘Placing the main entrance is perhaps the single most important step you can take during the evolution of a building plan.’ If the entry has been placed in a logical location the other spaces of the plan will naturally fall in line, place it in the wrong location and everything else falls apart. In our example the entrant steps into a space designed for living not entering. A well designed home provides the entrant with a place to hang their jacket and shed their shoes without forcing them to be directly involved in the activities of another space within the house.

Entering a home is far more than moving through a front door, it’s a transition from one state of mind to another. Next time you enter your home, think how you can improve the experience.