The Case For Barn Doors
A couple of weeks ago I was having “coffee” with a friend. I am placing the word coffee in quotation marks because I don’t drink coffee - not at all. I don’t really like it. Yeah, I know, when people find out I am Dutch they think it strange that as a Dutch person I don’t drink coffee. Coffee and a cookie are associated with the Dutch, I guess… I have not had a cup of coffee for nearly 35 years. Back in my past I fainted in the bathtub because of some espresso coffee I had earlier in the day. Good thing I had already pulled the plug when that happened.
But, I digress. Back to my “coffee’ date. We were talking about a basement renovation she is planning for this winter. By renovating her basement she can increase the useable floor space of her home by 1/3 since the basement is pretty much the entire foot print of her home. She is planning a full bathroom with laundry facilities, enclosure of all the mechanical stuff such as water heater and HVAC. Much needed storage will be hidden behind sliding doors and the existing rec room will be expanded and freshed up. She is planning on using a barn door for privacy as well as to create a more open feeling to the basement.
Barn doors have become more and more popular in the past few years. They have moved from countryside barns into homes and commercial spaces. I remember when I first specified a barn door for a residence in West Vancouver. This is now nearly a decade ago. At that time hardware was hard to come by. We had to order it from Germany. As with so many things, Germany is a front runner for exquisitely manufactured mechanical components. At that time the cost for the hardware alone was more than a couple of thousand dollars. After adding the actual door we were looking at a price tag of close to six thousand dollars! Expensive. Today sliding systems for barn doors are easy to purchase at local hardware stores. Since the cost has dropped dramatically they have become a good option for everyone!
Archeologists found the first evidence of sliding doors in the ruins of Pompeii, Italy where they appear to have been used in Roman houses as early as the first century. In essence a barn door is a fancy type of sliding door. It slides along a top-mount track which can be either concealed or visible. Some doors need a bottom guide as well. A barn door runs horizontally, parallel to the wall. The door is most often hung from the track by trolley hangers. The track is usually visible for effect. This also allows for decorative hardware at the connecting points where the door is fastened to the trolleys. A concealed track can be encased in a metal, stainless steel or wooden box. The end of the track has stoppers to prevent the door from going off the track and to absorb the impact should someone slam the door.
Barn doors need to clear baseboards and casings of any door opening or passage. It is important to select the right hanging hardware: weight is an issue, clearances matter and guides along the floor may be required. These guides can be floor mounted or embedded in the floor covering, a solution I like best.
Why install a Barn Door?
Functionality. Barn doors are huge space savers. Swinging doors require space to swing open and closed. A narrow swinging door of 24” wide requires 24 “ to swing, plus the space for a person to stand behind/beside it, plus a traffic zone for other people to pass by. The wider the door the more room will be required.
Installation. Barn doors run along a track. This means that their weight is evenly distributed horizontally along this track. This function allows a much heavier door to be installed. Stability and ease of movement is safer. A swinging door can never be too heavy since it is hung by two or three (or more depending on height and weight) hinges which carry the weight of the door. These hinges become the critical points from where the weight hangs. Less safe than a track distributing the weight.
Interior Clearance. Since swinging doors are hung in a door frame, the jambs of the frame typically obscure the side of the space whereby space can be lost, limited and unusable. Think of a closet where the shelves edges are behind the door jamb. A barn door is hung from the wall over the opening. This allows for clear drywall corners. Any closet shelving will be fully accessible. Of course, this is not an issue when the doors function to close off a room.
Decorative Element. Swinging or bifold doors usually match other interior doors in a space. A barn door becomes a decorative piece. The door style does not need to match any other doors. As a matter of fact, it is best if it doesn’t. The door can show as a wall panel instead. It becomes a design element in and of itself.
There is a small drawback though! Barn doors need wall space to slide along to open a space or closet. This wall space can not really be used for anything else. You cannot place a bookcase on that wall. You cannot hang pictures or lighting. In the past we used the awful pocket doors. Doors which would never slide properly, got hung up inside walls and needed an imbedded door latch since a door handle would not allow the door to fully disappear into the wall. Electric wiring or plumbing could not run in such a wall. And, oh beware when the door would become hard to manage! The entire wall would need to be opened up to either fix the sliding problems or replace the hardware. This meant drywalling, painting etc. Repairs became expensive issues! Give me a barn door over a pocket door any time!
A noisy track can become an issue. It is important to have a barn door installed by a professional to make sure any sliding noises are kept to a minimum.
Where to install a barn door?
Any room that needs as much space as possible to function in. This could be a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, a pantry, an office, a mudroom - you name it.
Attach a mirror!
Closets and wardrobes
Wall units concealing TV sets and other entertaining components
Cabinetry showing small barn doors rather than standard cabinet doors
Hide bunk beds in your cabin
Conceal a wall section you do not want to see all the time, ie a black board wall with the kids scribbles and messages or shopping lists.
Use as window treatment
Narrow hallway solution
Your garden shed
Below is a gallery of images of potential applications.
Track and Trolley Hardware
These days there is a good selection of door hardware for barn doors. From rustic to chic to high tech or zen. Tracks are either iron (forged or not) or stainless steel. Iron tracks are mostly powder coated black. They do not run as smoothly as stainless steel ones. Tracks can be finished with an oil-rubbed bronze finish or hard-wearing paint. Tracks can be purchased at local hardware stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, Amazon and Etsy (!) and yes even Walmart, but that may be only at the US locations. Here a few samples of stainless steel and iron tracks with trolleys as well as a handle.
I recommend purchasing tracks from established door suppliers or other dedicated barn door hardware sellers (Richelieu for instance). Typically these suppliers have better quality hardware. I tend to shy away from hardware that comes from China. I am not convinced of their durability. My preference is still German made hardware, in particular MWE Hardware which is considered to be the ‘gold’ standard in stainless steel sliding hardware. This hardware is made by master craftsmen, looks amazing and is super durable.
If you can think of a particular door style, I bet it is available in a barn door style. Here are some styles to consider:
1. Flat wood panel, solid (really expensive!) or hollow. I really like a walnut panel door.
2. Raised panel door, much like a conventional door, with or without mouldings
3. Multiple panels with or without mouldings
4. Glass panels
5. Full glass door, frosted or clear
6. Plank door style, usually with some form of cross plank to keep the planks together
7. Life edge panel
At this point I rest my case. If I have not provided enough information that barn doors have great value for your home, I never will… If you have a barn door in your home send me a picture at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will show it in a future article.