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The Weather Network
Nov. 14, 2019 | Thursday
Editorials and Opinions
ArchiText: What are you knocking on?
Pictured from left, storm door shutters, a double plank door and six-panel door. (Brian Marshall/Special)

As we walked past a historic house on Prideaux Street last week, my wife wondered about the purpose of the plank doors that covered the main entry. Replying, I offered that 18th- and 19th-century houses along the lower Atlantic seaboard often displayed louvered door shutters, a tradition that could have been carried north by Loyalists and adapted to Niagara winters in the form of the solid storm door shutters on this house.

My attention thus focused, I began looking more closely at the front doors of the older houses we passed. Not surprisingly, the majority had been replaced sometime in the last 100 years or so, more often than not with a door in the popular style-of-the-day. No matter how beautiful the new door, this unfortunate trend can, and often does, have a negative impact on a house’s design composition.

On the early settler’s dwelling, the principal consideration for a door was that it be sturdy, weatherproof, and easily constructed on-site. As a result, most of these modest homes would have a door made from two layers of boards (exterior boards set vertically and interior boards set horizontally) with either half-lap or tongue-and-groove joints that were locked together by hand wrought clinch nails.

These double plank doors might be utilitarian or “decorated” with a simple bead running along one edge of each board and/or a nail-head pattern on the exterior side. However, as larger, more formal homes were built, the use of double plank doors was relegated to largely hidden service entries and then abandoned until the advent of English Arts & Crafts and Neo-Tudor styles of the early 20th century.

Neo-classical and Regency were the go-to styles in the years after the War of 1812. In these houses, the typical front door was an intricate piece of joinery marked by six panels held in place by rails and stiles, which were through-morticed then locked together with wooden pins, dowels or occasionally wedges. Part of the success statement, if you could afford a carpenter-built six-panel door, it was “the” choice until the 1850s.