Thursday, November 17, 2005

This Is Huge

This is colossal. This is Big. Really Big. It is the Super Bowl and The World Series rolled in to one. A three year search has finally come to an end. I now am the proud owner of a pair of antique, redwood, 9-panel Victorian Pocket Doors. And more importantly they are doors that fit my opening – well, almost fit. More on that later.



For people who live East of the Rockies you could probably throw a rock and hit two sets of Pocket Doors for your home. I see them on Ebay all the time. For every one Victorian Home they built in California they must have built 50 of them back East. Even though none of the Ebay doors I’ve seen are the right size, at least there is something – anything – available to look at. Some things can be easy to come by here but not pocket doors, and especially not redwood pocket doors. And even more especially, not redwood pocket doors in original condition with an original finish that is hanging on by it’s finger nails (Read: Easy to refinish because they’re not coated in 50 layers of paint).



Shortly after I bought my home I realized that the wall separating the front parlor from the foyer was nearly 12-inches thick but the door was only a 32-inch door. The door was way to small for the space and the wall was way to thick for the door. Obviously something had changed. When I opened the wall I found that the space used to be much bigger and there used to be pocket doors. The track and rollers were still there but the doors were long gone. The hunt was on.

For more than 3 years I’ve been looking for doors that would fit the 76X96-inch opening. That is roughly 7-feet wide by 8-feet tall. I would need some big doors to fill that space. As some readers may recall I’ve talked about making weekly trips to local salvage and antique stores that carry doors. I’m always on the lookout for standard sized doors but replacement pocket doors would be the Holy Grail of door finds.

The Butchered Opening


Not only do I regularly hunt locally but I have standing searches at 2 larger salvage yards in the bay area. If your looking for something specific you tell them what it is and they put the request on file and contact you when something comes in. The woman at Omega Salvage took my request and then politely told me that the odds of me finding the right doors were very slim. I told her I realized that but I had nothing to loose by looking.

Locally, in the last 3 years I have seen exactly 3 sets of pocket doors for sale. All were woefully undersized and completely the wrong style. There is just nothing in this area. I’ve always had this dream that there were a pair of doors in the rafters of someone’s barn just waiting to be found. In reality I realized I would probably need to have them custom made or even attempt to make them myself if I ever wanted pocket doors again. Reframing the wall to match a smaller pair of doors is out of the question.

So last Sunday I made my regular trip down to Empire Furniture. Actually I had missed going there the week before because it was raining I was either working on the kitchen cabinets or watching football, or both. I went in a and had my regular chat with the charming and beautiful Rose and then began to mosey around the store. I eventually made my way up to the 3rd floor where the doors are. As I got up to the top of the stairs a small stained glass window caught my eye and I started to check it out. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed something massive and brown leaning in front of the door rack. I nearly dropped the window and almost knocked over a young couple as I hurried towards the doors.

My first impression was they were stunning. The lighting is poor up on the 3rd floor. In fact there is no lighting except for a wall of windows at the far end of the building. Empire Furniture is in a late 19th century commercial building designed in High Victorian style but the building is in desperate need of repair. I would be willing to bet there is no electricity on the 3rd floor at all. Anyway, the lighting is poor, to say the least. The owner prices things with small white stickers that are 1.5-inches wide and a half inch tall. There were two stickers at the top of one of the doors. One was the price “$295 – Firm”, the deal of the century, and the other was a “hold” sticker – Choke! I just about shit. I had missed one week coming down here and “My” doors were now on hold for somebody else!!! I stretched and squinted to read the sticker and I was able to make out, “Hold Greg Pocket Doors”. That’s Me! I’m Greg, or at least I am A Greg.



I bolted down the stairs in search of Rose. I was frantic. When I found her in the back of the store I grabbed her by the shoulders and began to shaker back and forth while screamed, “Am I Greg? AM I GREG!?!?!” Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. That is what I wanted to do but instead I asked her as calmly as was possible at the time if she new anything about the pocket doors that were upstairs. She looked at me and asked, “What are pocket doors”. Rose is charming and beautiful but she would not be working in this store if her mother hadn’t been the previous owner.

I explained to her what pocket doors where and she immediately knew what I was talking about. Rose only works on the weekends and so she had no idea when the doors came in or how long they had been there. She attempted to contact Sheri, the owner, at home but had no luck. I didn’t say anything to Rose about the Hold Sticker and I told her I wanted to put a $50 deposit on the doors. It sounds crazy but I somehow knew they were for me.

The next day on Monday I went back down to Empire Furniture and as I walked up Sheri was standing out front pricing some things. The store is always packed stuff and items always seem flow out on to the sidewalk. Sheri owns a huge 1888 Victorian 4 houses down from me and we’ve known each other for 4 or 5 years. As I walked up Sheri saw me and said, with a big smile, “I guess you saw your doors upstairs.” She was still 8-feet away from me but I think my sigh was audible from that distance. The doors were for me. I am Greg.

It turns out a woman in Ferndale had called Sheri earlier in the week to see if she was interested in buying some old furniture. As Sheri tells the story, after they agreed on a price for the few pieces of furniture the woman says something like, “Oh, and I have these big old doors out in the barn. Do you think you’d be interested”. With her best poker face Sheri said she’d be willing to take a look at them. She told me as soon as she saw the doors she thought of me. Sheri knows that my weekly visits to her store are in search of doors. I assumed Sheri must have low-balled the woman on the price and then passed the savings on to me.

The doors have 9 vertical panels that are raised on both sides. There is additional mill work around each panel. They are in good shape considering they’ve been in a barn for who knows how long. You can see how they were stacked in the rafters and the side of the one door that was face up has almost no finish on it of any kind. It is pretty much bare redwood. I think they have been there for a very long time. One side of both doors is shellacked and the other two sides have either one thin coat of paint or tinted shellac.

Technically they are not pocket doors. They are actually a very large pair of French Doors. Do they need to have glass to be French Doors? Maybe they are just double doors. They are about 2-inches too wide but that is fine because I can trim off the place where they mortised in the hinges. They are also, unfortunately, about 5-inches too short. This is not the end of the world, though. I can add that to the top and 2 or 3 inches will not be visible at the top once the opening is trimmed out. Once I get a dark finish and shellac it should be fine. They have a few dings here and there, but so does just about everything else in the house so that should be fine too. Really, all of the problems are very minor. My guess is that these were large doors in a public space or an Odd Fellows Hall or something like that. It would have to have been a really big room to make way for large swing doors like these. Regardless, of where they came from they are very cool.

To make a good thing even better, On Monday when I told Sheri I would be pick up the doors on Thursday she said some thing like, “I’m so glad they are going to work out for you. I know you’ve been looking for pocket doors for a long time, and besides I priced these just for you.” She could have easily gotten $600 to $1000 for the pair but she knows I’m broke and working like a mad man on my house so she gave me a great deal on them. It pays to build relationships with people.

14 comments:

Suzanne said...

Greg, that's great. You've been talking about doors for that space as long as I've known you, cyberspacialy, that is. Congrats! I know you will drop everything and have those puppies stripped, cut, added to, refinished, and up in no time.
BTW - finally had time to catch up on your blog - wow, you did an amazing job on that entire kitchen unit. Absolutely brilliant!

Patricia W said...

That is excellent excellent news! I know how frustrating it can be to replace a pocket door, believe me. My house isn't nearly as grand as yours but finding an 83x48 five panel (horizontal) pocket door is nearly impossible. Every pocket door made was custom to the house it was put in. I have checked all over the place and most salvage places tell you they don't take pocket doors because they can sit for seven years waiting to find a home.

John said...

Congratulations! We've had a few finds like this, though not as long in coming as yours, and it always comes with a real feeling of euphoria. Enjoy!

And, the doors look fabulous too.

Any idea why folks felt the need to get rid of pocket doors? As far as space considerations and function go, I've always thought they were quite practical.

Karen said...

Greg,
Great story...Great find !!!! this is even better then the shingle story. Proving once again "Good things come to those who wait"
Can't wait to see them in place.

Karen

SmilingJudy said...

Great story, Greg. :) I can totally picture it, "Am I Greg??!!!". Hee-hee. I laughed out loud more than once. Well done. And congrats on the doors as well.

Kristin said...

Hurray! Hurray! I got all excited reading your post because I know how awesome it feels to find just the right thing at just the right price. (I'm a shopping addict, ok?) Anyway, you DESERVE IT, Greg! Congratulations! The doors are terrific.

saple said...

That woman deserves a huge hug...

Jocelyn said...

what a great story and it could not have happened to a nicer guy!

Now we get to watch those babies go in- woo hoo

JLynnette said...

Congrats on finding your doors. I'll bet you're excited. :) I know I would have been.

deb said...

woah, you're a lucky little fella, aren't you?!?

Trissa said...

Very cool- those weekly visits definitely pay off!

kingstreetfarm said...

WOW! They are simply stunning, and you really did score an incredible deal. Congratulations!

$295 firm? Yes please!!

HusseniBros said...

I've just "Sherlocked" my way to realizing the double swinging doors into my 107-year old house's living room were not, in fact, original. Upon closer inspection, the width of the doorway opening is equal to the distance from the EDGE of the door to the exterior wall. I'm going to go hunting in the door frame to see if it was a single-leaf pocket...maybe it's still in there. If it is, we most likely riddled it with drywall screws when we replastered the living room...not thinking to check behind the lath at the time! ACK!

Greg said...

Interesting, to say the least. A good indicator will be the overall thickness of the wall. The wall with my pockets for the pocket doors is twice as thick as a normal wall.