doors, windows, hardware

Period Garages & Garage Doors

Traditional design has caught up with the garage door.

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By Nicole V. Gagné

A practical necessity for virtually all homeowners is to own at least one car, which makes a garage a practical necessity for virtually all homes. For the garage to be a suitable companion to the home's architectural style, it, too, must complement the design of the home, regardless of its contemporary function. Thus a market has steadily grown for garage doors in the style of traditional carriage doors (entries with clearance for a horse-drawn carriage). This article surveys three leading manufacturers of historically styled garage doors; the range of their products and experiences should help simplify the selection of an appropriate garage door for the period home.

Hahn's Woodworking Company
Hahn's Woodworking Company, Inc., in Branchburg, NJ, was founded by its president, Scott Hahn, in 1984. He describes how the profession came naturally to him: "Both my grandfather and my father sold and serviced overhead garage doors, and all my summers from the age of 12 on were spent riding shotgun on a service truck, installing and repairing them. When I started my manufacturing business, a client who had old swing-out doors told me, 'We like the look of these doors, but we want the convenience of an overhead door.' So we developed a sectional overhead carriage-house barn door. Today, we make extremely high-end carriage-house overhead barn doors, and our clients are upscale buyers who want that quality."

Hahn's fabricates doors in all styles and operations: sectional overhead, one-piece overhead, swing, sliding or bifold. But according to National Sales Manager Roger Jurczak, "Our highest percentage of doors sold is the overhead. Sometimes, the client's garage doesn't have room for the track system, or you'll have the purists who say, "I don't want that very fine line that maybe my neighbor can't see but I know exists in a sectional. These clients opt for a swing door. But for every 25 or 50 overhead doors that we supply, we probably do one pair of swing doors. And for every five pair of swing doors, we may do one pair of sliding doors."

Sectional carriage-house barn doors from Hahn's range in thickness from 1¾ to 3¼ ins. and feature a polystyrene-insulated core. They're fabricated with a mahogany internal-core framework and ¼-in. Luan plywood fully laminated to the front and back of the hardwood core. Glazing options include tempered, laminated, insulated, leaded stained glass and hand-blown seeded restoration glass. The doors' wrought-iron hardware comes from such suppliers as Kayne & Son Custom Hardware, Ball & Ball Hardware, James Peters & Son and Acorn Forged Iron.

The firm works with its clients to create a door that suits the home. Even its stock doors aren't so very stock, insists Jurczak. Hahn's doesn't lock itself into standard sizes and exact replications of a particular design. "The industry has standard door dimensions--8x7, 8x8--but there are a lot of older garages where the opening is a non-standard size," he says. "That's why we start each order with a pile of lumber in the shop. We don't pre-cut, and we listen to what the clients tell us they want."

The doors can be for the garage or the entry. Notes Hahn, "About five or six years ago, we really started offering custom entry doors that match our sectional overhead carriage-house barn doors; with most of those doors, the client is buying an entry door, too."

Historic Doors by Hendricks
Based in Kempton, PA, since 1985, Historic Doors by Hendricks (formerly Hendricks Woodworking) specializes in designing and constructing garage doors and entryways that are compatible with a building's architectural style. Founder Steven Hendricks explains, "Designing doors in historic styles came naturally to me. I've always been interested in preservation and architecture, and as the point of entry, doors are arguably one of the most important elements in a building. Carriage doors were just a natural offshoot of making entry doors. My experience is that the market for carriage doors is growing, but how big a trend it is, I couldn't say."

All the firms doors are made using only mortise-and-tenon joinery. Its craftspeople are trained in traditional joinery and employ hand construction methods in combination with appropriate woodworking machinery. These specialized artisans also recommend the wood species most appropriate to each application, using high-quality American hardwoods for the construction of their doors, which are typically 1¾ or 2¼ ins. thick. Glazing services include beveled glass, custom-designed leaded glass, true-divided-lite insulating glass and even restoration glass.

"Every job goes through our design office," Hendricks says. "We always work with the client and their design team, rather than offer a line of stock doors. There is some standardization in our construction methods, depending on the door style, but within that method, there is enormous variety because each door is made by a single craftsperson."  That last detail is paramount at Historic Doors, and the client is always given a single point of contact who knows his or her project thoroughly.

Despite tailoring its design flexibility to a client's needs, Hendricks notes, "Most of our work is in swinging doors, although we've done some of the folding overhead garage doors. Those kinds of doors are fine, but they can't really duplicate the historic carriage-door designs, which never had to accommodate such limitations as overhead tracks or a divided horizontal construction. And there are people out there who don't want something designed within those limitations. They want authenticity. By the same token, we don't get a lot of customers looking for carriage or garage doors that match or complement historic entry doors. Carriage doors have been for us mostly a unique, one-of-a-kind item. They usually serve a different purpose from regular entrances."

Designer Doors
Founded by Kent Forsland, Designer Doors, Inc., in River Falls, WI, began selling handcrafted garage doors in 1987. The firm seeks to meet the needs of clients desiring the appearance of authentic carriage doors with the ease of pushbutton overhead operation. John Gardner, vice president of sales and marketing, has seen an upturn in the emphasis placed on the role of the garage door. "People understand the product's architectural impact," he explains, "and there's a lot more upscale interest from a design standpoint in garage doors. The vast majority of our clients want overhead convenience. Also, there are some code issues relative to automatic swing-door operation, and not many devices at this time meet those codes. And if there's a heavy snowfall, it has to be cleared away before you can open a swing door. Most of our overhead doors are designed to look like swing doors. We can also make it resemble a single sliding barn door; a hinged, two-segment swing-out door or a tri-fold. Many people have the wrong garage door for their house and want the old tri-fold look."

The firm offers stock lines of overhead garage doors with its Limited Editions series, but despite their popularity, according to Gardner, "There's been an overall shift to custom design. Clients who at first were thinking about a catalog product end up saying, 'I want you to customize it.' Probably 40% of our business volume is custom." Commissioned garage doors can also eschew overhead technology and operate as swing doors and are fabricated using the same crafts as their historical models.

Both the commissioned and Limited Editions doors use 1 3/8-in. Douglas fir frames, polystyrene insulation, ¼-in. plywood backers and clear western red cedar for the trim. There is the option of either stain-grade western red cedar or paint-grade MDO plywood for the surface material of flat doors. For raised designs, western red cedar is used. Glass can be double strength, glacier, insulated, tempered, insulated tempered or bronze tinted. The firm also offers stock and custom reproduction hand-forged hardware and finishes its pulls, latches and hinges to resemble wrought iron.

Designer Doors also provides entry doors, either commissioned or in a wide range of standard designs complementing its Limited Editions garage doors. Says Gardner, "People didn't realize before the options in design relationships between the garage door and the entry door and the advantage of being able to get both from a single source, which we call 'architectural harmony'.  We play a consulting role and help our customers pick the right product for their homes by giving them a broad variety of custom options for what works best with their architecture."

Click here for a list of garage door dealers
Click here for a list of garage door hardware dealers