Years ago on a trip to Newfoundland, retired traveler Jackie Jansen began documenting a strangely persistent phenomenon: front doors raised high above the ground. Odder still: these elevated entries had no stairs to speak of, leaving her to wonder why. It turns out there are competing theories about these unusual portals. Locals told Jansen and her husband (presumably tongue in cheek) that such “mother-in-law doors” were for ushering out unwanted in-laws, but that’s not the only tall tale going around about these quirky designs.
Some have speculated that these seemingly useless secondary doors are a product of building regulations — when Newfoundland joined Canada in the late 1940s, they suddenly had to match new fire regulations that required two modes of egress for houses. Following the letter of the law, the theory goes, a door was added, but no stairs, since technically that was not included in the legal requirement.
A similarly legalistic theory posits that leaving off the staircase allows a building to remain technically “unfinished,” yielding some sort of tax break. Or perhaps these higher doors deter would-be thieves. Clearly, the uncanny positioning of these features invites much speculation, particularly since such raised doors are often found on front facades.
The consensus opinion in comments on Jensen’s article, however, suggest a more simple, climate-driven answer: snowfall. In a place where snow can pile up many feet high and completely obscure ground-level doors, having a higher point for ingress and egress makes sense. Why stairs aren’t added, though, still seems like a bit of a mystery — an elevated door without steps is an all-or-nothing proposition, as snow levels will rarely match a threshold precisely. Then again, one can always wade through snow at the normal-height door.