By Francie Healy

What does your house say about you?

Are you outgoing, refined, warm, bold, shy, private, welcoming, reserved? Are you a trend-setter or traditional? Do you invite company, or would you rather be left alone?

Your front door can tell it all.

Jeff Gibson of Ottawa Windows and Doors says your front door is the most individual thing about the outside of your house.

“It’s a kind of identity,” he says.

No wonder a front door is such a big decision. When people come to the Ottawa Windows and Doors showroom on Colonnade Rd. in Ottawa, Jeff’s first job is to educate them. He says there’s so much information it can be a little overwhelming. He introduces them to the many varieties of door design and construction. They can see and touch examples of materials and begin to understand their options.

The next step is a visit to the home to talk about the way certain doors might look. With his background as an architectural technician, Jeff offers professional suggestions about colour, construction, and design.

“I help with the decision,” he says, “and give as much advice as I can. But the final decision is theirs.”

There are many things to think about. Will the door have glass? How much? Will it be a door with full light or partial? Will it be plain glass, or ornate? Will you choose a glass design from a catalogue? Or will you modify a design to your own taste?

Glass is beautiful, but it’s something to think about it even aside from design, because it means losing some of the thermal value you’d have in a solid door.

Then there are the different kinds of doors themselves. Will you choose steel, fibreglass, or wood?

Steel has a long-time track record, says Jeff. It’s the least expensive and the most popular choice. But he adds it has aesthetic limitations:“There are molding options to dress it up, but other than that, all you can do with it is paint it.” There is normally a selection of about 20 colours (that change slightly with fashion and manufacturers). It is possible, however, to get a custom colour. Jeff just had a new door installed in his own house, and he chose steel: a black door against red brick.

Steel doors are made from embossed slabs. The slabs are stamped with a dozen different designs. All the glass sizes are based on the standard designs.

Fibreglass is molded under vacuum pressure which forms tight corners. (This is the sort of thing you can actually see in the showroom, says Jeff.)

Fibreglass can have either a smooth finish or textured (so it looks like wood). It’s stainable, like wood, and more stable, without the maintenance of wood because there’s less expansion and contraction, and no water infiltration. Jeff says it stands up better than a steel door because fibreglass can’t be dented.

Wood doors are always beautiful, he says. You can finish them in so many different ways. With wood, you can have panels of different sizes, recessed or raised. A wooden door is built individually rather than created as a mold and then modified, so from a design point of view it’s much more flexible. You can use oak, mahogany, cherry, pine, cedar and other kinds of wood, depending on climate. You can paint wood or stain it with any range of colour. It is also the most expensive.

Ottawa Windows and Doors uses Fenplast for their steel doors; Wardco and Pella for fibreglass, and a variety of suppliers for wood.

Although fibreglass has been on the market in Canada for about 15 years and is highly reliable, Jeff says steel has that proven track record and it’s what most people choose.

Before customers commit to the door they want, Jeff encourages them to become as informed as they can. He says the Internet is a good place to begin simply to know what questions to ask even before they get to the showroom. It also helps to understand the terminology of doors: what a doorsill or doorjamb is, for instance, or glass caming (decorative metalwork between the glass). He advises home owners to think carefully about what’s going to work for them – to take all the information and think about it for a few days.

There are web sites that allow you to place door-designs on a photograph of your house to see how it might look. Jeff tried this himself and he was glad he did. Despite the fact that he has all the information he could possibly need at his fingertips, when it came time to go through a catalogue and pick a door, he and his wife became just like any of his customers. They knew what door they wanted but they had completely different tastes when it came to glass. When they thought they had the right one, they tried it on for size via imaging software and realized they didn’t like it. Finally they went with a half-window, and they’re both happy.

Jeff enjoys working with families. Doors often become a subject of discussion and decision among husbands, wives and children.

But it usually comes down to one person’s final decision. A while ago a woman came into the showroom with her grown daughters. They spent hours going through all the options. A few days later the woman came in alone. “I love my daughters,” she said, “but this is the one I want.”

“In the end,” says Jeff, “a door is always personal.       You don’t shop for a door every day.”