Design Consultant Abigail Hall shares her essential and practical advice on how to choose the best doorbell or knocker to make a glowing first impression
Whenever I visit the houses of friends, family and clients I always pay close attention to the entrance, in particular the doorbell or knocker. It’s not just about the aesthetics; my pet hate is a bell that I can’t hear from the doorstep. How do I know if it’s worked and how long do I wait before trying again? Too quickly and I risk pestering the owners, too long and I feel like an idiot stranded outside. Let’s face it, I’d make a terrible courier. Luckily, as a designer, I know a thing or two about doorbells and knockers, so here’s my essential guide…
(LEFT) HIGHLY DECORATIVE, STATEMENT DOOR KNOCKER; (MIDDLE) COMPLEMENTING BRASS DOOR FURNITURE. IMAGE: ERIC PROUZET / UNSPLASH; (RIGHT) IDA PEACOCK DOOR KNOCKER FROM ANTHROPOLOGIE
I’m often asked, what kind of door knocker should I choose? Weight is everything with a knocker; it should feel weighty, be easily gripped and lifted and create a satisfyingly loud knock. There are some fiddly designs which you can only grip with your fingertips, but don’t be tempted by these as you won’t be able to get the necessary purchase to create a good knock. Traditionally, all of your door furniture would be in the same finish, but if you like the look and feel of a particular door knocker then let your personality run wild.
A knocker should always sit on a metal plate, rather than directly on your painted door, as you will find over time that it dents and chips the paintwork whenever it’s used. Aim to position your knocker in the centre of your front door, between the height of your shoulder and your waist; you should never have to stretch or bend to reach the knocker. Door knockers need to be fitted on a door which directly accesses your home. If you have a main outer door and a vestibule with a second inner door, you may find you can’t hear it.
Mechanical bell pull
This is a favourite of mine and I once purchased a house because it had a manual pull bell. Admittedly, the house was lovely in lots of other ways, but it had me at the door bell! With a mechanical design, the pulling action is transferred into levers and pullies, or tensioned string which activate a bell in a coiled spring. I particularly appreciate these bells as I can hear them from the door step. The down side is that you can’t amplify the bell sound, so you might struggle to hear it if your front door is far from your living space. These bells particularly suit Regency, Victorian, Edwardian, even Deco and Arts and Crafts houses (up to the 1940s). I’m yet to find a mechanical bell with a contemporary look.
Manual bells should be fitted close to the door. The longer and more complicated the pully system, the less the bell moves, resulting in a softer sound. I would recommend asking a carpenter or very competent DIYer to install a mechanical bell pull as it needs to be repeatedly tested and might need slight adjustment to get it working perfectly.
Mechanical bell pulls are certainly not the cheapest option; they cost a few hundred pounds, then you will need to factor in the time of a handyman to install it. However, once installed well it will last for years; there are original Victorian mechanical bell pulls which are still operational today. UK Architectural Antiques has a good range of original and reproduction bells and other great traditional door furniture and The Period Ironmonger has reproduction bells in both brass and nickel.
Smart video doorbells
Smart doorbells are a bell, video and intercom in one, and represent a massive leap forward in doorbell innovation and front door security. They connect to your home WiFi and are controlled via an app on your smartphone, tablet or PC. Some smart door bells also have continuous video or motion activated video, enabling you to capture suspicious callers.
So with all these features, why don’t we all have a smart doorbell? Well, they’re not cheap. The basic Ring video doorbell starts at £89, while the top of the range is almost £450, which features instant alerts, HD video and live video and audio. And if you want continuous video or cloud storage there may be monthly fees on top. If it’s battery powered, you need to remember to keep it charged, while wired designs will mean the added cost of paying an electrician to install it. There also aren’t wildly different aesthetics available yet; they all look like contemporary cameras with a button. If you are trying to find a smart doorbell to fit with a rustic or vintage look, you are going to struggle.
The market leaders are currently Ring and Google Nest. The Blink video door bell is growing in popularity, in part because it connects to the Amazon Alexa virtual assistant. Do your research to find the one which suits your technical set up preferences and budget. I am happy as they can come with an internal electronic bell (the Ring chime is about £30) so I can hear the doorbell has worked, even if I’m now paranoid about how I look up close on camera!
Wired and battery doorbells
You will find the greatest choice of bell plates and the largest range of prices with hard wired door bells. My go to supplier is SDS London; they have a really wide range and the majority of models come in a choice of finishes, from an unlacquered brass to a satin chrome and plenty in between.
As I always seem to advise, there are potentially more costs involved than just the bell plate itself. Wired doorbells require an electrical transformer, a chime box which are available in different designs but are generally white plastic, and the cost of an electrician to install it. Even if you are replacing old for new it’s worth asking an electrician to ensure the connections are correct and sound.
Battery-powered doorbells are generally white or grey plastic boxes with a button which transmits a signal to an internal bell chime box. These are my least favourite as the batteries in either the chime box or the button box die over time. And as we almost never touch our own doorbell, it’s likely you will have no idea that the battery has died and the bell has stopped working. I also find it so disappointing to reach the front door of a beautiful home to find this ugly little box. There are so many other options.
Designer, speaker and author Abigail Hall is a disrupter, challenging the way building fit out and interior design has been done over recent decades. Abi works in two worlds; in construction, where the technical specification and price are the driving factors and in design, where the aesthetic finish is everything. The reality of a great product is ‘function first and aesthetic after’ and Abi’s years of experience commissioning, designing and fitting out properties across the globe has given her a sharp eye for quality, function and form. Visit www.abigailhall.design where you can find access to her podcast, Every Day Design, a link to her book and more on her design philosophy.
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