The importance and symbolism of a door is inescapable; it can be open and welcoming or closed for protection and privacy. It allows easy passage from the comfort within to the vagaries of weather outside. It can be slammed in anger or opened with great hugs of welcome and hospitality. Even door thresholds hold ideological boundaries through the ages. It’s something most of us use and depend on at least twice a day and it needs to operate flawlessly when urgency calls.
Perhaps a bit cliche to take pictures of old doors, but until you’ve seen the massive doors at Oxford in person, some of which could be over 500 years old, it might be hard for you to appreciate their significance and beauty – forget the fact that only 18% are accepted to study on the other side!
It should be noted that I have personally weatherstripped hundreds of old Toronto doors to keep the cold and noise out, and so I’ve come to appreciate doors that look good and function well. Though I do have a mini basement wood shop, I don’t have the skills my grandfather had as a cabinet maker but do have his love of wood and how it’s used in making beautiful everyday items.
Good four sides: squared, straight and planed to perfection, these blanks of solid clear hardwoods are about to be precisely dadoed, dowled, kerfed and finished into a door.
So it was inevitable that I happened upon a very special place here in Toronto that manufactures doors, windows and custom furniture out of solid woods. When I called co-owner L. Elizabeth Wright of Bauhaus Doors to ask for specifications on their doors, our conversation eventually lead to the amazing fact that their product was made here in the city. With a showroom on Avenue Road south of Davenport, Elizabeth set me up with the other co-owner, Michael Piernitzki, for a tour of the factory just off Keele Street.
Of German stock, it was fitting that Michael named their company Bauhaus. Opening with the humble salvo “As a business we’ve made every mistake in the book…” but within minutes it was apparent those “mistakes” were not related to the doors, probably had to do with growing pains of developing a business and were well behind him. As the shop hummed with the finest European and American power tools, a handful of attentive young and old craftsmen were purposeful going about their work in what seemed like focused enjoyment.
Yes, they made beautiful windows installed in modest renovations all the way to the Fogo Island Inn , but the doors are what took me in. These weren’t just doors, they were functional furniture made of the highest grades of wood, usually quarter-sawn for maximum strength, dimensional stability and grain beauty. Michael understood the connection between beauty, functionality and maintenance – people maintain things they love. He just made sure his crews put the love in. I got the feeling the doors would become chattels and moved with the owner from house to house.
Functional furniture. These doors were so beautiful to look at, crisp clean edges, prefect reveals, hardware countersunk perfectly.
After listening for a half hour, it was clear Michael loved the niche Bauhaus occupied. It was clear too that he had a near fetish for door hardware as he explained his English and Italian made stainless hinges had sealed bearings! And I though I was special getting all brass hinges! He explained how over the years the Italians seemed to be overtaking the staid Germans on innovation and high quality.
Move over Germany, these Italian hinges made for some smooth action on the doors.
Because of my history with weatherstripping doors, I had to check out his system. It needs to be said that the door panels are assembled with a solid core of laminated (clear, hard, quarter-sawn) wood, reinforced on four sides with an aluminum channel. The door frames, like all the wood in the door, is made of the most stable cut of wood which means the wood’s expansion with changes in humidity is minimised.
For the untrained eye, there’s a lot going on here. A threshold has to have height to shed water and stop wind-driven rain from entering, but it can’t be too high or it catches the foot. The beefy, unobtrusive stainless threshold lip was neatly tucked behind a beautiful piece of solid, durable granite. The door had a sweep on the front (not installed in kerf yet) that kept the rain from the threshold, but the wind was really stopped at the compression strip under the door. Schlegel’s Q-LON is the industry standard and the best hands-down for draft-stopping. It’s easily replaced if the cat tears at it and in this case continuous on four sides.
In the end, it was difficult for me to square my love of a perfectly crafted door with my need for high overall R-value. It was clear to me that this door would perform better than some of the German doors I’ve tested in in situ here in Toronto (poorly adjusted stops). It’s also clear to me the frames around the doors would perform just as well as any other frame and that the glazing unit would perform to the specification in any frame. Bauhaus will have doors energy rated if requested, but if most of the door is glazed, for the small area of solid wood I’d be hard pressed to chose an ENERGY STAR rated steel door over these pieces of functional furniture. Take the tour, I’m sure you won’t be able to say no.