Don Rees started in the construction industry as a timber framer and eventually became a homebuilder. But as he constructed new houses he still found himself crafting custom wood doors, mostly for clients’ garages.
His door tinkering led to some unexpected successes. In 2004, he developed a swing-out garage door concept that became a hit. And by 2009, he had perfected a sliding barn door idea that is now used for both inside and outside the home.
“Less than 1 percent of our doors are actually used for barns,” he said. “The way I see it is that we’ve rethought the way a door can work.”
The founder of Seattle-based Real Carriage Door Co. sees his designs in both ultramodern and traditional home settings.
“With the trend toward a more industrial look, in a sense, I think the look is a little more honest. … It’s real and people aren’t afraid of it,” he added.
Rees’ company is just one example of how sliding doors have evolved through the years. The simple, longtime concept of putting a door or framed glass piece on a sliding track has seen massive hardware improvements in the past decade. And designers have added plenty of unique aesthetic twists, too.
Daniel Matus, principal and designer with Desired Space LLC, a Las Vegas-based design company, sees more interior uses for sliding doors.
Separating the master suite and bathroom is one common way to use a sliding door. Often in this situation, the door will have a frosted glass, he said.
“You want to keep the airy feel to the room, but still let light through from either side. It’s a departure from using a conventional door,” Matus added.
Sliding doors also can be seen separating a powder room from a bathroom or pantries from kitchens. Rees even sees his unique sliding doors as partitions in settings such as retirement homes.
A variety of materials are being used for interior sliding doors, too. Bamboo reeds and reclaimed wood embedded into resin or weathered glass are some examples, Matus said. He often works with Salt Lake City-based 3-Form on his interior sliding glass door designs.
Bringing in the outdoors
Woodside Homes construction director Todd Richardson sees the sliding door as a perfect example of the builder’s “better by design” concept.
In the past, the door leading to the backyard in Woodside homes had an option for a standard French door or an upgraded sliding glass door that cost about $1,600 more, Richardson said.
But when the recession hit, like many other builders, Woodside rethought many of its base offerings and made the sliding glass door standard. Now, the standard slider, which was between 6 and 8 feet wide in the past, has morphed into a larger 12- to 15-foot sliding glass door that also serves as a bigger window for the back of the home.
At its At the Park in Cadence community, these doors lead to an area called a “loggia,” an outdoor covered space that’s designed into the home’s structure. And some models even have a second sliding door on the side of the home as well.
“It’s really about enjoying the outside while you’re inside the home,” Richardson said.
The construction pro also says sliding glass doors are far more energy efficient than they once were. It’s not uncommon to find big brands such as Avanti or Milgard to have glass that reflects more than 60 percent of ultraviolet rays, Richardson said.
In custom home settings, Matus is also seeing more NanaWall concepts. The sliding glass wall system uses strategically placed metal beams and a unique track system that allows entire glass panels to fold or slide to one side of a wall.
When retrofitting a space with a NanaWall, Matus recommends seeking extra professional guidance.
“You need to talk to a structural engineer, an architect and designer,” he added.
Older sliding door technology usually involved a guided floor track with wheels moving along it. The track was usually an inch or so off the ground, making it difficult for wheels to get over it. Many newer systems have a recessed track without a cumbersome channel, Matus said.
“Those sliding glass doors on a wheel and track like a closet door, they would expand and contract with the heat, and the door would be heavier in the morning than in the afternoon when the sun hit it,” Richardson explained.
To remedy such problems, many of today’s designs have gone to rollers guided along a track installed at the top of the door frame.
Besides being higher quality, sliding door kits are also more affordable than ever. Rees’ business may be proof of that. He sells about 16,000 sliding door barn kits a year and prices start at just $600.
Sliding door improvements have dampened the popularity of pocket doors.
Popular for decades for small spaces in homes, pocket doors required some framing work inside a wall to slide a door into it instead of having it open out into a traffic area.
Matus avoids pocket doors if possible; he has seen too many fall off tracks inside a wall.
Practicality aside, he’d prefer to show off an interesting door instead and put it on a track that slides along the outside of the wall.
“It’s a very pedestrian-first thought. You just put the track into the wall and you’re done,” he added. “But … try a cool finish. Use some beautiful hardware, chrome … it gives you the opportunity to be more creative.”
Rees agrees. His company recently rolled out new hardware colors. And he is always on the lookout for new and interesting door and hardware design opportunities.
“Sliding door hardware is so simple, it’s timeless,” he said.
“As far as pocket doors, if it’s ugly, you hide it in the wall. … But if a door is cool, you can really make a statement with it.”