Fitting Old Doors

Look out for doorknob holes that don't match those in the jamb where you plan to install it. Old doors were typically cut for mortise locks, while most new jambs are bored for a cylinder lockset, says Steven Miller, co-owner of Hippo Hardware & Trading, a Portland, Oregon, salvage yard that stocks old doors and the period hardware to go with them. Miller also asks customers which direction the door should swing and whether it will open toward them or away from them, to make sure the existing hinge mortises are in the right place. "You need to know whether you've got a left- or a right-handed swing, which refers to where the hinges are located, not where the doorknob is," he says.

Finish is also a factor when buying an old door. Stained ones typically don't require stripping, unlike doors coated with layers of peeling lead paint. Many of Miller's customers prefer the look of stain, which deepens in color with age. The downside is that these doors tend to be more expensive, ranging from $75 for a single-panel interior model to $1,000 or more for an oak Arts and Crafts?style exterior door inset with leaded glass. Painted fir doors start at about $25 and go as high as $800 for a pine Georgian-style, nine-panel front door in good condition.

If you like the look of an old door but don't have a jamb to hang it in, use it as a tabletop, a wall-mounted headboard, or group it with two others to create a hinged folding screen. In the kitchen, turn a door on its side as a decorative panel for the front of a breakfast bar. You can even hang doors horizontally on the wall for an alternative to traditional wainscoting, says Miller. He achieves a uniform look by using doors that are the same style, height, and width, finishing the vertical seams with wood trim and topping the panels with a chair rail. Depending on how high you want the wainscoting (32 to 48 inches is standard), you may want to install a tall baseboard for the doors to rest on.

Whether creatively repurposed or used as originally intended, old doors can improve the look and feel of a house. Just remember to match them to their surroundings if they're going to become part of the architecture. "I like to think of a door in a house like a picture in a frame," says Miller. "You wouldn't want to put a simple picture in a very ornate frame, just as you wouldn't want to use an Art Deco door in a Queen Anne house." Hang the right style, however, and you'll add a handsome, historical feature—one ready to stand sentry for many more decades of living.

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