Medieval in appearance and proportions, yet modern in construction, the Arts & Crafts door became a key element in the new wave of bungalows, Foursquares, and Prairie School-inspired houses popping up across the country at the turn of the 20th century. Carrying the idea of unified house design down to the functional components, the Arts & Crafts door approached a level of artwork when it was combined with decorative sidelights. A growing number of millwork manufacturers are reproducing Arts & Crafts doors in the 21st century, so if your bungalow door has seen better days, there’s hope for your restoration project.
By 1900, progressive architects and designers were moving away from the superfluous machine-cut details of the Victorian era to simpler, more practical, and less historical house designs. Influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement and its noted leaders, such as America’s Gustav Stickley and England’s William Morris, architects began designing low, horizontal buildings with overhanging eaves and deep porches. Spatial continuity between home and garden was central to the Arts & Crafts philosophy. This philosophy inspired architects to find new ways to bridge interior and exterior spaces—the entryway being the obvious place to start.
The doors that designers chose for these house types were often wider than conventional doors (sometimes by 12″ over the standard 36″). Their horizontality and breadth were enhanced by sidelights accented with geometric designs. A six- or eight-paned window would usually occupy the top third of the door to admit diffused daylight into the home, which was another way to transcend the division between these distinct spaces.
Aside from their proportions, the doors adopted a rustic, hand-hewn, hand-finished appearance—whether they were constructed by hand or not. Custom doors would often feature oversized wrought-iron hinge straps, playing up the medieval feel. Typically unpainted, like the Arts & Crafts interior woodwork, the doors were stained or clear-finished to capitalize on the beauty of the oak or cedar used. Door patterns in both the Arts & Crafts and Prairie School houses tended toward rectilinear shapes with bold motifs. Visual appeal came from structural details, such as the pronounced stiles and rails of the door frame, “hand-wrought” hardware and hinges, and exposed joinery, rather than applied decorative moldings seen throughout the Victorian era. Dead-flat panels, often set vertically in twos and threes, created bold shadow lines where they met unmolded stiles and rails-sometimes emulating Japanese aesthetic principles and wood joinery methods.
Today several companies are replicating this door style from original trade catalogs and Arts & Crafts houses-or reinterpreting historic designs-for the restoration market. Doors made at that time were stile-and-rail construction with vertical paneling below a high lock rail, says Bryan Kujawa of Kolbe & Kolbe. “These doors almost always featured six lights in the top third of the door.” Kolbe & Kolbe handcrafts replications of this style using traditional methods. “The standard size for these doors is 3′ wide x 6’8″ tall and 1 3/4″ thick, but many manufacturers will custom fit entryways,” says Kujawa.
Ornamentation on the doors appears in structural features such as dentil and shelf detailing, says Kelly Reynolds, product manager for Jeld-Wen. “We introduced our line of Craftsman stile-and-rail doors last year after seeing the renaissance these doors are having in the home construction market.” In the early 1900s, red oak, pine, and Douglas fir were plentiful and the most prominent woods used for entryways.
Today, Jeld-Wen’s doors are based on original designs and come in seven wood species: traditional oak, pine, and fir, as well as hemlock, knotty alder, cherry, and mahogany.
Aside from their extensive Craftsman door options, International Door and Latch offers a solid mahogany Bungalow door inspired by the famous Arts & Crafts architects Greene and Greene. The door’s horizontal rails and window cames highlight the Greenes’ signature detail found in the Gamble House, called “cloud lift” or “Chinese lift” because of its relation to an identical motif in Ming Dynasty furniture.
The Simpson Door Company has introduced a line inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright‘s designs. The geometric art glass in the doors is detailed with stylized wheat stalks and azure glass. The collection includes one-, two-, and three-panel doors each with one-, two-, and three-light glass options.
Andersen Windows has even developed a line of patio doors featuring Wright’s art glass designs. The window glass, handcrafted by artisans, comes from sources originally specified by Wright.
Some early trade catalogs call the Arts & Crafts door design “the modern straight line style.” Though no longer cutting edge after World War I, this style remained popular in subdued forms well into the 1940s. It was offered as a garden-variety option in catalogs from national door suppliers to kit-house purveyors, such as Sears and Aladdin.
Today, it’s apparent this design has transcended time as it once again makes its entrance into the house-building market.Published in: Old-House Journal July/August 2003