The Formal Facade Improved - Restoration & Design for the Vintage House | Old House Online

The Formal Facade Improved

Double entry doors restore elegance to a Brooklyn row house.
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Finished double entry doors

Finished double entry doors.

By Dr. Roy Olsen

We have an 1899 limestone row house in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge. An important improvement was restoration of the double front doors. We’d inherited a faux-country single door. Walking the dog one morning at dawn, my husband saw that a neighbor had removed original double doors and thrown them to the curb. I grabbed my coat and the two of us retrieved them just as a pickup truck rolled up to scavenge them.

Just knowing the doors were original to this block of Victorian limestones made me feel like it was Christmas morning. But once I’d really examined them, I thought I’d made a mistake. The doors were veneered and the bottoms had rotted. I’m a podiatrist but my dad was a carpenter, and I thought, I can fix this. I peeled off the red-painted veneer and found that most of the pine core was okay. I trimmed off the doors’ bottom 1 ½" and patched in new wood using dowels, screws, and Titebond III glue. 

I ordered ¼" oak veneer for the outside; the inside was fine, and I was able to reglue that veneer at the bottom. (I am still working on restoring the carved cartouches.) I bought all new hardware. The replacement door (above) did not befit the house; double doors finish the period facade.

The replacement door did not befit the house; double doors finish the period facade.

The replacement door did not befit the house; double doors finish the period facade.

I’d hired a contractor to install the doors; he said, “How do you know they’ll fit?” I laughed and said I’d measured six times. Although I wasn’t comfortable removing the 1960s door myself, I could see the old hinge marks and knew these doors would fit. The job was done in three hours. We agreed: this is how the entry is supposed to look. New custom doors would have cost $6,000; with everything, this project cost about $2,000.

With its pocket doors, foot-high baseboards, and coved ceilings, the house is a gem. For six years I’ve been restoring it to period. I have a patient who lives down the block, and I had to promise not to let her husband see our house. They’d moved in during the Sixties and ripped out a lot; that’s what people did.

ONE STEP AT A TIME

1. Salvaged doors had damaged veneer to be stripped and replaced.

2. The doors were patched and veneered in quarter-sawn oak.

3. Stain brings out the figure.

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