Changing of the Doors

By L. Noreene Parker

A door by any name or language; Puerta, Ttopta, Tur, Porte, is an architectural element used to create character, mystery, and intrigue. I see doors as entry art, not just as utilitarian architectural elements.

Doors are the guardian of the inner sanctum and the stalwart of the structure. They are the first impression, and to many a passerby, the only impression of the personality of the home or building, as well as, who or what inhabits it. They welcome friends and family, while guarding against the elements and the unwanted.

Entrances were designated and decorated and date back to 500 B.C. But doors, as we know them today, date to the early Egyptian era. We define them as having two sides, and opening and closing mechanism, and being used to define and separate spaces. Early doors were primarily wood or stone, later, metals like brass and bronze, were used for the construction or decoration.

Throughout history, doors have evolved and been treated differently for different purposes. Some cultures do not believe in physical divisions and barriers at all. But most cultures and structures do have defined and secured divisions. Very large gates and doors were used to secure castles, cities, forts, and houses of worship. Banks and other financial institutions have vault doors, which were intended to guard, impress, and intimidate the user. The Victorians were known for their very tall, imposing, and ornate double day and night doors, while the 1940s cottages have come to be known for their simple small scale “dwarf” doors. The Islands doors excite by their bright colors and half open Dutch doors. New England has its traditional styles and primary painted colors. Desert areas have their rustic rough hewn woods of heavy construction meant to hold up to the blasting of the sands over time. It goes on, but most regions and countries have a unique personality for their doors which is as varied as their climates and residents. Some have a serviceable purpose, others just seem to have a cultural personality.

The construction and materials for doors are endless. From the earliest made of slabs of stone and wood, to doors that were later clad with iron, brass, and bronze, to modern techniques of mortise and tenon joinery. Mortise and tenon joinery are capable of intricate designs and carvings that we most often see in antique architectural and custom doors. Antique architectural doors are perfect to use to add originality, character, and reflect a feeling of warmth, personality, and creativity for our home. The worn, rustic woods and surfaces are rich, warm, textured, and they exhibit a storied and colorful history that can be seen and felt at a distance. The quality of construction is seldom matched with contemporary materials and construction. These old doors immediately spark interest and conversation as a great piece of art and craftsmanship that is totally unique to your home and no other.

If we look at the hardware and other adornments of doors, you quickly see that utility was the last thought. It is obvious that art was first. The door plates, door knobs, door knockers, and letter slots, etc. were extremely ornate and detailed, with all manner of floral, classical, and mythical motifs. The materials are as varied as the craftsmanship; from metals, iron, brass, and silver, to glass, porcelain, wood, and stones. The designs, sizes, and functions for these items are also endless. So this was another way of changing and adding style, character, and design to a more simple door function.

In most restoration projects, when fortunate enough to have the original doors existing, they are carefully repaired, restored, and reused preserving their original character. While in most renovation projects, the doors, which are most likely to be hollow core, laminated, or a clad material, are immediately upgraded and changed out for an entry door that is solid wood, good custom design, or an unusual antique architectural door. This adds a more impressive and welcoming statement and upgrades the value and appeal of the project.

We have totally changed our way of thinking about doors in the past 25 years. At one time, the only reason that a mismatched door would be in a structure would be because it was what was available or affordable. Today, we often go to great lengths to search for interesting and artistic doors, regardless of the design or panel configuration to use in the same project. We also use doors for different purposes today. For instance, old barn doors are brought inside the home and are very popular at the moment. Doors with advertising or office signs are also in great demand for interesting interior doors. Many old interior doors are so sturdy and oversized that they are being used for exterior doors now. Styles change, ideas evolve, and we often change our traditional uses to follow those trends and new lifestyles and purposes.


L. Noreene Parker began working in restoration design in the late 1980s on such projects as design of the original  CNN offices and studios and restoration of the Chattanooga Choo Choo train station hotel, restaurants, and conference center; she has been featured on HGTV, This Olde House, Old House Journal, Antiques Roadshow, CNN, and the New York Times.  

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