What Is an Overdoor?

Lori Kilchermann

An overdoor, also known as a supraporte in German or sopraporte in Italian, is a decorative item typically mounted between ornamental or architectural mouldings over a doorway. Often nothing more than a shelf fashioned between two mouldings, an overdoor can be used as a place to display vases of flowers or other objects. An overdoor is also a common location to display a family's crest, adding a sense of prestige and elegance to a typically otherwise forgotten area of a home. Originally produced in Europe and the Baltic countries, the decorative pieces also lent styling cues to the fireplace in the form of overmantles, which are used as an area to place a bust or vases on a fireplace mantle.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Often used to decorate the typically ignored area over a doorway, an overdoor typically displays the work of a very talented woodcarver. Typically contracted to carve an image that represents the family's business, likes, or traits, a woodcarver creates a large, ornamental piece. This carving is a way to introduce the family or the residents of a certain building to passersby when placed on the exterior side of the door. The overdoor is commonly painted in a manner that sheds a decorative light on the building, door, or the surrounding architecture. In fact, some of the earliest versions of the door-top decoration were intended to ward-off bad fortune and evil spirits.

Many older versions of the overdoor have been used to decorate a home's interior. Hung on a wall in a manner similar to a painting, the overdoor is used as a focal point and a conversation starter. In some instances, the overdoor is a family heirloom that is being displayed in a more modernistic fashion on the wall. Flowers, landscapes, and other agricultural images were the most common types of images on the earliest versions of the decorative pieces. Dogs, animals, and hunting scenes are also common depictions of the carvings and paintings.

On some specific types of architecture, stone carvings are also used to create the overdoor. Made of granite or marble, the heavy carvings must be placed on top of very sturdy framework. This limits the use of the hefty carvings to stone, block, or brick structures that can support the heavy objects. The decorative pieces have been used in all areas of the world to some degree, evolving to encompass all walks of life. When marketed as an ornamental-only component, some of the most popular themes are depictions of animals, dogs, and hunting as well.

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