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Home & Garden

Vintage, kitsch, classic? New doorbells made to fit any style

| Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, 8:55 p.m.

Before electricity, doorbells rang via a complex rigging of mechanical pulleys. Visitors pulled a rope or turned a key-like affair — think Downton Abbey's elaborate system to summon staff, but on a smaller scale for the masses.

The electric doorbell was invented in 1831, and by the early 1900s was all the rage. Chimes and bells could be heard from anywhere in the house, a tremendous convenience for homeowners and visitors alike.

Today, you can coordinate the look and sound of your doorbell to your home's style. You also can embrace the internet age with video doorbells that can be answered from thousands of miles away.

Vintage and unusual finds

If you're renovating an older home, the retailer Rejuvenation has several retro-style doorbells. There's a round oak bell, popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with a porcelain button. A midcentury starburst style comes in chrome or brass. And a couple of vintage-look ones are stamped with a “ring” or “please ring” note, in oil-rubbed bronze or burnished finishes. (

Got a vacation home near the water? Consider a doorbell shaped like a turtle, crab, scallop or starfish. There are cast-metal ones shaped like hummingbirds, daisies and dragonflies. You could opt for a cabin-y look with a doorbell in the form of a pine forest or bear, or go full rustic with a truly old school bell on a rope, in brass cast like a horse's head. (

Rhode Island artisan Michael Healy, who crafts outdoor art and hardware, has a doorbell in the form of a fox head in nickel silver, brass or oiled bronze. He's got little alligators, frogs and palm trees, and a monarch butterfly hand-cast in bronze and brass, with its wings a rich green patina (

Ready to go high tech?

Having a “smart” doorbell, with video, allows you to keep an eye on your front door area, not only for visitors but for packages. With many of these units, you can speak with the person ringing your bell, chatting directly with the FedEx or UPS driver, for instance, about where and when to leave a delivery.

According to Consumer Reports' Eric Hager, the smart doorbell business has grown enormously in the last several years. He acknowledged concerns about tech systems' vulnerability to hackers, but said homeowners seem willing to take on those risks for the convenience and other safety features of smart doorbells.

Adorne's wireless video intercom kit includes an outside doorbell camera and an inside intercom. Homeowners can see who's at the front door from different locations in the home. The unit can be powered by a long-life battery, or you can hook it up to existing doorbell wiring. (

NuTone's Knock video doorbell has a motion sensor, night vision and optional alarm. It lets homeowners traveling anywhere in the world speak with visitors at their door. It's also touted as rugged enough to withstand extreme weather. ( )

The Ring doorbell has HD video, infrared night vision, and two-way chat from your phone, tablet or PC. Added features: customizable faceplates, and an optional plan for video cloud storage, video sharing and cellular backup if your internet goes down ( ).

You probably have a custom ringtone on your mobile phone, so why not have a custom sound on your doorbell? A digital doorbell from iChime lets you record your own greeting or choose from their sound library ( ).

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