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ASK A DESIGNER: Interior doors can add light, personality

November 6, 2018 GMT

Clients are sometimes surprised when home builder and designer Marnie Oursler starts talking about bedroom doors.

They expect to discuss things like windows, wall colors and where a built-in bookcase might fit best. But many of Oursler’s clients hadn’t considered that creatively designed interior doors can add personality, improve the flow of natural light, and also serve as flexible partitions to break up an open floor plan or connect two rooms.

“I’ve been using doors to add character in houses for a long time,” says Delaware-based Oursler, who hosts “Big Beach Builds” on the DIY Network. “Mixing up doors throughout the house is really important,” she says, “and it’s easy.”


We’ve asked Oursler and two other interior design experts — architect Tamara Gorodetzky, an associate with GTM Architects in the Washington, D.C., area, and Caleb Anderson, co-founder of the New York-based Drake/Anderson — for advice on using interior doors to elevate a home’s style and function.


Bedroom and bathroom doors can easily be swapped out for a different style, and you don’t have to stick with traditional wood.

“If you look at the magazines now,” Gorodetzky says, “people are doing really creative things like using a lot of steel in their doors instead of wood to give it an industrial look.”

Another option is refinishing doors with paint, upholstery or other coverings.

Anderson updated traditional wooden doors in a client’s entryway using a metallic faux finish that turned “this pair of double doors that were very traditional and stuffy” into something eye-catching. “You immediately walked into the apartment and there was this unique finish,” he says. “It was pretty spectacular.”

For another client, he had a set of pivoting doors made and upholstered in leather, with nickel nail-head detailing. “You don’t have to be afraid to do something bold or different,” Anderson says.

Gorodetzky agrees: “I definitely like the idea of doing a feature door in a place where people will see it,” she says. “If you have an office flanking your front foyer, it’s a nice opportunity to do a French door.”


By adding a sliding barn door or a set of pivoting doors, you can break up an open space without adding something as permanent as a wall.

“For so long we’ve been in this world of open, open, knock down this wall,” Anderson says. “I’ve seen a lot of people gravitating back toward the ability to close a dining room off ... it adds this level of formality.”


Sliding doors can be casual, rustic barn doors with heavy hardware, or something sleek and formal. No matter which style you choose, Oursler says, “they add a lot of character, open or closed.”

For one client, Gorodetzky’s firm commissioned an artist to create a huge, dramatic piece of artwork made of steel and plaster, and then hung it as a sliding door that could close off one section of their home.


Most of us have solid wooden doors throughout our homes. But these designers all say glass doors — clear or frosted for privacy and beauty — are a great way to help natural light flow through a home.

For bedroom doors that lead to a hallway, consider brightening the space by switching to ones with frosted glass windows.

In large master bathrooms that have a separate enclosure for the toilet, or in small powder rooms with no window, a frosted glass door brings natural light and makes the enclosed space seem a little less tiny.

Anderson worked with a client who wanted a separate dining room and kitchen. The challenge was this: The kitchen lacked natural light, while the dining area had plenty. So rather than put up a wall, Anderson added interior partitions and doors made of textured, mottled glass. It was, he says, the “solution to allow natural light in, but to be soft and this natural element.”


If you’re refinishing or upholstering doors, Anderson says, keep durability in mind. “If you’re wrapping it in a wall covering, sometimes you just have to be careful you’re not choosing a material that’s going to peel or fray,” he says. “Doors move and they function, so anything that you’re doing with them needs to be able to withstand that.”

Also, Gorodetzky says, don’t go with too much contrast unless it’s truly your style.

“I don’t really like the idea of doing different doors in every room,” she says. You may be happier with a carefully chosen, consistent style throughout your home, with one or two more dramatic doors mixed in.

Lastly, if you buy a vintage door that was painted, be aware that paint used before 1978 probably had lead in it. You can buy a lead-based paint removal kit, Oursler says, or sand the old paint off in a well-ventilated space.




EDITOR’S NOTE: Melissa Rayworth writes the Ask a Designer column monthly for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at @mrayworth.