Sunday, September 14, 2014

Beyond The Plain White Door

Our desire to restore period-appropriate detail to our house is something we've pursued since taking ownership many years ago.  Not all of the projects we undertake are on a grand scale, but with every little detail we add (an old door knob, for example), we aim to turn back the clock, or at least give the impression that we have. Of course, balancing life in the modern world with old-world design can sometimes be tricky. We have learned not to be slavishly OCD about such matters, but merely to make selections which are as period sympathetic as we are able. We typically take our time when undertaking such things, primarily to insure they are done correctly, and that we have sufficient funds to cover the cost of the project at hand. Ridding our home of the incongruous and ill-fitting 1950's garage door has been on our renovation list for many years.  So, this past summer, with much excitement and hand-clapping, we finally set forth on realizing our long anticipated vision.

Chronica Domus
This door, which sits to the left of our garage, was the inspiration for the new garage door's design
Photo: Chronica Domus


From the very beginning, we settled on the theory that the original carriage doors would have been of similar design to that of the door photographed above. It is located adjacent to the garage and is original to the house. We believe this entrance was used by tradesmen and domestics, as it has its own separate doorbell, and is located at the back of the house. It is also the closest door leading to the kitchen. We took inspiration from this door when approaching our project, making modest but necessary adjustments to the scale of the fenestration.

It was important to us that as we were going to all the effort and expense of having the garage door custom made, it should look as authentic as possible and reminiscent of the original. As I wrote in my previous post here, we soon discovered that true carriage doors, which swing outward, would not work in our situation as our very modern motor car would fail to clear the opening.  With this in mind, we devised an alternative design that would, by all appearances, resemble the way in which we imagined the original doors to have looked. In essence, we would be building one solid "mock" carriage door, opening upward, thereby maintaining the adequate space required to park our vehicle. Sectional roll-up mock carriage doors were never considered as we did not feel the look of the tell-tale horizontal sections succeeded in allowing for the trick of the eye which was our aim. Additionally, it would be impossible to preserve the scale of the glazing pattern.  Our approach was one which our door maker Ron had never before undertaken, so this would be an interesting project for all involved.

If our project was to be a success, it was imperative that the design of the door appear as authentic as possible. Of particular concern was the glazing. Isn't all clear glass the same, one might ask? Well, the answer, of course, is certainly not.  One of the joys of the tradesmen's entrance door is peeking through the subtle distorted views produced by the old glass window panes.  This original glass possesses slight striations, pitting, and the occasional air bubble. The distortion is present because the glass utilized for glazing windows during the 19th and early 20th centuries was still being mouth-blown, producing this rather distinctive characteristic which is lacking in modern machine plate glass.

For a brief moment, we considered sourcing genuine old glass, often found at salvage yards.  The glazing would first have to be painstakingly removed from rickety old sash windows, always a nerve wracking and dicey proposition, before it is cut to size.  We have resorted to this laborious technique for earlier projects completed shortly after purchasing our house. The end result, however, carried a high price in terms of plenty of tears and vexation as, inevitably, much breakage would occur.  Often this would happen just as the final cut was being performed.  For later restoration projects, we turned to America's only vendor of authentic mouth-blown glass, S.A. Bendheim, who carry an excellent "light restoration" glass that is mouth-blown in a German factory employing the traditional blow-pipe method.  We were thrilled to discover an optional laminate feature available for projects such as ours, that require safety glass to be utilized for larger panes. We do, after all, live in a modern world where building codes cannot be bypassed for aesthetics, at least that is the case in our area of the world. The laminate, I am relieved to report, is imperceptible to the naked eye, and does not affect the final appearance of the glass. Our order was placed following, not prior, to the door's construction.  This is because final measurements for each window pane are double-checked to within an eighth of an inch, insuring the custom cut panes, once they arrive, would fit snugly between their muntins (or "sticks" as Ron likes to call them).

Once the issue of the glazing material was put to bed, we then turned our attentions to the hardware that would embellish our door. The carriage door handles would serve a decorative purpose only, having eliminated the need to open any doors outward.  We did, however, want to select a model to closely match those used on carriage doors of the era.  We took our cues from studying old catalogue illustrations, and from the design of the original black iron railing, located by our front door steps. We opted for a fine set of heavy-duty black forged iron handles, and bypassed the machine stamped pretenders which are so much easier to source.

The door handles on this carriage door date from the early 1920's and were made by the National Manufacturing Company
Photo: archive.org


A letter box or, as it is known in America, a mail slot, made of rich oiled bronze, was chosen in a size commensurate with early 20th century examples. As with practically everything else available for sale these days, the average size of a humble letter box has swelled during the decades since our house was built.  There are now two standard slot sizes from which to select.  A larger "magazine size" is best suited to the modern proportions of McMansionesque houses and, more appropriately for our modestly-sized garage, a smaller "letter size" slot.

Only after having sourced all of the bits and bobs that would help us achieve a period-appropriate look, were we ready to give Ron the green light to proceed with the construction of the door.  By doing our legwork upfront, we had eliminated any possible obstacle to insuring the completed door would look just as we wished. As the old cliché would have it, the devil is in the details.

Chronica Domus
Our garage door was built in the workroom of Artistic Garage Doors by a team of capable carpenters
Photo: Chronica Domus

Ron and his carpenters worked diligently to construct our door from high quality kiln dried wood using traditional joinery methods. We were thrilled to see the door's progress upon visiting the workroom just prior to installation. The door had received a snowy white undercoat of primer in preparation for glazing.

Chronica Domus
The first view of our mock carriage doors complete with an undercoat of white primer
Photo: Chronica Domus


Within a few days of the glass order arriving, and after examining each piece for breakage (there was none, we are pleased and relieved to report), the pieces were set between the muntins, and an appointment for delivery was made post haste.

I believe my husband may have been surprised at how much I squealed with delight upon seeing this:

Chronica Domus
Ron at work insuring the new door is installed correctly
Photo: Chronica Domus


It took Ron, with the aid of one of his carpenters, less than two hours to rid us of the ugly white 1950's garage door, and turn back the clock to the 1920's with our interpretation of what must surely resemble the original set of carriage doors. In the removal process, Ron had unearthed a little treasure. It was a rusty portion of the original top bolt mechanism that long ago held one of the two carriage doors in place. The piece had been buried beneath the supports of the 1950's installation for over half a century.

Chronica Domus
Long buried hardware which once secured the slide bolt of the original carriage doors
Photo: Chronica Domus


Below you see the completed new "mock" carriage door. We have painted it in the same plumy blue as the other exterior doors of our house, using a traditional paint brush. Yes, it may seem superfluous to mention this little detail, but it is surprising to learn how much painting is now accomplished with the aid of a spray gun, rendering the finish flat and characterless. No, we rather enjoy seeing brushstrokes on our wooden painted surfaces. The carriage door handles and letter box complete the smart tailored appearance of the door, and the light restoration glass gently distorts the gleaming reflection.

Chronica Domus
Don't you think the new door looks quite smart and a more appropriate choice for a 1920's era house?  Notice how the new door now seats flush in the opening, unlike the ill-installed 1950's door.
Photo: Chronica Domus


The magic of it all is that we are able to raise the door upwards mechanically.  Not only do we benefit from the modern convenience and practicalities of electricity, but we are also able to drive our much wider modern motor car comfortably through the opening.

Chronica Domus
The carriage door may appear old, but it has all the practicality of a modern-era door
Photo: Chronica Domus


The photograph below shows the spring mechanism that makes it all possible. We find the door to be as beautiful from the inside as from the outside, thanks to Ron's capable carpentry skills.  An added benefit of replacing our windowless slab of a door is that the garage is now flooded with abundant natural light, making it a far more airy and pleasant environment. During the late afternoon, long rippling shadows are cast across the garage, a pleasant effect of the mouth-blown glass.  It is all quite lovely!  The fenestration also affords us a welcomed view of the greenery outside, a benefit we had not previously considered when planning the design of the door.

Chronica Domus
An inside view of the mock carriage door showing the springs that make it all possible
Photo: Chronica Domus


One final consideration was the question of how we would corral our daily mail as it is pushed through the letter box by our postman. We opted for a whimsical touch and thus hung a Nantucket wicker bicycle basket under the chute. The back of the roomy basket sits flush against the door, and can accommodate over a week's worth of mail if needed. The basket can also be removed with little effort if we are to be away from home for extended periods of time. This is accomplished by unbuckling the leather and brass fasteners, and replacing the bicycle basket with a much larger wicker basket positioned on the floor beneath the chute.


Chronica Domus
We added a whimsical yet practical solution for the collection of our daily mail; a Nantucket wicker bicycle basket
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
A view of the new garage door with our motor car tucked safely within
Photo: Chronica Domus


I hope you've enjoyed following along in our progress, and ultimate arrival to our very modern interpretation of traditional carriage doors. Wouldn't you agree that it constitutes a vast improvement over the prior incongruous flat panel?

Ron and his entire team were an absolute delight to work with. Together we met every challenge and obstacle to realizing our dream of restoring a touch more period-appropriate detail and dignity to the exterior of our home.

Now, onto the next project.

 Nota bene: I am neither paid nor do I receive recompense in exchange for applauding products or services within my blog.  I do so because I enjoy them.  If you are a kindred spirit, you too enjoy recommending nice things to fellow good eggs.

26 comments:

  1. That turned out beautifully and while I'm sure Ron and his crew don't work cheap that new carriage house door far more than paid for itself on the added value to your home. That 'plumy blue' looks gorgeous and similar to what's called a Williamsburg blue in the Southeast.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you GSL! We adore the door and although your point is well taken (with regards to the value of the house), we are not very good at bearing this in mind when taking on such projects. Our aim is always to beautify our house and turn the clock back, regardless of market value (not very financially savvy, I know!).

      The 'plumy blue' color sometimes looks purple,depending on the day. I've not heard of Williamsburg blue but it sounds like a popular choice in the southeast.

      Delete
  2. I had an inkling this might the solution (largely because we'd hoped to do the same in a very similar situation). Alas, it was not to be for us - too many practical constraints.

    But your garage door is fabulous. I hope Ron is proud of his handiwork, as well he should be. Well done, all of you.

    Spud.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Spud,

      So happy you too approve of the new door. We are chuffed to pieces with it!

      I'd be curious to learn of what you settled upon with regards to your garage door. We've lived with our 1950's door for many years now, but I was prepared to wait until we found the perfect person to build the new old door for us. I believe we succeeded in that as Ron and his crew were fabulous to work with. This was a true collaboration all around.

      Delete
    2. I'm happy to satisfy your curiosity, CD. Our house and garage are in the Art Deco Streamline Moderne style, similar to this one:
      https://www.flickr.com/photos/dct66/3023517326/

      The original timber garage doors were outward opening with glass inserts (not unlike the ones you showed in your last post). They were in a very poor state of disrepair - unusable and and not able to be restored. Replacing them with reproductions was not a practical solution for a range of reasons.

      So we opted to 'downplay' the doors, rather than make a feature of them. The result is similar to the first picture in the link below, although our garage is much smaller and well set back from the front of the house such that it recedes into the background.
      http://blog.mailasail.com/vulcanspirit/499

      We're satisfied with the outcome, despite being disappointed that the original doors couldn't be salvaged. That said, we made a considerable comprise in keeping the garage at all as it will only accommodate one small car. When we bought our car some years ago, the first consideration was whether it would fit in the garage!

      Spud.

      Delete
    3. Dearest Spud,

      Thank you for a most enlightening account of how you arrived at the sensible outcome of replacing your original garage door.

      I was intrigued to view the photographs of the many Deco-era buildings in New Zealand in the second link you mention in your comment above. I found this quite interesting as the same aesthetic was employed on many of the early 20th century buildings constructed in San Francisco and the surrounding towns of the Bay Area. Somehow, those photographs seemed very familiar to me. If you get the chance to visit our fair city, you shall see what I mean firsthand and possibly encounter a deja vu moment.

      Thank you again for stopping by for a follow-up comment.

      Delete
  3. Those are fabulous - and I love the detail of the 'wavy' glass. It really is lovely!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello AD,

      Yes, the glass was a "must have" for our door as we felt that modern plate glass would give the appearance that the door was just installed, something we wanted to avoid, if possible.

      Delete
  4. Your new door is not only exceedingly handsome, it looks like it has always been there. One question--doesn't the mail come out of the basket if the door is raised?
    --Jim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Jim,

      I am glad you approve of the door's design, thank you. I believe we arrived at the best possible solution bearing in mind our limitations. I am more than thrilled with it.

      What a good question with regards to the basket. As the door is raised, the basket is able to swing on the leather straps, so is always in a position to contain the mail. I've not seen these bicycle baskets used in such a way before, but we love to use natural materials whenever we can, and I think the basket is an elegant solution to gather our mail.

      Delete
  5. Ron must be a talented craftsman. The doors are beautiful. What a great job you and your husband did in investigating and selecting a new authentic looking design.
    I would have squealed with delight too! :-)
    Karen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Karen! I don't think I've stopped squealing with delight since the door was installed (much hand-clapping too!).

      Yes, Ron and his team are very capable craftsmen. We are big advocates of sourcing local small businesses and craftspeople to work on our house, and enjoy the interaction and the process each experience brings with it. We always learn so much.

      Delete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I LOVE IT! You and Ron, must be commended. and your choice of color is perfect for such a door or doors. Only thing I keep thinking about, knowing me, is my forgetting there might be mail in the basket before I lifted the door. I can be quite spacey but you are so organized I'm sure you have thought of it.

    Well you must be thrilled and you are right...the devil is in the details. I think like you when it comes to things like this and also overbudget so I don't end up with a nasty surprise. Good job!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for the high praise, I'm glad you love the door as much as we do. And, there was no need to get rid of the Volvo in the process ;-)

      You will be very happy to learn that yes, we did think about the basket being full of mail. The beauty of it is that as the door is elevated, the basket swings back on the leather straps so there is never the fear of mail being displaced.

      Good luck with your upcoming project. I'm sure it will all be worth the effort once completed.

      Delete
  8. Hello:

    We are HUGELY impressed at this wonderfully ingenious, surprising solution to the problem of your garage doors. They are, or it is, absolutely perfect in every way and obviously constructed with great skill and professionalism. Superb. Additionally, we love the colour you have chosen for the paintwork of the house.

    Too often people ruin houses with inappropriate additions and too little thought to the integrity of the original design; here this is most certainly not the case.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Jane and Lance for your generous praise of our new door. We are always a little nervous when making any additions to the house, for the exact reasons you state so well in your comment.

      With this addition, we truly feel we've succeeded in our goal of reintroducing a tad more period detail to the exterior of our house.

      Delete
  9. The end result is so logically elegant, that it could only have been achieved with the greatest attention to detail.

    And bless you for applying paint with an actual brush!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Toby Worthington, I am delighted to have made your acquaintance. Welcome to the blog and I hope you stop by often in the future to join in on the merry banter.

      It appears you are a fan of the humble paint brush, which must never be allowed to fall by the wayside in favor of a spray gun. I shudder at the thought!

      Delete
  10. You thoroughly planned the installation, which is a great idea because things would have definitely gone south if you didn't. Anyway, the installation is such as success. The doors look amazing. All of you did a great job. All the best! :)

    Fred Richardson @ SGK Home Solutions, Inc.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fred,

      Thank you so much for your vote of confidence. We hope to enjoy our doors for many years to come and as you say, the installation went flawlessly. Ron and his team did such a wonderfully thorough job.

      Delete
  11. Wow nice web page i enjoyed reading it. thank you for sharing about garage door.
    Glass Garage Door

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for taking the time to say so.

      Delete
  12. "What a brilliant idea! Too often, people buy older homes because of the nostalgia, only to completely mess it up by throwing a ton of modern ""improvements"" in. That, in my opinion, usually takes away the home's appeal.

    Your garage door is very appropriate and it is also ""fun"" at the same time! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and ideas."

    Machelle Ledoux @ Total Garage Repair

    ReplyDelete
  13. I have been wanting to get this installed at my place for quite some time now. I think I have just been lazy about getting it done. I just make excuses about something else being more important. I think I will give our garage people a call on Monday and see what we can get going to get it done.

    Giovanni @ Coastal Contract Hardware

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Giovanni,

      Well, I do hope your garage people can cobble up a good door for you. We are still tickled pink with ours and pleased my husband and I took the time to design it from scratch. Of course, no design is a good one until you find the right person to fabricate it for you.

      Good luck with your project.

      Delete

Please do leave a comment as I enjoy the dialogue with my readership, thank you.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...