Doors Rediscovered in Interior Design

New materials, fabrication technologies and sustainable design are reinvigorating the product category
Mitchell Toews, Lynden Door Inc.
May 1, 2008
FEATURE ARTICLE | Products

The value of interior doors as a design element has slowly diminished in recent years. The more attention-grabbing "wall furniture" of earlier eras disappeared. Unlike their contemporary hardwood kin in floors and cabinetry, wood doors were becoming largely commoditized. For many, a door was just a door.

That is now changing for a rapidly growing number of astute practitioners in the design/building community. Doors have been rediscovered as a 'haute commodity' in interior design.

New materials, fabrication technologies and sustainable design are combining to reinvigorate the product category, with interior doors now enjoying a significant renaissance. Interior doors are no longer the matronly housedress, but are now imbued with the cachet of the "little black cocktail dress." So long as that cocktail dress is healthful, sustainable and architecturally authentic.

GREEN CONCERNS

Environmental awareness has translated into growing demand for healthful products. Low VOC (volatile organic compound) or NAUF (no added urea formaldehyde) specifications were once a rarity found only in a fraction of buildings. Now, demand for products-including doors-that have reduced emissions is high and many end users have a sophisticated understanding of the issues.

Doors are seeing significant attention to detail when it comes to verifiable sustainability and health attributes. Internationally supported programs like the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program have not only made the public aware, but have created an empirical way to substantiate environmental claims. Interior doors can make a significant contribution to the credits needed for LEED certification of buildings. With over 43,000 LEED accredited professionals now registered in North America, continued growth for doors that can meet rigorous LEED demands is assured.

Hotels, condos, office buildings and upscale homes are moving toward more modernist, innovative door designs, such as the StileLine flush door.Consumers no longer take building products like carpet and paint for granted. Likewise, interior doors are changing. Building and design professionals are well aware of the growing demand for healthful products, and literally every part of the built world is directly affected by the green movement. In addition to LEED, we are seeing specialized plans for hospitality (Eco Crown, Green Key), healthcare (Lean Green Belt and Green Guide for Healthcare), education (Collaborative for High Performance Schools) and other expanding demand for healthy, sustainable building products, including doors.

MATERIALS

As society comes to grips with sustainability and rising environmental health concerns, more new materials are being considered for doors. Top door brands also offer a huge range of wood veneers including bamboo (actually a grass), lyptus (a fast-growing, naturally occurring hybrid tree species that looks like mahogany) or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. Door production facilities may qualify for Chain of Custody certification by FSC and competing standards like Sustainable Forestry Initiative to indicate that the wood used in their products comes from well-managed forests.

The necessity of finding new ways to produce doors has fostered creative partnerships along traditional value chains. Only a few years ago, door manufacturers were unable to buy a solid particleboard door core that used agricultural fiber as the base material. ("Agfiber" is rapidly renewable and reduces the strain on standing forests as a source for fiber.) But in recent years, thanks to the leadership of several brands, door makers have joined forces with their suppliers and invested together in the creation of agfiber cores. By using agfiber with a NAUF binder, door manufacturers are able to lead substantial change with no reduction in quality and only a minor difference in price.

FABRICATION AND DESIGN

Discerning clientele want to see their personal sense of style reflected in the spaces in where they live and work. Vernacular authenticity and honest design are two key factors in the success of interior design. Molded door products, a familiar choice in private homes and high-density residential properties, are one example of how authentic design-true to the original aesthetic found in Craftsman style home-has caused what promises to be a seismic shift in the industry.


Several brands have jumped into the ring with new product offerings that pair wood's native characteristics with the smart design of a molded panel door. By creating a flat, recessed panel, door designers combine the traditional look of a three-panel door-the classic choice in popular Craftsman style design-with a monolithic door slab that is exceptionally stable and resistant to deflection, paint cracking and many of the other characteristic weaknesses associated with traditional stile-and-rail construction. The marketplace is embracing these new looks and strong pent-up demand is evident as designers and building owners await the release of more authentic new designs.

Hotels, condos, professional high-rise office buildings and upscale homes are all seeing a move toward innovative door designs with a modernist, sometimes Mondrian-like flair. Clean lines and flush surfaces that highlight a doorway's rectilinear shape and relationship to the "golden ratio" are popular in current design. New styles like "sketchface" doorskins-which offer a look akin to inlaid furniture with wood veneers running in opposing directions-provide a winning combination of innovation, striking appearance and natural materials.

Many hoteliers and residential developers now choose to specify a custom suite entry and matching (but less costly) doors for the suite or apartment interior, closets, etc. Some higher end condo properties make an upscale statement by matching door surfaces to the often exotic wood species used for the hardwood floors, wall paneling, cabinetry and millwork.

Door manufacturers are providing custom designs, low emission factory finishes and custom machining (to mount cardlocks or digital entry systems, for example), giving designers more freedom in fire-rated architectural doors used in North American multi-tenant structures. Interior designers are responding, and doors are once again appreciated as one of the key elements in overall decor.

 

Mitchell Toews is the business development director for Lynden Door Inc., a manufacturer of wood interior doors based in Lynden, Wash. Involved in building products since 1980, Toews has taken an interest in green building issues. Lynden Door sells residential and architectural/commercial doors in the United States and Canada. More information is available at www.lyndendoor.com or by contacting the author at mitch.toews@lyndendoor.com.