Introduction

Windowed Cottage Doors
Photo: Julian Wass
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The Victorian-era cottage door was the people's door. A door for the regular Joe, "the bone and sinew of the land." (That last one comes from the writings of the snooty yet influential 19th-century tastemaker A.J. Downing.) Metaphors aside, the cottage door was indeed designed for America's working class. Constructed of wood stiles and rails, with glass in the upper portion and carved moldings and decorative appliques in the lower, it dressed up the exteriors of the most modest Queen Anne, Italianate, and Stick-style houses of the late 1800s.

Cottage doors still hang in front entries nationwide, but my money's on New Orleans for having the most per square mile. That's where durable ­cypress doors decorate the facades of thousands of shotgun cottages. And it's where I scoured The Bank Architectural Antiques shop for a vintage beauty of my own. Prices range from about $350 for an unrestored door that's missing its glass to $650 for one that's intact and ready to install.

Local fire codes require that I have a steel front apartment door, so fortunately for me, my plans for the cottage door centered on improving the look of my interior, not exterior. Besides using one to upgrade an entry, a cottage door makes a handsome pantry or cellar door. One that's missing its glass can be built into a wall between the kitchen and dining room to serve as an elegant pass-through. Inspired by a mirrored coat tree in the hallway of the 1890s carriage house I grew up in, I transformed mine into a mirrored dressing vanity with hooks for hanging clothes. Turn the page to see how to use a cottage door to make your own stylish storage unit.

Just like an old window, the glass in a vintage cottage door is typically cased in wood, with a decorative stool and apron moldings at the bottom. To transform my door into a dressing table, I widened the stool to create a sturdy shelf for holding grooming supplies and my morning cup of coffee. I then filled the empty space above the shelf with a new $70 mirror instead of replacement glass for what had long ago shattered. Because my door was unrestored, I paid $350—a savings of about $300 over pristine models. I covered the holes where two deadbolts once pierced the wood with antiqued bronze hooks I got on sale at Pottery Barn for just $5 apiece. Two more hooks on the opposite side add symmetry and provide more places to hang stuff.
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    Tools List

    • flat prybar
      Pry Bar
    • Pencil
    • jigsaw
      Jigsaw
    • hand plane
      Planer
    • random orbit sander
      Palm Sander
    • drill
      Drill/Driver
    • caulk gun
      Caulk Gun

    Shopping List

    1. Windowed cottage door: about $350-$600, The Bank Architectural Antiques

    2. Mirror glass

    3. Antiqued-bronze hooks, Pottery Barn

    4. Sandpaper

    5. Wood glue6. 3-inch trim-head screws

    7. 4-inch screws

    8. Finish nails

    9. Silicone adhesive for mirror glass

    10. Plywood for mirror back