Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cosmetic Surgery for a Poor, Ugly Door

I have ugly doors. It's true. All of them. Ugly. Brown. Hollow core. Shameful. It's something I didn't really take too much notice of when looking at the house initially but as it turns out, it bothers me. The last two vintage houses we lived in had really pretty doors, original to the
house, mostly. So I knew I would have to change out the doors. Easy, right? Well, if you've ever hung a new door in an existing opening, it's a bit of an art and a lot of a pain in the ass. One thing positive about our ugly doors is that they all work, open, close and latch without too much trouble. Oh, one would think 'isn't that just basic?'. Vintage houses rarely have doors that fit well unless someone else has gone through the trouble of making them fit and latch again. My point is, the doors are fine, functional, just ugly as sin.

In CA, we added a closet to the sunroom by building a new wall parallel to an inside wall. Just for fun (?!), I wanted to put a pocket door in instead of a regular door that would swing into the room. It was a huge pain, mostly due to the bizarre stocking practices of HD, but it got done (git 'er dun!) and we needed a door. I had my sources for vintage doors but I wanted something that would match the rest of the house (one lite or three lites) and not cost an arm and a leg with lots of rehab work to do. That's when I came up with altering a cheap prefab door to look like the rest of the doors.

This was my plan with the bathroom door. It leads from the master bedroom to the bath so I decided on glass panes with texture for privacy. Eventually all of the doors in the house will get done the same way but with solid panes instead. This cosmetic surgery works best on hollow core doors that are hung with removable pin hinges. Most older doors are like this. By popping out the hinge pins, you can remove the door without any tools (well, a screwdriver to help pop the pin) and rehang it quickly by yourself.
Using a sharpie and yard stick, I drew out three lites or panels on the door. Didn't like it so I tried four panels. Good! I cut out the panels with a circular saw and jig saw for the corners and was left with four big holes in the door. At this point you can see the guts.
If the door is solid wood, the next step is to put in the trim for the panels. My doors are hollow (see pic) so I cut strips from a 2x4 that would fit into the space between the door surfaces and secured them using a nail gun. Now the trim to hold the panels goes in. I chose to make my own on the table saw with scrap oak in a step pattern but I've bought quarter round profile trim at the home depot before and it works fine and is quicker. Figure how thick the inset panel will be and nail the trim accordingly. Only do one side then paint all the trim, including inside where the glass will sit.
I set the glass using painters caulk to stabilize it because glazing points would stick out too much. On this door, I used clear glass with a panel of textured plastic set on top to give a little privacy. It was a lot cheaper than buying textured glass and it gives a little protection to one side of the glass. Set in the panels and nail in the trim to hold it in place. I use short finish nails on one side incase I need to remove the trim to replace the glass panel. A few coats of semi-gloss paint and voila! a new, pretty door.

Using glass panels and adding wood structure makes the door heavier so it's a good idea to make sure the hinges are solid. I took off the hinges on the wall side to paint them and found they were installed with 1/2" screws. After painting, they were reinstalled with 2" screws. I chose to paint the hinges, which were spotty, tarnished brass, to match the new locksets, 'venetian bronze'. I will do another post on recycling hinges and fixtures by painting them, a favorite trick of mine to save time and money.

This is a great way to get custom-looking doors without the cost, or match a new door to vintage ones already in the house. This process can also be done to sliding closet doors to make them more useful, installing mirror in the panels. There are so many variations on this idea, one is only limited by creativity.

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