Sunday, November 20, 2016

The doorknob dilemma

Back in April, when Brian finished the new bifold doors in the office, I predicted that sprucing up the doors would inspire us to tackle a full makeover of that room. As it turns out, I was both right and wrong. I was right in observing that the other parts of the room—in particular, the main door—looked shabby by comparison with the spiffy new doors. And sure enough, not long after finishing the bifold project, Brian decided to take down that door and start the laborious process of sanding it down, refinishing it to match the bifolds, and rehanging it.

The newly refinished door was a vast improvement over the old one. But once it was in place, suddenly the other doors in the hallway started to look dingy by comparison. And so rather than tackle the rest of the office, we decided our next big project should be to refinish all the doors on the upper level. (Well, most of them, at least. The two doors in the guest room—the main door and the closet door—had already been refinished as part of the process of redoing that room back in 2014, so we could cross those off our list right away.)

One advantage of this as a project is that it didn't have to be done all at once. In fact, it pretty much couldn't be, because Brian only has enough room downstairs in the shop to work on one door at a time. So this project proceeded slowly, door by door, over the course of several months. After the office door, he moved on to the bathroom door, which was probably the next-worst-looking of the lot. This meant that we had to have a doorless bathroom for a period of a few days, but it wasn't a big problem; we just made sure to do it at a time when we knew we wouldn't be having any visitors. The only real difficulty was figuring out where in the small bathroom to store our towels, which normally hang on the back of the door, and Brian solved that by temporarily transferring the towel rack to the guest room door, which is just a couple of steps away. The towels could hang out there while drying, and when we needed to hop in the shower, we could just transfer them to the handy wall hooks we added next to the tub.

Once that was done, Brian tackled the two hall closet doors: the coat closet and the linen closet. Since these were both narrower than a room door, he was able to fit both of them onto his worktable at once, so he saved a bit of time by doing them simultaneously. By this time, he'd had enough practice to get the whole process down to a science, so he was able to refinish both doors in three days: one to take them down, haul them outside, sand them, and stain them; one to give them a single coat of finish, doing one side in the morning and one in the afternoon; and one more to give them a second coat and, once that was dry, rehang them.

The trickiest door to deal with was our bedroom door. Unlike the others, it couldn't simply be left off the doorway during refinishing, because our two cats are strictly forbidden to enter the bedroom. Even if it wouldn't have killed us to let them in for just a few days, it would have set a highly undesirable precedent. ("No, no, the bedroom is still off limits! Yes, I know we let you into it last week, but that was an exception!") At first we thought we could just transfer the office door to our bedroom—but when Brian tried that, he discovered that, although the two doors are the same size, their doorknobs apparently aren't installed at exactly the same height. They look the same to the naked eye, but there's a difference of about half an inch—enough to prevent the door from closing properly. Fortunately, we found that the door from the bedroom closet was a close enough match for the main bedroom door that we could actually get it to close (with a little bit of pulling). So Brian just took off the closet door and refinished that first, and then he installed it in place of the main bedroom door while refinishing that one.

So, as of this month, we officially have nice, new, freshly refinished doors in every single room of the house. But of course, there's a fly in the ointment. While the doors themselves look much better now, they're still sporting the same old mismatched collection of doorknobs they had when we first moved in. The office door has a round, shiny brass knob, the bathroom has a keyed one, and the other doors all have generic, builder-grade "bell" door knobs in various stages of wear. And just as the new office door made the old one look bad, the newly refinished doors are now highlighting just how cruddy their old knobs look.

Our makeover of the doors itself was about as ecofrugal as it could possibly be. Brian did all the work, and the only supplies he had to buy were a can of stain and a can of polyurethane (both water-based to minimize odor and VOCs). The entire project cost us probably less than $100. But unfortunately, we can't really work with the existing doorknobs the way we did with the doors. They don't match, they're in crappy shape, and they're a pretty ugly style to begin with. So if we want our shiny new doors to have knobs worthy of them, they'll have to be new knobs. The question is, what kind?

Design sites and blogs are always quick to point out that details like door knobs—the kinds of things that most people don't consciously notice—can actually have a tremendous impact on the overall feel of a room. When the Petersiks at Young House Love repainted all the doors in their new house, they devoted an entire post to the process of choosing new knobs to go with them, complete with a "mood board" showing 14 styles they considered (ranging in price from $16 to over $100 apiece). And I personally agree that it's important for little details like this to be in keeping with the overall architectural character of a house. (For example, the oil-rubbed bronze knobs the Petersiks eventually settled on, with a large rectangular plate behind them, look great on their house's white-painted, six-panel doors, but they'd look ridiculously out of place on our flat, dark wood doors.)

So I knew that, to replace the old knobs, I wanted something that would look like it belonged in a circa-1970 rambler like ours. But the problem is, when you try to search "1970s style doorknob," you get lots of sites that sell door knobs and basically none that talk about what kind of knobs were actually in use during this time. The only type of door knob shown in most pictures of houses from this era is the generic brass "bell" knob we have now, and this thread from Old House Web indicates that this was the standard type in houses of this era.

The only recommendation I could find for something a bit more distinctive was this Weslock door knob, which a door hardware site described as a "funky" style suitable for a '70s house. (You can also see it in this YouTube video on updating an old door, which is sort of the opposite of what I want to do.) I like the look of this knob, and I think it would fit in with our doors, but they cost around $22 apiece. Actually, the best price I've found is $21.50 for the "passage knob," with no lock, and $23 for the "privacy knob," which we'd need for the bathrooms and probably all the bedrooms too. So with three bedrooms, two baths, four upstairs closets, and two other rooms downstairs (the boiler room and the shop), we're looking at over $250 worth of hardware here—quite a bit more than we spent on the doors themselves.

So now I'm wondering: is it really worth the cost? Given that these are still basically just builder-grade doors, would we be better off just buying builder-grade knobs like these, which come in a contractor pack that costs $30 for four knobs? They're not as distinctive, but they're presentable, and we could do the whole house for under $100. This would keep the total cost of the project much more reasonable—but on the other hand, we could use the fact that we spent so little on the doors themselves to justify splurging a little on the knobs. So which makes more sense: keep it simple and cheap, or splurge on something special?

Of course, I could just follow my usual practice and put off making a decision at all, in the hopes that a better bargain will fall into my lap. The obvious downside of that is that we have to live with the crappy knobs in the meantime—but I could always just claim I'm waiting to deal with the knobs until after we've finished repainting all the door casings. Those are at least as crappy-looking as the knobs, so it's easy to make a case that getting them painted should be our first priority. Given how long it takes us to finish a decorating project around here, getting that done could easily take another six months, and who knows what new and marvelous sources of door hardware I might discover in that time?
Post a Comment