Urban Form with Emily Campbell

A new column that explores the relationship between people and their built environment in the city.

Storm Door (1)The Storm Door
by Emily Campbell

“There’s something romantic about the storm door,” said Beth who lives in a house with a storm door. “It really represents what we are up against here.”

Stan put on their storm door when the house was rebuilt after a fire less than 20 years ago. They chose this traditional storm door because they had always admired it. To them, it seemed practical, they liked the look of it and it felt really authentic.

After the recent snow falls, a closed wooden storm door is a common sight around downtown St. John’s. The houses look as cozy as the people inside, ready for what the weather brings.

So where did the storm door come from? From what I can tell, it’s not an original characteristic of urban housing. After speaking with a few downtown residents, it seems the storm door is often a later addition to their homes, well after the construction is complete. I believe the storm door actually originated in outport communities, where it is much more of a necessity against the harsh climate. The door was later mimicked and brought into town by people like Beth and Stan.

In Newfoundland, the storm door is made of wood. Wood is affordable, easy to work with, involves common tools, and many people have the skills needed to build with it. The materials are accessible and the form of the door is suitable to the climate. These are a few reasons why this type of door has become such a prolific element of St. John’s housing. Sometimes, the door is split into two parts. Ted, a local carpenter, guessed that this may be because it is easier to push open in the snow. The split door also means that someone can enter and exit the house without fully opening the door, keeping the heat in and protecting the home from wind, rain, and cold.

In addition to the pragmatic reasons for this door, people seem to attach meaning to their doors. The door of a home serves two functions: to express one’s identity, and to keep the residents safe inside, providing privacy and security. After the 1982 fire, houses were hastily erected with little thought or time given to personal expression. Later, people modified their doors to suit their personality. If you consider yourself vibrant and fun you may paint your door red. If tradition and history are important to you, you may take extra care to restore a door to its original state. Second, the door is the way into and out of the house, it can provide privacy and foster a feeling of safety. Behind a storm door there is often a glass door. People then have the choice to keep their storm door open and welcome people into their home, or close it visually cutting off the connection to the street.

Whether your storm door stays open or closed, is painted blue or red, this element of a home means something to both individual inhabitants and to the city. We all have doors, but each one is as unique as us. What does your door say about you?

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