Front doors on historic or vintage homes are often dressed up with the use of different panels of glass called fanlights, sidelights and transoms. Even if you don't own a historic home, you can add some pizazz to your front entryway by using these old architectural details to your front door.
A fanlight door is a window above or on the door that is semi-circular. It can be plain glass or more ornate with radius work and detail--the idea is that the window looks like an open fan. This type of front door detail was typical of urban row houses in the mid-1700s. It is also found in houses that are Classical and Colonial Revival styles.
This front door detail consists of framed small glass panels on each side of a door. The purpose of sidelights are decorative, but they also help bring in natural light into a historic home's typically dark foyer. Sidelights can be used in combination with a fanlight or transom. This type of architectural front door style became popular after the American Revolution.
These small windows are located right above a door. Originally, the purpose of these small rectangular windows was to let in natural light and air into a home. Today, most transom windows created above a home's front door is strictly decorative and cannot be opened (but still serve the purpose of letting in light). This is a Victorian era architectural detail that is also found in Federal and Georgian-style homes.