Doors: Gateways to Our Homes

Written by Leara Rhodes

Time spent in Oxford, England, gave me a new but negative look at my front door. There were so many intricately carved doors and arches and gateways in Oxford. I walked around staring as though I had never seen architecture before. I peered at many doors and made mental notes. Now, back home, I saw that my entry way was fine; it had a sturdy mahogany door with square panels of bas-relief wood and long glass panels running parallel to the door. However, I wanted something…some color, some energy, something magical.

My artist friends suggested stained glass, but I didn’t want a cathedral look. I consulted Christie Moody, a fusion glass artist at the Blue Heron Glass Art studio, who has been creating whimsical and luminous fused glass art, inspired by her interaction with oceanic and riverine flora and fauna, for 30 years. We talked; I loved her work. The only request I made was that the design would tell a story. She designed “Bali Dream,” an architectural installation along with wood artisan, Peter Bull, who used white oak for the accents that framed the glass. I have 22 white oak trees in my backyard. With the art glass on either side, now the door is the gateway into my home; one filled with art and collectibles from all over the world.

This custom made door, created by glass artist Christie Moody and woodworker Peter Bull, sets the stage for guests of writer Leara Rhodes as they enter her home filled with art and collectibles that reflect her travels all over the world.

“Doors are certainly the gateway into the home,” says Riezl Baker, a realtor with Luxury Lake Oconee Real Estate. The lake area is where she has worked for the past 20 years. “They provide the exclamation point to accession to the house.”

Entries are important, that’s why there are red carpet events and fanfares. In literature, doors symbolize beginnings, ends, or choices presenting an unknown path for a hero/heroine. They often metaphorically represent choices or emotional struggles like the famous door of Ebenezer Scrooge’s in Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel “A Christmas Carol,” according to Famous Doors in Literature, 2016.

The Romans, however, made doors important when they named their most prominent god: Janus, the god of doors and archways. Janus was the god of beginnings and transitions. Often depicted as a two-faced god, Janus has one face looking to the future and the other looking to the past, according to Wu Mingren in his article, “How Janus Became the Doorkeeper of Heaven and God to the Gods.” A shrine to Janus in Rome, the Janus Geminus (‘Twin Janus’), is bronze with double doors at each end. Legend says that during times of peace, the doors are to be closed; during war, the doors are to be left open, according to Stephen Buriek in “The History of Doors: A Travel Through Time.”

Whether open or closed, doors have a storied history that has been influenced by philosophy and design trends over the years.

First doors

Throughout the ancient world, doors were hides or textiles. Other materials were wood, stone, metal, glass, paper, and leaves. Then, based on its durability and strength, wood became the most used type of door. And according to Pompeiian murals, the door has not changed a lot. The wood paneled doors were constructed of stiles (vertical beams) and rails (horizontal beams) framed together to support panels and equipped with locks and hinges, according to Amy Tikkanan, an editor of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Egyptian doors are thought to be the first real doors dated at around 12,000 BCE when caves with a square entry were introduced, according to Annie Deakin in “History and Function of Doors.” Her Articles Factory post cited that other first doors include King Solomon’s temple doors made of olive wood and stone doors found in India which had pivots on each end and fit into sockets.

Once doors became a permanent part of a house, the door also became symbolic. Doors have been designed to honor people and gods. Throughout history inscriptions have been placed on doorways to invite guests in while making others unwelcome. Doors have been intricately carved with lions, dragons, and deities to serve as both warning and greeting. During the 12th and 13th century in medieval times, “The Symbol at Your Door” was significant. Differing seals could stand for reputation, prestige, status and wealth, according to Buriek. These historical doors not only had inscriptions, some were even automated and others were full of ritual, according to the Qualified Hardware website on famous doors.

In Zanzibar, off the coast of East Africa (Tanzania), the door was traditionally the first part of a house to be erected, according to Chris and Susan McIntyre in their Bradt Guide. The greater the wealth and status of the house’s owner, the larger and more elaborately carved was the front door. The oldest carved door in Zanzibar, which dates from 1694, is now the front door of the Zanzibar Museum of Art.

Influence of design

Whether inspired by fiction like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 221B Baker Street, established by tradition like London’s 10 Downing Street, or created through sheer practicality like humankind’s first doors, design trends have been influenced by philosophy and craftsmanship.

The intricate stained glass door of this thoroughly Arts & Crafts home in Madison is a replica of the famed Gamble House in Pasadena, Calif., designed by Greene & Greene architects.

Throughout recent history, famed architects including Greene & Greene and Frank Lloyd Wright have integrated nature into door design, especially during the Arts & Crafts movement. “Wright is relevant because he never gave up on the timeless,” writes Margo Stipe, the Director and Curator of Collections at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.  “He believed beauty, the arts, and communion with nature were vital to the well-being of people.”

Much of his work was shaped by this philosophy of nature, not unlike the concept of feng shui which dates back to ancient China and still finds popularity today. Baker says she had a client at Lake Oconee who was definitely looking for a house to fit her idea of feng shui.

This philosophy is a way of looking at living spaces and the working environment then striking a balance with the natural world. The Chinese words translate to mean wind and water, according to Anjie Cho in The Spruce. In feng shui, the front door is the gate through which chi – or good energy – enters the home, and certain feng shui techniques can help invite this energy and create good vibrations for everyone living there.

Chris Deziel also suggests in his article, “Feng Shui Ideas for a North-Facing Front Door,” that harmonizing the door with the direction it faces is important, because that invites energy in harmony with the surroundings.

The crafting of the door is as important as the design or placement.

Artisan Peter Bull, who worked with Christie Moody to create the glass art panels on either side of my home door, has been a woodworker for 43 years in restoration, furniture and traditional timber frame projects. He works with many types of wood, sourcing them through suppliers in different mills around Georgia.

The process of building a custom door is more than just determining size, hardware, wood type, and locking system. Creating a door is a collaboration between the artist and the owner, says Bull. A custom-made door takes about 20 weeks to create for a 3’x7’ door and can cost between $3,000 to $15,000 depending on size, wood, and design, he says.

Though Bull often uses mahogany because it is a strong wood for exterior doors, Richard Kuehndorf, the owner of Carlton’s Rare Woods in Atlanta, confirms that both teak and mahogany are the strongest woods but can be pricy. The teak wood can cost $30 per square foot and if it is two inches thick can be up to $100 a square foot. He often uses Sapele mahogany, a dark hard wood from Nigeria because Kuehndorf finds it is a better wood when cut with a radial cut. He suggests that alder wood from western Oregon is good for people who want more knot holes for a cabin look. White oak is the next hardest wood after mahogany, says Kuehndorf. Kuehndorf gets purpleheart (Peltogyne) from South America, a dense and water-resistant wood that will last forever. The heartwood when cut, turns from a light brown to a rich purple color with a straight grain.

Custom built is one way to get an interesting door; another way is to repurpose antique doors. Ryan Miller, co-owner of Artisan Built with Bryan Combs, are custom builders for 19 years in the Lake Oconee area. Miller had a client that wanted character in his custom-built home. “I was looking around sourcing items and saw these doors. Two doors, antique doors with seven coats of paint on them but they had character and depth,” says Miller. He worked in partnership with a local millwork shop to create the doors the client wanted. “It took about three weeks but that was good because the wood worker got all excited about the doors and wanted to own it and be part of it,” says Miller.

Though custom builders and most people in the business of supplying doors for homes agree that mahogany is the strongest wood to use in a door, trends are changing.

The glass of this oversized iron door in the home of Susan and Roger Pitt gives way to breathtaking views of sunsets over Lake Oconee. See more of the home during the 2020  Showcase of Homes virtual tour to benefit Greene County Habitat for Humanity. Photo by Roger Pitt.

“Clients are now preferring more glass on the front door,” says Baker. Her own front door has a lot of glass, double doors, mahogany with a view straight through the house to the lake beyond. Another trend, according to Miller, “is more of a commercial look, steel doors with thin frames, slim lines and a minimalist material but with glass.” The glass is either true divided light, where individual panes of glass are built into the door or simulated divided light, where the door has one pane of glass but with bars laid on top of it. Another trend, says Miller, is eight-foot-high double doors with transoms over the top to create a grand entrance. His home door is 3’x 8’ Sapele mahogany with a true radius (arch top), a glass top, and wood bottom.

Doors may be the gateway into our homes, but with most lake homes with a view, the exits are often just as dynamic. Miller remembered a difficult but rewarding project. “We built ten-foot sliding pocket doors that when they were open it felt as though an entire wall was missing. The view was of the lake. Very rewarding aesthetically,” says Miller.

History, philosophy, and craftsmanship may have influenced how doors have taken on meaning over and above just being a door, but it’s the homeowner who ultimately controls how to make a door the gateway to a home. I did exactly that with my “Bali Dream” door. It is magical.

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