Recently, I had the opportunity to tour some of the Gilded Age "cottages" in Newport, R.I., with a group of residential architects. The most fascinating house was the Isaac Bell House from 1883. Designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White, this modern colonial (now known as shingle style) has been described as "a bold artistic venture." The main rooms open to each other with large sliding doors that create a continuous flowing space from the central hall through the dining rooms and out to the porch and grounds.
The openness of the floor plan could rival any new home in the Lowcountry.
I had thought that large sliding doors were a fairly new invention, but Sanford White designed these beautiful sliding doors more than 130 years ago. His doors are suspended from an overhead track and slide in the manner of Japanese screen partitions. McKim, Mead and White used very large, cottage-style, double-hung windows to open the living spaces onto the porch. The bottom sash is taller than the top sash in cottage-style windows. The bottom sash in the Isaac Bell house started at the floor and, when raised, it disappeared into the wall above the window creating a "door" much like the jib windows in Beaufort's historic district.
Today, creating an easy, open flow between the interior and exterior is almost mandatory in the Lowcountry. There are several options to create large exterior doors that range from 10 feet to 6 feet tall up to 40 feet wide. The most popular are folding walls and "lift-and-slides," which take advantage of German engineering and allow you to move extremely heavy doors with just one finger.
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When selecting doors for big openings, you need to consider several building code requirements. The openings need to be protected from flying debris during hurricanes. The easiest option is impact-resistant glass, but this is not an option in all of the folding walls or lift and slides. Armor Screen is an excellent product for openings without impact glass. The other requirement is having the required design pressure rating for the door, to prevent water intrusion.
Many national door and window manufacturers have a lift and slide or folding wall in their portfolios; two hurricane code-compliant lift and slide door companies are Nanawall and Weiland Doors.
Nanawall is one of the oldest folding door manufacturers; its hurricane-approved door only comes in aluminum, which might not fit with the design of a more traditional house.
Weiland Doors has a wood door with a flush-to-the-floor track that meets hurricane codes stricter than ours. Weiland Doors designs include large "lift-and-slides" that open from the center or "lift-and-slides" that can stack on top of each other in a pocket.
As we enter the pleasant fall weather, many of us want to open our houses to connect with the outdoors. If you are building a new house or remodeling your existing home, consider creating a big wall of opening doors.
Jane Frederick is a principal in Frederick + Frederick Architects in Beaufort. Contact her at 843-522-8422.