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European Style Doors
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

?Walking through the towns and villages of Italy, I became fascinated with the rich and powerful textures of this old and beautiful land,? wrote Emanuel Borok, Dallas Symphony Orchestra?s Concertmaster, in The Doors of Italy, A 1992 Calendar of Dallas Classical Music. ?The doors of these homes are of special significance to me for they are the openings into the life that is shielded from the eyes of the browsing tourist.?

Today, European styled doors, like those photographed by Borok, just might be found on homes in Dallas. For Dallas doors are taking on more international accents and more southwest interpretation, and they?re moving away from traditional looks, according to Pat Kelley, owner of Southwest Door and Window. But classifying a particular style as typical of Dallas is impossible for Richard Thomas and Window World on Lovers Lane.

?People are looking for something that gives them recognition,? said Thomas. ?People are looking at the door as an extension of their own personalities. Some people are paranoid about other people looking in. Other people want clear metal glass doors to see all the way through their house.?

?What does an entrance mean to an owner?? asks Cole Smith, architect with Smith, Ekblad, & Associates. ?A feeling of welcome from the exterior, security on the inside and beauty for both. On the other hand, a feeling of impregnability, intimidation, unwanted intrusion, or even an anthropomorphic signal-sometimes not intended-may be desired. (For instance) an angry lion or knocker could offend some sensibilities.?

To make a classic statement with a front entry, size and style need to be considered in choosing a single door or double doors, the side panels, and a transom that are all in context with the architecture of the house as a whole. The classic height is measured roughly twice the width with 10 to 20% additional ceiling for today?s taller people, according to Smith. As a blacksmith, Smith pays close attention to the details?the hardware, locks, handles, thumb pieces, knobs, levers, bolts, weather stripping, and grill work?all should add up to an impeccable, unified impression. As an architect, Smith puts the design in historical perspective.

Indeed, the Dallas door has been changing for at least thirty years, according to Wilson Plywood and Door spokesperson, Mike Godfrey, who can spot which ten-year period a house was built by the style of the front door, provided the owner hasn?t changed out the original. But, many homeowners replace their existing front doors within one or two years of moving into the homes, even into newly constructed homes. And many custom doors are used for replacement.

The biggest trend, lately, has been the scaling heights of all doors, regardless of style. Just ten years ago in the Wilson Plywood and Door catalogue, the 8ft door was not available, except through custom order. And the standard door was 6ft-8in tall, a height that had a long established tradition, says Smith. These days, the 8 ft door is standard, and customers can order 9 and 10-ft tall doors. But it?s not just height; doors now come 2? inch thick, up from the standard 1? inch, and have widened from 3 to 4 feet.

Such massive doors can create problems, according to Thomas.

?In the drought that we?re experiencing right now, a structure will move one way. Come spring rains, this clay soil will expand and the structure will move back the other way,? Thomas said. So the bigger the door, the more likely it will develop problems: likewise, a single door incurs fewer problems than double doors. New hinges like the ball bearing hinges, which are stronger than the older butt hinges, can handle the extra weight, according to Kelley.

Popular today are doors fit for a castle, says Godfrey. True English doors were comparatively short, around 7ft or 8 ft tall, which is short, according to Smith, and they were called ?rabbit hole entrances,? dating back to medieval times when entrances were made to be defensible. But today?s castle doors tower to heights of 8 to 10 feet and are built from arched shapes like the eyebrow, half circle, elliptical arch, or gothic top. Adding a distressed finish, and many are available in catalogues from Southwest Door Company, Estate Door Collection, and Wilson Plywood & Door catalogue, not only adds a touch of authenticity to the castle door, the distress finish adapts well to other styles, such as Mediterranean, southwest, even the classic traditional.

But don?t allow the door to get truly distressed. Moisture and heat are a wooden door?s worst enemies. Some pointers in caring for the front door include not painting the door black or dark green, which absorbs heat and causes warping, according to Godfrey, and protecting doors on the western exposure from the evening sun. To keep wood protected, the finish needs to be maintained according to manufacturer?s specifications, says Godfrey. The mesquite and cedar doors manufactured by Southwest Doors retain their textured grain finishes when homeowners rub any basic oil, such as mini-wax oil or boiled linseed oil, according to Kelley, who sells custom doors from Southwest Door Co. at prices from $400 to $4000. Southwest Door Co. also makes a collection of handforged hardware.

Stain woods, such as mahogany, oak, pine, and maple, arrive raw at Window World and are stained in a local shop with colors chosen by the customers. Mahogany, an equatorial wood that looks good at an economical price--roughly $400 to $1500, is the most popular wood door sold at Window World. Equally popular are doors made from steel, which range in price from $165 to $5000, depending on glass inserts, side panels and transom. Steel doors are often painted an outside color to match the exterior and a different color on the inside, according to Wilson. Fiberglass doors sell at 1/10th the rate of wood and steel doors. The Pella entry door collection sold at Pella Window on Lovers Lane also offers steel and fiberglass doors

The tallest of tall doors, typically at 10 feet in entries up to 24 feet and more, are made of glass and rod-iron grillwork. And they?re imported from Mexico.

?The front door is the main thing in Mexico,? said Alberto Perez, owner of Cantera Doors, which is expanding to its newest location at 1333 Oak Lawn Avenue. Perez grew up in the Latin American tradition, where the front door was the place to make a show of power, even if the home inside wasn?t anything else. Perez built his first door in the US in Austin seven years ago after taking his friend, an architect and builder, down to Mexico for three days to look at Mexican entrances. Today, Cantera Doors keeps a showroom in Austin, Scottsdale, Arizona, and Dallas. After two years in Dallas, Cantera Doors is in its second Dallas Parade of Homes, this year with entrance doors in three of the featured homes.

Cantera doors come on a pre-hung steel frame that supports the weight of the grillwork and glass. One nice feature about the glass frames is their ability to swing away from the grillwork for cleaning and for answering the door without unlocking it. With many types of glass (clear, designed, and insulated), faux finishes for the steel frame and ironwork, and ornate grill designs, homeowners can find a rod-iron door to fit every style although most options are for double doors. Cantera doors do not supply hardware, but they do insulate the frame and body with polyurethane foam, install topnotch weather stripping, and supervise all their work.

In summary, whether coming from Mexico, European tradition, the Texas Hill Country, or Santa Fe, the new doors in Dallas may all eventually take on a regional tall-Texas squeak.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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