Beguiling Baltic Doors: What’s the Message?

Tallinn Painted Carved Oak Door

We’ve always been fascinated by doorways and what they have to say. It doesn’t take an architect or etymologist to know that the facade is the face of a building, and if this is so, then the door can be the beguiling lipstick that enchants visitors.

Doors can tell us so much about a building’s place in history and the people who lived inside.

Throughout our sojourn in the Baltic States we hit the mother lode of intriguing portals. Some doors enticed us to enter with their shimmering glass panes and glimpses of life within. Others presented a fortress-like barrier to be breached only by invited guests.

No matter what their architectural style, the doors all shared many of these 5 traits:

Sense of Style
We saw no boring doors in the Baltic States. Seriously! Every door introduced new flourishes – graceful lines, intricate wood carvings, or elegant stonework. Even an old stable door had classy Gothic elements.

Ornately carved oak door, Tallinn, Estonia
Ornately carved oak door, Tallinn, Estonia
Classy Gothic stable door. Tallinn, Estonia
Classy Gothic stable door. Tallinn, Estonia

Sense of Permanence
Baltic doorways are not only well-built and sturdy, they usually have a street number permanently carved or affixed to the entrance. The message is that these buildings are here to stay.

Sphinxes face off in this Helsinki, Finland doorway.
Sphinxes face off in this Helsinki, Finland doorway.
Helsinki Rams Doorway
Sturdy Helsinki door with mythical creatures … or battling rams?

Sense of Nature
Organic elements combine to welcome people through the entrance. Most of the doors we saw were made of wood, embellished with metal and glass, and surrounded by stone. Often plants and animals played a major role in the design theme.

Whimsical flowers and metal details adorn this Helsinki doorway.
Whimsical flowers and metal details adorn this Helsinki doorway.
Helsinki’s Glo Hotel, a former castle, sports a mysterious metamorphosis motif – a nod to Darwin perhaps.

Sense of Self-Importance
This door in Tallinn, Estonia belongs to the House of the Blackheads – an important guild of local unmarried merchants, professionals, ship owners and foreigners.  Their door was designed to convey exclusivity and status in the community.

House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads. Tallinn, Estonia
House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads. Tallinn, Estonia

Sense of Humor
Our favorite was a short, little door in Helsinki, just a hair over 5 feet tall. We loved its sense of humor, with two hands reaching down mischievously … perhaps to steal a hat from some unsuspecting visitor?

A door with a sense of humor in Helsinki, Finland.

Compared to these fabulous doors, our front door at Basecamp Gallivance looks very plain and utilitarian. What about you? Do you have a fabulous front door?

Let us know,
Terri & James


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

40 thoughts

  1. Many thanks Denise! I really enjoyed photographing the doors in the Baltic States, then researching the secrets that were held behind them. 🙂 I made some great discoveries! ~Terri

    1. Thanks Sartenada. We started our Baltic trip in Helsinki which was our first real exposure to Art Nouveau architecture. The collection of buildings there is wonderful and was a great introduction. And these architects realized how important doors are. ~James

    1. Laura, I often wonder how it is that Americans can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on houses and not include just a few thousand more to build in a bit of character. And doors are a great example. I’m not sure, but I guess things went off track in the post-war years when there was a huge demand and suburban boxes became the rage. ~James

    1. We’ve always been partial to doors (and windows) and the the Baltic countries had such an interesting mix of old, and relatively new Art Nouveau. The doors were a fun subject to shoot. ~James

    1. This photo was taken in Helsinki. Isn’t it fun and clever? If you like interesting and fun architectural details, Helsinki’s collection of Art Nouveau architecture is a wonderful collection. The city makes a great destination for a long weekend (or longer). ~James

    1. Thanks very much David for reblogging our post. We’ve always loved architectural details, and doors can be some of the best – and these doors in Finland and Estonia were excellent. ~James

  2. I can’t say our front door has quite the character that these beauties do. However when we downsized a pretty door was on my list of must haves. Sounds a bit unusual I know. At any rate it has mosaic glass making up a large portion which I love. No sneaky critters at the top either unless you count the neighborhood squirrels.

    1. Good for you Sue, for keeping your priorities straight. Ours is a pretty plain jane, but we have a townhouse HOA which forces everyone to be the same. I don’t think the board would tolerate any gremlins. 🙂 But Terri makes sure that we always have a cool, seasonal wreath to make it more interesting. ~James

      1. It’s not just the condominium and/or municipal rules, we also have to have heavy-duty security/safe -like doors nowadays. At least here… I wasn’t sure about visiting the 3 smaller Baltic states, but might look into it now 🙂

      2. Bea, we’ve visited Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and can say we enjoyed each one. There’s a lingering feel of Russia in the area, and if you like Art Nouveau architecture, Helsinki and Riga have excellent collections. ~James

  3. Wow!! Those are amazing… I recently did a photo collage of different doors from our Ireland travels, lovely as well but nothing like these!!!

    1. Interesting that you should mention Irish doors. Posters of door collections seemed to get popular suddenly, and one of the first (and coolest) ones that I saw was “The Doors of Dublin.” I’ll visit your blog to check out your collection. ~James

  4. Amazing and beautiful doors! The door to my own house is plain, but at least the original owner added lovely leaded glass side windows. (Faux lead, I should add) Still, I wouldn’t say it was worth a photo. I’m in some photo groups that post doors and windows photos, and there are some great ones out there, but the ones you posted here take the prize!

    1. Thanks Kathy. Any time we get photo compliments from a photographer of your calibre, we are very pleased. You’ve been following along for a while so you know our penchant for architectural details. And doors are the most obvious detail for most buildings. Another post I’d like to do, but don’t really have enough photos to pull it off are window boxes. They can be particularly nice in Europe this time of year. ~James

  5. You have found really lovely and fun doors! Helsinki really has some nice ones, I have started to notice lately. I hope you don’t mind me saying but Finland is actually not part of the Baltics – it’s a Nordic country 😛

    1. Sylvia, that carved oak door in Tallinn was one of my favorites. I’ve always been a sucker for carved oak, and the condition of this door was incredible. It has been incredibly well-cared for. ~James

  6. I just saw your comment over at Curt’s site, and realized I hadn’t received any notice of new posts since subscribing. I checked my settings, and did have “instant email” as the option, but no email ever has come. I know others are having this problem with other sites. Since I don’t use the WP Reader, I deleted my subscription and re-subscribed, so we’ll see if WP can get their act together this time.

    Best wishes to you both. Knee replacement is no fun, as two of my friends have found out in the past year. I hope the recovery process is going well.

    1. Linda, Terri does most of our website work and maintenance, and she is constantly battling with unannounced changes that WordPress makes. I’m sure that someone at WP thinks that the changes are improvements, but for us, they require constant vigilance to keep things looking and acting the same. We heard from another blogging buddy that is also having notifications issues, but we don’t have a clue what’s going on. Hopefully, the changes you made will work. ~James

  7. Doors are fascinating and this little collection is a beauty. I photographed lots of doors when I was in Rome…thinking how beautiful and substantial they looked. interesting post, thank you😄

    1. Jean, as I said to someone else, it’s surprising that we don’t spend more creative energy on doors in the US. It doesn’t take much additional effort and really does make for an more interesting building. These Art Nouveau architects knew their business. ~James

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