French doors but why are they French?!

This was the question that I was asked by one of my closest friends. (You know who you are!) Unfortunately, I didn’t know the answer. Time for some research.

To me, French doors are full length doors, usually with small panes of glass, which open directly from an indoor room into a garden. Nowadays, we are more likely to talk about patio doors.


I looked up the dictionary definition. According to the Cambridge English dictionary, French doors are ‘a pair of  glass doors usually opening from the back of a house into  its garden’.

The Collins dictionary says this ‘a pair of casement windows extending to floor level and opening onto a balcony, garden, etc.’

Neither tell me why French doors are called French.

However, my research tells me that the origin of French doors can be traced back to the 16th – 17th Century and the influence of Italian Renaissance design. As this was prior to electricity, light in houses was very important or, more importantly, lack of light! Therefore, a window like door with full length glass panes would let in more light.

French doors actually started as floor length windows that led on to small balconies, usually on the upper stories of homes.
Over time, these doors were to be found on the ground floor where they are still popular today.

Does these mean that French doors are actually Italian?!

In our French home, we have a total of 5 sets of French doors. I love them because they let in so much light and air. In the photo below, three sets can be spotted.


Are you a fan of French doors or do you prefer modern patio or bifold doors? I’d love to know.

9 thoughts on “French doors but why are they French?!

  1. The first floor above the street is the “noble” floor, where you find the highest ceilings, balconies with French doors and the fanciest detailing, at least in Renaissance buildings.
    Beware of them on the ground floor. A friend whose beautiful property faces the garrigue found a viper in her house. Other snakes are one thing, but at least they aren’t poisonous. Vipers, however, are. She quickly put a basket on top of it and called a friend to get rid of it. He slipped a piece of heavy cardboard underneath, flipped it, and carried the viper in the basket out to the garrigue, where it was freed.
    Are your French doors oscillant-battant? They are common in the north but I have encountered bafflement from carpenters around here. We finally got oscillant-battant windows, but not full French doors. At least they let you open the windows a crack without having them fully open.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the idea of a ‘noble’ floor. I don’t like the idea of a viper creeping in. We don’t have ‘oscillant-battant’ (I had to look that up!) windows or doors but they’re very common in hotels. Thanks for your detailed and informative comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. OOh I can see why you might not want one of those doors on the ground floor – a viper! Otherwise they look lovely and especially opening out onto a balcony – your place looks so good x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the thought of a viper slithering in did rather freak me out! We have had a cat who left us an unpleasant present. Although, secretly, I’m rather hoping a stray cat might adopt us. Mr FF not quite so keen! Our house isn’t a chateau but it suits our needs very well and is much appreciated by our sons and their friends – haha 😂


  3. Eek, I have never given any thought to a slithering viper, nor any other slitherer coming in through my French doors! Yes, I have French (or perhaps Italian) doors and had them to replace the floor to celing glass ones that were here when we moved in. I have an absolute hatred of sliding glass patio doors. Each to their own, of course but they are not for me!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Indeed these doors belong to the Italian and French architectural tradition as innovation on wooden doors that were the predecessors of this feature, that may have been quite costly when they were introduced. These days we are so used to the idea and no longer care where the innovation came from but obviously from a Mediterranean mild environment, now shifted further north because of climate change! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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