Deb Cohen, whose photos of historic homes have made her an Instagram hit as The Front Door Project, shares a dozen favorite facades to get us into the holiday spirit.
By Annie Graves
Oct 06 2020
1. In the words of Deb Cohen: “The stunning Second Empire Silas W. Robbins House (left), in Wethersfield, Connecticut, gets the royal treatment with soldiers standing at attention on either side of the first-floor windows, big red bows, and wreaths gracing its double doors. More is always more with a Victorian!”Photo Credit : Deb Cohen
Some mysteries will remain forever unsolved. What moved some long-ago soul to weave evergreens together to make an adornment? Who hung that first wreath on a cold and snowy day? Or decked that first hall? And why do we like to dress our houses up so?
Leave it to the ancient Etruscans to have had a hand in the personal-adornment wreath department, in cozy company with the Greeks and Romans. Fast-forward to Advent wreaths used in Germany in the 16th century, and to Christmas wreaths made of evergreens 300 years later. These are the early, swirling, tantalizing glimpses into today’s traditions. Or at least partial truths….
What we do know is that front-door adornment came and stayed. And the practice is alive and well all over New England, where our traditional (and sometimes not-so-traditional) architecture provides a ready canvas for dress-up.
Which brings us to the Front Door Project.
By her own estimate, Deb Cohen has taken some 5,000 photographs of front doors and facades, from Maine to Rhode Island, since beginning her project in 2014, which has made her something of a connoisseur, if not an expert, and an Instagram sensation (@thefrontdoorproject). With an eye for color and detail that has brought her nearly 80,000 followers, the 52-year-old Connecticut native has also honed a jaunty narrative that offers a dash of history, wrapped in observation. In other words, she was the ideal resource to tap for our showcase of 12 holiday front doors, decked out in New England–style finery.
“I didn’t intend to build a following,” says Cohen, with a trace of humor. “I just wanted to start walking more, be outside more, but I was kind of bored walking by myself. So I started taking pictures of the beautiful houses where I live, in West Hartford, primarily focusing on their front doors.” Simultaneously, she started sharing her photos on Instagram—much to her teenage daughter’s dismay. “She’s like, ‘Mom! You can’t be on here!’”
The Front Door Project caught on quickly. “People definitely enjoyed the images, they loved the curb appeal and the architecture, but I think they also liked the tone,” she says. “Readers tell me that they look forward to my post every day, which just blows me away. I think they feel a connection with me through it—it’s like a community.”
As her fan base grew, Cohen expanded her travels, collecting more doors, delving into other historic neighborhoods, and discovering favorites like Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Camden, Maine; and Newburyport, Massachusetts.
She’s convinced that the seeds of obsession were sown early on, in the vintage 1911 Victorian in which she grew up in South Windsor, Connecticut, then nurtured in college at William & Mary, with Colonial Williamsburg nearby. Her love of architecture and New England history would eventually inspire her to work at the Mark Twain House in Hartford for three years; she also became an ambassador for the Connecticut Office of Tourism, vice chair of the West Hartford Historic District Commission, and a trustee of Preservation Connecticut. This past year she also become a Realtor.
With so many photos in the Front Door Project to choose from, it wasn’t easy when we asked Cohen to winnow them down to 12 eye-catching holiday favorites. The finalists—which all have captions in Cohen’s own words—range from a Newport, Rhode Island, storefront decked in bows and boughs to a brilliant little New Hampshire Cape with a shot of neon yellow for a doorway.
All are winners; each has something to impart. But when someone has seen and photographed so many houses, I couldn’t help asking: What catches your eye? What stops you in your tracks? What makes a photo that you’ll want to share with your fellow aficionados?
“It’s funny,” Cohen says. “Sometimes it’s the seasonal decor that grabs me. Other times it’s a really bright, cheery front door. It might be an otherwise ordinary house, but maybe the homeowners have gone full out with window boxes, or they’ve added a gorgeous door knocker. Really, what it boils down to is whoever lives there has taken great care. And you can see the pride that comes from the home.”
But there’s a mystery here, too. “Sometimes, honestly, I might go past a home every day for six months and not notice it,” she confesses. “Then maybe all of a sudden it snows. The trees look different. The house looks different. And it’s like—bam, there it is. I realize, wow, that’s gorgeous. Homes have different seasons, almost. I feel like they change with the season.”
To see more of the Front Door Project, go to thefrontdoorproject.com or look for it on Instagram and Facebook.