Salvage that Old Door with these Restoration Tips
Cabbagetown is known for our historic homes and intact architectural elements, but it’s not always easy to restore these period pieces, such as an antique door. If you’re lucky enough to still have a real wood, original front door, which has perhaps fallen into a state of disrepair over the years, you have a great opportunity to restore a key element of Cabbagetown that has been with us close to 130 years. Plus, these unique doors make a lasting impression on guests, and, if you’re planning to sell, home buyers too. After all, your front door makes a powerful first impression and you want it to be a good one.
Like windows, entrances are important character-defining features of our heritage buildings. Entrances are often the focus of the principal elevation and often exhibit well-executed fine craftwork and are worthy of restoration through proper conservation techniques. The employment of craftspeople, well-qualified and experienced in restoration techniques, may be necessary to conserve this level of fine craftwork and to ensure its proper repair and retention of strength.
This was the case for my neighbour who recently contemplated whether restoration of their beaten up original door was even possible. Their door had been exposed to the elements for 133 years which had caused cracking, pitting and fading of the paint finish. Wood entry doors everywhere suffer from the same assaults, and many end up in the trash, replaced by low-maintenance, mass-produced metal and fiberglass surrogates as homeowners are swayed to think that a new door will be more economical and energy efficient, but it’s simply not true. There’s just no comparison between a stock door and an original of this age—even when the old one has flaws or those inevitable character marks. Our heritage homes feature original doors that were built right on the jobsite, often in a size that isn’t available as a standard offering today, so one would be faced with the expense of fabricating and installing a custom door. Heritage doors are made from real solid wood, where the various components fit together like pieces in a puzzle. The interlocking of parts not only imparts strength, but also allows for movement: seasonal shrinking and swelling with changes in temperature and humidity. Traditionally crafted doors were designed to be a cunning survivor, and so they are worthy of preservation.
If your original door has already been lost, don’t despair. Architectural salvage shops such as The Door Store, Legacy Vintage and Artefacts Salvage & Design offer a broad selection of doors from the Victorian era and they might just have the right door for you.
If your door is in a questionable condition, and you would like to restore it to it’s original glory, restoration is possible. I steered my neighbour to work with David of Upper Canada Home Services*, a reputable group who work on a number of intricate projects throughout Cabbagetown. To renew the old door, they started by removing and cleaning the old hardware. Previous tenants and owners had painted over the original hinges. Stripping and cleaning old metal hardware is relatively easy to do, and it can do wonders to help revive your gorgeous antique door. Next, they examined the condition of the door. The severity of the blemishes determined how much work would need to be done and what tactics would be required. They stripped the door of all the paint and base coat including layers of lead based product. They treated the door with a quality wood preservative before applying the undercoat to help protect the wood from future biological threats, such as mould, algae, dry rot, wet rot and insect attack. The wooden scroll work detail under the window was too far gone, so they looked to their neighbour (me!) with the identical door and took a profile to recreate this moulding detail. Badly deteriorated areas were cut out and patched to perfection. The glazing was replaced with an energy efficient window and now features Victorian style etching for privacy.
Bringing our old doors back to life is rewarding and eco-friendly. But most importantly, restoring these character defining architectural elements preserves the charm of Cabbagetown for us and for future generations to enjoy.
Upper Canada Home Services