Front Door Deliberations

I really had hoped that the door agonies which plagued me when we were searching for that perfect pair of french doors (and all the bells and whistles that come with those) were behind me. I had spent weeks researching and envisioning, only to face the reality that those perfect little details come with a serious price tag attached (goodbye cremone bolts, sadly i never knew you!) I am perfectly happy with the doors that we ended up with, and I am sure that will be the case with our front door as well. But for the records sake, let me just say, I really, really, really wanted that mortise lock.

Let me start from the beginning. Here’s what we have now (Scary, I know. and embarrassing, particularly now that this is on the interwebs). Anything, including a piece of fresh plywood, would be better than our current front door.

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I had been putting off searching for a replacement though because my brain is still overstuffed with all the new information and knowledge I have acquired on everything from mortar types to plumbing parts in the last year.

Alas, I really did a disservice to myself, because with the refinance and reappraisal clock starting to tick we are really under time crunch to get VIB looking its best. We could of course wait on this bit, but I am quite convinced that this door business will have a material impact on the bottom line number. I mean, first impressions count and all.

Front Door Research

So on my daily half hour walk to work I have been studying the best of what DC row houses have on offer. Some sample doors from my daily commute — beauties, aren’t there?

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Then of course came the historic considerations – what the front door would have looked like originally. A terrible question really, as it usually leads me down a very expensive rabbit hole. The front door – unlike the french doors in the kitchen – was there for sures. There aren’t any original doors left on our block, so I looked for some help with resources on the internet. Capitol Hill Restoration Society has a nice guide on exterior doors and entrances.

I was quite relieved to learn that 7′ door was the standard, and that a full glass – single lite door was a ‘perfectly acceptable’ historic substitute. Going with full length glass will allow us to increase the amount of light, which for me is a big deal (and our glossy new floors will sparkle!) So far, so good. Some full glass door examples, again from my daily walk to work:

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*PS, all of these were taken in February, as in Christmas, and in particular Halloween, is over. C’mon, people.

Front Door Sourcing

Luckily, we already had a rolodex of door suppliers in the area (having visited close to a dozen on a search for the french doors), so we went with a place that we knew would have close to, if not, the best deal for a standard, in stock product (which is what we needed, at least I thought). The Door and Window warehouse in Blandensburg, MD. Turns out 7′ isn;t standards, 6’8″ is. BUT! a basic 7′ wood door with full glass lite, with a frame, but not primed is only $600. After the sticker shock of our french doors, that number almost sounded free.

Front Door Hardware

All was going so well, that is, until I started doing the research on door locks. I found this very good primer, which spells out the three types of locks: modern ‘conversion’ lock sets, mortise lock sets, and rim lock sets. Basically, if the house was built anytime before 1940, it would have had either mortise or rim lock set. Unfortunately, the new, in-stock doors come pre drilled for the modern conversion set. Opening for mortise lock would have to be custom ordered. But of course.

The issue is time and expense. If we want the door before reappraisal, we don’t have time to get custom drilled anything. Also, we kind of want to stop spending money at least for a bit on house. On the other hand, it kills me to pay still substantial amounts for something that is not what I envision as a permanent solution. I am afraid Sergey does not see the finer distinctions here, and I have frustrated him quite a bit with my insistence on the authentic details.

In the end we went ahead and ordered the door. It will be here next week. I have selected the hardware made by Nostalgic Warehouse. Its not mortise, but it will just have to be good enough. Sometimes perfect just isn’t an option, and that’s when you have to learn how to be ok with good enough. Working on that now!

  • Steve Bory

    Great post Jenia. Although I don’t have the budget to replace the front door yet, I spend a lot of time thinking about it. Luckily I found a photo from 1924 of some houses on my street. http://parkviewdc.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/tenth-precinct-motorcycle-squad.jpg I’m assuming our house had the same full glass doors. One day I’ll get around to buying one. I haven’t thought about locks though. Hmmm…so much to fantasize about.

  • victorianinbloom

    thanks for sharing the resources Steve! yes, the locks are all part of that authentic look (sigh). its funny, i looked at the doors of a few recently renovated and sold houses in our neighborhood, and none of them actually have the reproduction hardware, even the super expensive ones!