Don’t Knock It: For the Love of Door-knockers

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brass door knocker in Paris

Did you know door-knockers exist today that have been in use for nearly 1,000 years? Here are some other things to think about with your door’s hardware.


I’m an old-town architecture kind of gal. Modern architecture can wow me, but my heart belongs to the ages.

It’s the little things that do it for me. The ornate flourishes, the belief that each part of a thing can be a beautiful contribution to the whole, whether it’s a moulding, plasterwork, or just hardware.

One such old-school detail I love that’s seldom done with such style today are door-knockers. Clappers, knockers, whatever you call ‘em — they’re as useful as they are impressive.

Centuries in the making

One of the oldest known door-knockers today can be found in France. Dating back over 900 years, the 11th-century knocker at Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Puy, aka the Le Puy-en-Velay Cathedral, draws on Celtic and Gothic influences that were much the norm of the day.

From Danish countries to the Middle East and North Africa, door-knockers are found all over the Old World. Some are inspiring, but many are imposing and ghoulish — the latter being much like gargoyles and other architectural embellishments, intended to ward off bad spirits that might be looking for entry.

I found this excerpt on the North African and Middle Eastern door-knockers to be quite interesting:

The popular ‘hand shaped’ door knocker is often seen in Muslim countries, and was thought to symbolize the Hand of Fatima which protected the house from evil and was also a way to show that the occupants of that house were followers of the Muslim faith. It was also assumed that there were different hand-knockers, one male and one female, as it was considered inappropriate for the woman of the house to open the door to a man. Therefore visitors would use the knocker according to their gender. Each knocker would make a different sound, so the woman of the house would know whether or not she should open the door.

Who would have thought a simpler door-knocker could mean, and do, so much?

Modern relevance

Today’s door-knocker often errs on the side of being unobtrusive and utilitarian. The wild and wacky ones I saw included pineapples, clams, and dragonflies. Not sure what a pineapple door-knocker is supposed to suggest to those entering but I’d guess that anything less than a Tiki bar and umbrella drinks would disappoint.

And it’s too bad that it’s hard to find fun, unique door-knockers today with the kind of attitude and style of those in the past, but I’d argue door-knockers should be a mandatory part of the building code.

Simply put, in an age when chronic hand problems are afflicting so many people, and the population is aging with lots of arthritis, a door-knocker is an easier way to let a resident know you’re at their door. For some people, a loud booming knock is easier to hear than an electric bell. I’m one of them.

Show ‘em someone interesting’s at home

The standard ring or pendant-style door-knocker is really overdone. Why not turn to second-hand and salvage shops to see if you can find something truly unique?

For example, the Jabberwocky door-knocker found on Durham’s Chorister School would certainly be the way to show you’ve got a playful, intriguing person on the other side of your door.

Take a look at some of the great doorknockers to be found in Google image searches, or on Etsy, and also let your friends know you’re on the lookout for something weird and wonderful locally, so they can turn you onto some shops that might have that magic piece of old-world charm to set your door apart.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.