Home & Design

Green Acre #133: In Praise of Doors

From the living room through to the front hallway chez Cavanaugh, a many-paned experience. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

SOMETIMES one has something to say about plants (theoretically what this column is about), other times not so much. Like now, when the air is icy and the wind howls.  

So I offer instead a rumination on the beauty of doors.

I was thinking of this the other night when My Prince took strong issue with something and I stomped off upstairs to take to my bed, burrowing under the quilt with another installment of 22 Oxford Street, Alexander McCall Smith’s epic series. Oh, that man makes me laugh.

Meanwhile, wafting up from the kitchen (he’s in charge of clean-up) was much cussing and slamming. I never realized we had so many doors, though I suspect he opened and slammed several an additional few times. I wasn’t counting.  

Doors are good for so many things. Handy for playing hide and seek, though we don’t do that much anymore. Handy for hiding things. Handy for feeling snug.

In this house we have more doors than mirrors, which is saying a lot. But we’re not talking about mirrors right now. Maybe next week.

In the downstairs hallway there are five, including the French doors that open to the living room. Most have many panes, or lites, as they’re formally known. Another set of French doors leads from the dining room to the back porch and the garden beyond.

This level of the house is scarcely much over 500 square feet, minute in an age of mansionettes, to describe such charitably. Considering the space, that’s a lot of doors.

Other than closets, the house has 19 doors in all, 21 if you count the garden, which has two. The garage door has a lovely arched window with five panes. Flanked by two windows, with the roof dripping with wisteria, it feels like the entry to a charming cottage. (Please don’t go inside: The enchantment abruptly ends when the door opens.)

I include here the Victorian screened door to the little solarium off my office, which serves no purpose other than to set a romantic mood. I suppose that is a purpose, though My Prince considers it an irritating obstacle.

It was the French doors leading to the living room that entranced me when we first looked at this century-old house. A fixed glass transom above spans the width. The 15 panes in each panel play with the space, like a picture wall. Through this one I see an edge of mantel, fire flickering. Through that, a portion of a vase is framed. The greens in the vase are in the next panel up. And so forth.

What are those broken-up portraits called? Triptychs. What is a picture divided into 30 segments called? I look it up. “Polyptych, is the term for all multi-panel works,” says Wikipedia. Okay.

So the living room is there, but not there. Like small individual portraits of a living room, bits of life framed. I know what’s beyond the doors, but viewing the scene through glass imbues it with mystery. I’m Alice, wandering through the looking-glass.

I don’t grow tired of this.

The French doors to the porch and the garden beyond perform similarly. Here’s the wicker back of a chair with a portion of a flowered cushion exposed. There a tray spilling with newspapers and a mug of coffee. In April a backdrop of cherry blossoms (lasting for a week or a day depending on the weather) broken into bits.   

I wish we had pocket doors between the living and dining rooms. There is instead an archway, which is what it’s called, though that seems weird since it’s squared off. It might also be called a post-and-beam entry or by the delightfully pretentious moniker, which I’ve just discovered, trabeation (that’s tray-bee-AY-shun).

“Nobody’s going to know what the hell that is,” says My Prince. I don’t care, since this is just the sort of word I like to fling about, waving a rhinestone cigarette holder, which I happen to have in some drawer.   

But that is neither here nor there.

If we had pocket doors, big solid wooden ones, I would close them before the six guests I can comfortably seat in the living room (if the dog gets off the sofa) arrive for dinner. Then, with great drama, they’d glide open when the meal is served, revealing the table with candles and small lamps lit, glittering crystal and slightly tarnished silver (how else would you know it was real?).  

Meanwhile, builders have been breaking down walls and eliminating barriers, also known as doors. One could bowl in such spaces. (That such homes are cheaper to build yet, being currently chic, command a higher price tag might also account for some of the attraction).

Thirty-six years ago, when we were looking for an old house in Washington’s historic Capitol Hill neighborhood, it was difficult to find one that hadn’t been renovated.  Open space was modern, cool.

Then old ways were rediscovered. Cast-iron radiators with their embossed scrolls and twiddles again had snob appeal—original, everything’s still original, we boasted.  

Then time again turned. Fine old things are being tossed along with the silver, the china, the books (what is a home without books?). Marie Kondo has folded our drawers.

One day tastes will change yet again and doors will go back up, probably rather soon.

Don’t we all need something to slam?

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” sometimes writes about gardening, sometimes not.



4 thoughts on “Green Acre #133: In Praise of Doors

  1. ha! regret to say I stole that bit about silver from Marlene Dietrich. I read somewhere once that she never polished hers for that very reason.

  2. Maggie Hall says:

    This is not about doors (which you make sound so fiercely romantic) but silver…..thank you for giving me a new take on it!

  3. Alice says:

    Beautiful picture…… beautiful article !
    I love your doors…..

  4. Agree 100% Stephanie. Doors are wonderful, for so many reasons. In our house, they are especially good for creating entry spaces where the cold is kept out from the rest of the house. A little buffer space is made at the front door and side door, remarkably colder than the rest of the house – which is the point. If I kept a baker’s rack in each space, I could store produce and baked goods there for the entire winter!

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