Can the often-opposing forces of contemporary interior design and sustainability blend into tasteful pairings for your doors? And if so, can you afford to place them on the menu of your home construction or remodel project?
Contemporary design for the home at a high standard of quality often comes at an equally high cost, as that usually translates to custom fabrication. And when sustainable materials are added to the equation, the cost may climb even higher or result in limiting your design options. When choosing your interior doors, then, what can be done to help mitigate cost overruns when balancing desired design with sustainability?
One solution could be to source off-the-shelf production doors that fit your specific design and sustainability desires while respecting your budget. As we were researching interior door options for our lab home, we scoured the big-box home improvement stores and several local building component suppliers, but were dismayed at the dearth of selection in cleanly-designed contemporary doors. When we included the stipulation the door be manufactured from sustainable materials, there were yet fewer options available. And when we finally ticked the check mark for the tall 8-foot doors our build called for, we literally ran out of options.
One can certainly find custom door suppliers locally or online that can design and build doors to the required specifications, but the options we found were significantly beyond our budget or lacked a suitable sustainable material option. As we were committed to a soft contemporary mantra in this sustainable-from-the-ground-up, high-performance home—and equally committed to not compromising our construction budget—it was back to the drawing board.
Ultimately, we collaborated with our builder on a creative solution to this vexing design dilemma: A customized production door scenario, where we purchased plain, smooth-surfaced doors from a local supplier, had them custom-milled with sets of horizontal grooves, then invested a healthy dose of homeowner sweat equity in the fabrication and installation of inlaid aluminum strips.
For the naked doors themselves, we selected the Emerald Series Safe-N-Sound Solid Core Hardboard Door from Masonite, an extremely heavy door panel constructed from a solid core of certified Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) woods and pre-consumer recycled content. These doors are also certified to have extremely low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions, and come out of the factory pre-primed and ready for their finish coats of paint.
[pullquote]These super-high quality, customized, and eminently sustainable doors exude a satisfying contemporary appeal[/pullquote]Next, we purchased a bundle of raw 1/2-in. x 1/8-in. x 12-foot aluminum strips from a local metal supplier, at a cost of less than $4 each. These would later be cut to size and used for the final inlay treatment. The door supplier took one of these strips back to his shop, then his craftsmen set up their milling machine jigs to precisely rout the five, 1/2-in. wide, 1/8-in. deep grooves on both sides of each door. Precision was the key word here, as the grooves needed to be shaped with just the right clearance—a few thousandths of an inch narrower than the aluminum stock—such that we could tap the aluminum strips into place for a friction fit.
Once all of the doors were milled, they were delivered to the construction site and our builder applied the final finish color coats, using the same series of zero-VOC interior latex paint we used throughout the home.
In keeping with the clean contemporary look we were after, Emtek hardware was selected for all of the doors, specifying their angular, round cross-section Stuttgart handles for the swing doors, and their rectangular, inset Pocket Door Lock on the pocket doors. Finished in satin nickel, these hefty brass pieces are a near-perfect complement to the polished aluminum inlaid strips.
After the doors were seated in their respective frames or pockets and the hardware was installed, it was time to begin the installation of the aluminum strips. After carefully measuring the lengths of the door grooves, we cut the 12-foot strips to size using a miter saw equipped with a special metal-cutting blade, then sanded the strips smooth using a random-orbital sander fitted with an extra-fine grade of emory cloth abrasive paper. And in a final step before installation, we used oil-drenched steel wool to buff the aluminum strips to a high sheen.
Largely attributable to the precision millwork by our door supplier and the thin layers of paint achieved through spraying, we were able to gently tap the aluminum strips into their final resting places by using a rubber mallet, beginning on one end of the strip and carefully hammering along its length until it was fully seated. Only in three cases did we need to glue a strip into place, a task easily accomplished by using several drops of strategically-placed Gorilla glue.
We loved the result, these super-high quality, eminently sustainable doors exuding a satisfying contemporary appeal one would expect only from a high-end European custom door fabricator—plus they close with a solid thud akin to the doors of a fine German automobile. And the pièce de résistance: This slick design was delivered within our reasonable construction budget, a tasty pairing indeed. We’ll raise a glass to that.
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC, the publisher of Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home. When he isn’t writing about smart home technology, sustainability, and high-performance architecture, you’ll find him exploring faraway destinations with his family.
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