A Threshold Issue
The details on door-shopping
Italians really know how to make a grand entrance.
Visitors to Italy often set out to see, say, the Uffizi gallery or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But during an upcoming trip to Italy, I’m looking forward to the doors. The Tuscans, in particular, have put a lot of effort into their doors over the centuries. During the Middle Ages, Bonanno Pisano managed to get the entire life of Christ onto the door of Pisa’s cathedral. During the Renaissance, Lorenzo Ghiberti crafted such beautiful entrances for the Florentine Baptistery that Michelangelo gave one of them the appellation “Porta del Paradiso.”
And why not go for l’ultimo when it comes to an entryway? It’s the one part of a building that every visitor not only sees, but sees up close – and touches.
Unfortunately, even in lavishly appointed homes, the front door is often either utterly utilitarian or a trite afterthought. Sometimes the door doesn’t even match the house. Certain folk apparently think that a beveled-glass Victorian knockoff is the perfect door for any style of house.
Luckily, in New Orleans we’re lucky enough to have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to buying doors.
For historic houses, there are places that sell doors for each vintage. Ricca’s in Mid-City and The Bank in Central City are veritable museums of antique doors. Walking their aisles makes for a nice afternoon, even if you’re not in the market for a door. Ricca’s also sells a variety of reproductions suitable for a Creole cottage or a craftsman bungalow and a lot in between. These stores also offer a rich selection of antique and reproduction hardware. Along the same lines, you may be able to pick up a few gems amid the wider mélange of offerings at the Green Project in St. Roch. For a selection of reproduction doors and hardware, check Dixie Millwork & Door Co. on Metairie Road.
For hardware alone, stroll the brass and antique stores in the French Quarter and along Magazine Street, such as Accessories in Brass near Napoleon Avenue or the venerable H. Rault on the other side of Louisiana Avenue.
If you can’t find quite the right door at the architectural salvage stores or among reproductions, there are numerous craftsmen in town who can do work from scratch worthy of the 19th century. Among the contenders are MBM Custom Millworks in Mid-City and Central City Millworks.
Of course, many houses in the area call for a more modern touch. My own house has a mid-century modern dwelling, and I’m not particularly happy with the front door. It would be appropriate for, say, a neo-craftsman style house, if such a thing exists, but not for the clean lines and ornament-free design of the house it fronts. My options are limited to either custom millwork locally or one of the door makers out in the wide world.
Luckily, the Italians are still making spectacular doors and hardware. Door makers like Italdoors and Milano boast avant garde Italian designs and hardware. At the higher end of the price range, the Venetian company Oikos sells doors that pivot from the same plane as the wall or swing flush from the wall on hidden hinges. It also sells motorized sliding doors.
One California-based company apparently loves sliding doors so much it named itself The Sliding Door Company. It focuses on interior doors, offering room dividers, partitions, closet doors and barn doors in solid, clear and translucent materials. Another California company’s name, Modernus, gives you an idea of its aesthetic. It also specializes in interior doors.
In many cases, there’s no need to change the door, just the hardware. For instance, all of my interior doors are plain, flat, solid-wood rectangles – probably the originals from the 1950s. Whether or not they fit the aesthetic of the house depends therefore on the hardware. They call for clean steel geometry, rather than ornamented brass curlicues.
In the hardware department, German company Bartels offers some formidable pulls and knobs. California company Specialty Doors & Hardware provides a wide variety of sharp-looking lever handles, including a locking handle that opens with a wireless digital key pad.
With galvanized brushed-steel shells, sleek hardware and frosted, smash-proof glass, front doors can be modern all’estremo. They can give visitors inspiration, with visions of future. Or, a la Ricca’s, they can bring nostalgia, redolent of an age past. And if they’re well-built enough, they may last as long as the works of Bonanno Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti.