In the timeless series, A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander defines what creating a gentle transition from street to home means. He explains how the experience of entering a building influences the way we feel once inside it. In architectural terms, he describes how the gentler the transition between the home and the street, the more the inside of the home will feel like a safe ‘inner sanctum’.
Alexander explains further in his co-authored book, A Pattern Language,
“Buildings, and especially houses, with a graceful transition between the street and the inside, are more tranquil than those which open directly off the street.”
Of course, the perfect transition from the street to front entry is not always achievable, but you can soften the journey by understanding the three stages of the transition.
Behavioural Change From Street to Home
You just have to look at your children, or those of others, to know that street behaviour and home behaviour can be vastly different. As adults, we naturally look forward to the transition from the more guarded ‘street’ mood into an intimate and relaxed ‘home’ mood. If you think of ‘street’ as wary and ‘home’ as safe, you start to get the idea. As a homeowner, you are trying to achieve as gentle a transition as possible from the street (guarded) to interior (safe) mood for your family and friends.
The Gentle Transition
It is easy to see from the photos (above) the gentle transition from street level into the entrance of this beautiful art deco building. As you walk toward the entry door, you are starting to relax. And while the transition is not conscious, the ideal stages go something like this:
First Stage – Your first glimpse is viewed through ‘street’ eyes as you approach by car;
Second Stage – As you step onto the property from street level and move toward the front door, the street mood softens;
Third Stage – That private moment, as you approach the front door where you can no longer be seen from the street, completes the transition.
The reality is that this home is on a major arterial road near an international airport. It is noisy 24/7. However, the original architects of this 1920’s stunner understood the psychological importance of the gentle transition.
PlaceMate’s principal architect, Jan Hogarth, agrees,
“The importance of how you enter and exit your home cannot be overstated.”
The Importance of the Transition
Why is the transition so important?
Studies show that a front garden or courtyard gives homeowners a sense of homeliness and privacy. This may explain why householders appreciate the front garden while rarely spending time there. It reassures them of their privacy. The three stages of the transition reinforce the move from the public domain to private space. By the time they enter the front door, you want your guests or family members to be relaxed enough to feel a sense of tranquility in the home.
More recently, Jan Hogarth has also seen the needs of modern families changing. Their entry options can vary greatly when planning a character home renovation,
“Separate entries for family, guests, visitors, trades and services, as well as business contacts, are on the homeowners’ menu of options.”
A Warm Welcome in Seconds
The actual physical transition can be made in many ways, or combinations, and the benefits of each are far more complex than this brief list can convey. They include:
Change of enclosure, i.e. gateway or fence.
Changing the light.
Introducing new sounds.
Changing the direction of the path.
Change of ground surface, i.e. from concrete to lawn or pavers.
Change of level, i.e. step up or down,
And most importantly, with a glimpse of life, such as a garden or view.
It can be hard, for example, to create an attractive transition when your front door opens onto the street. The change can be abrupt without allowing time for buyers to transition from street to home mode.
In this case, the stages of the transition would look more like this:
First Stage – Your wary guest glimpses the front door from the street;
Second Stage – As the guest steps from street level onto the front step, a change in mood is apparent;
Third Stage – That private moment, as the front door opens and your guest glimpses both the interior and exterior of the home from a unique perspective.
In this red door example, the entry cleverly delivers colour, light, life, a change of level, and texture, to quickly create a successful transition.
While the red door may not be your thing, it is a very clever choice as a fast transition colour. Why? In many cultures, the red door symbolises protection, positive energy, and abundance.
The reflective glass in the front door captures light from the street and reflects it back to the viewer. It also creates space and suggests hidden depths within.
The plants and trellises are a feel-good feature that breaks up the harshness of the brick wall and spell ‘welcome’.
A simple step up and you’ve ‘arrived’ at the front door. As you wait for the door to open, you no longer feel the discomfort of being at street level, you are safely in a transition space.
A doormat, be it funky or simple, changes the texture of the ground area as you leave the street and enter the home.
A simple porch ceiling or awning offers another layer of comfort and a feeling of shelter and safety.
The Completed Transition
The way in which we arrive at and leave a house is a significant, if often overlooked, factor in our lives. The transition from street to home influences our psychological and general wellbeing, and that of our family on a daily basis.
For the homeowner, a successful transition will invite guests into your home and impact how they feel once inside. To the guest, it hints at the potential for privacy and safety within the walls of the home.
The three stages of the transition signal the crucial moments of the first and last impression of your home’s ability to provide comfort and warmth.
Long-term considerations for owners include multi-generational patterns of use for households with members who are at different stages of life. Be thoughtful when considering the design of the main entry and exit points of your private property and how it will change over time. These important transitions should always nurture and nourish our sense of wellbeing and safety.
Free Site Visit
Are you thinking of renovating your inner-Brisbane suburban house or Queenslander? Request a free site visit with Jan Hogarth, the Principal architect from PlaceMate Architects, before starting any renovation project.
This article was originally published as ‘The Three Entrances’ by Tracey McLeod from Showhomes Design. She has graciously recreated a version of the original for Placemate Architects’ client base.