If recent surveys are any indication, moderate-density, walkable communities are very much in demand. Tired of being so dependent on cars to get anywhere, buyers also seem to long for the informal exchanges between neighbors that occur when people are out walking along the street.  Looking at communities designed before the second World War, it’s not hard to see why they were more walkable than a lot of what gets developed today. The older communities had wider sidewalks, closer lots, and they were closer to downtown. From designs of that era, we can learn how to bring back charm and a neighborly feeling. 

As recently as the 1950’s, the garage was located in the back of the lot, sometimes as a detached structure.  Most houses had a front door facing the street as well as a back door or side door for entry to the house from the garage or driveway.  Often the front of the house also included a useable porch, which became the prime outdoor space for the house and an inviting place for visitors, as discussed in my previous column, How To Design A Great Front Porch.

In those prewar designs, a home’s back or side doors served an important function: They often became the informal way to enter the home. Although a little too familiar for first-time visitors, this was the door that neighbors and close friends used, and it came to be known as the friend’s entry.

But in post-war designs, the garage became attached to the house. This, in turn, eliminated the side doors, and even back doors, as entryways. The back door became the access to the more private rear patio or porch--not easily available since the garage was now blocking rear yard access. What has often happened as a result is that the informal entrance becomes a path through the garage – past lawn mowers, trash cans, and storage boxes. Yuck.

We’ve suggested bringing back the friend’s entry in several new designs by adding a link space between the garage and the house.  This can work in different ways based on garage locations, but for the most common front-loaded garage location simply insert a connector room between the garage and the house and insert a door in front.  This becomes a closer door than the more formal “front door” and is perfect for a friend’s entry.

The connector space between the house and garage is a also a great location for a popular new interior space – the drop zone – a place for closets, hooks, benches, cubbies and counters for charging stations needed upon entry to the house.  This location was historically a “mud room” or place to keep dirty shoes and clothes close the washing machine.  That connector space still often functions as the laundry room, although increasingly the laundry has migrated to the second floor in order to be more convenient to the bedrooms.

A floor plan that includes a friend's entry provides a less formal side door.

 Whatever the function of the connector space, it needs to be a gracious way for friends to enter the home.  Adding windows and glass in the door is helpful.  As shown in our floor plan, a back door can often be incorporated and direct access to the garage through this transitional space also works well for the homeowners.  We recommend the friend’s entry space to be wide enough for counters, benches, etc. on both sides of the door plus a walkway, which means about 8 feet in width. On the front elevation, a small covered porch invites friends walking by to enter here and be greeted without formalities.