A favorite feature of our little Tree House is the set of French doors that separate our master bedroom from the main living space. Based on what we can determine from an old photo attached to our water utility account (which was actually quite the surprise, we need to share that with you!), the bedroom was a former screened-in porch. It was fully enclosed and insulated some time in the mid-90’s to create our current bedroom, and we’ve since replaced the old plywood floors with more Douglas fir, helping to make it feel more intentional with the rest of our home.
But back to those doors! The doors were in pretty solid structural shape, but the weathered former exterior hardware made it fairly difficult to keep them closed and latched properly when Lucy needed dark and quiet to sleep, while the adults wanted to stay up and have fun. The doors (and hinges, and parts of the hardware) had also been painted a few different shades of white-ish and beige tones over the years, so they weren’t winning any points in the style department, either. This is how they looked prior to going in for surgery – not glaringly terrible from the living room when closed, but the bedroom side was a different story altogether:
While we do love the look of the hardware that we inherited with the house (that is, once it’s been freshly boiled and cleaned up), we were thwarted in all of our efforts to find functional matching parts to create a perfect pair, which was our goal. We scoured several vintage and architectural salvage shops and finally threw in the towel when we realized we were spinning our wheels. We ultimately decided to go with vintage reproductions, but we bagged up the old hardware and tucked it in our closet for safe keeping. Not all of the hardware in our home matches, but we can always pull from the bag if we’d like to swap a knob or need to replace a part elsewhere!
Beyond the mis-matched hardware and paint, we were also dealing with a CC-sized missing pane of glass, which made for an easy escape hatch any time she decided that the doors should no longer do the work of containing her. A quick aside – we didn’t actually realize the panel was missing until our first night sleeping at the house. We brought the dogs’ bed into the room and pulled the doors shut before heading to sleep. We were baffled to wake up in the morning to find the doors still latched, but CC on the other side of the door. We looked at each in disbelief until CC poked her head through the hole as if to say, g’morning, guys! CC had decided that she couldn’t be held back by mere physical barriers and – up until this past week! – we’d been stuffing a pillow into the opening ever since. Never again, CC! *wink*
These doors have been waiting for their makeover for long enough! We set aside three days to complete the job (doors are no joke), and we completed the job in two. We’re calling that a big win.
Tools + Supplies Used
Chisels of varying sizes
Hammer (for chisels)
Phillips head screwdriver
Flat head screwdriver
Durham’s rock hard water putty (and water to mix)
3/4″ Spade bit for drill (to make quick work of mortise pockets if not already present)
2″ Angled paint brush
4′ Foam mini paint roller and tray
Orbital sander with 220 grit sandpaper
a pair of ORB interior handlesets (1 x privacy, 1 x dummy)
4 x Ball-tip door hinges
What We Did:
We started the project by removing all of the hardware to assess the condition of the doors themselves.
The mortise that came with our new privacy handleset was sliiightly larger than the outgoing unit, so we carefully chiseled out an extra 1/8″ of material on the top and bottom of the mortise pocket. The strike plate also had a slightly different shape and thickness, so we also used our chisel set to enlarge the opening slightly.
Prior to starting the project, we measured the CC opening and had a pane of glass cut at Lowe’s. We then lightly caulked the glass into place and then trimmed the opening out with matching 3/4″ trim and a couple of 1″ finish nails.
We weren’t terribly concerned with how the new glass and trim looked at this point, because after a quick bead of caulk and a coat of paint, we knew it would look seamless! Caulk is the secret sauce that holds old houses together, we’re sure of it.
Because these are no longer exterior doors, we were ready to say goodbye to the deadbolt – but that means we were left with a large, gaping hole! After scouring online woodworking forums to determine the best way to fill the hole, we ended up using a hole saw to cut a near-perfect plug from a scrap 2×4, and I gently tapped it into place. One long finish nail through the edge of the door and into the plug held everything firmly in place, which brought us to here:
On the opposite door, the deadbolt latch left behind this cut out:
But not to worry! We mixed up a small batch of this putty – a product highly recommended on the forums, and now we can see why! – to a toothpaste consistency and filled the gaps from the old hardware as smoothly as possible. Durham’s is a powder, and it can be mixed to whatever thickness you need. And since it stays dry as long as the lid is on properly, it never goes bad!
The putty was the perfect filler around the deadbolt and old backplates, but we didn’t go crazy – old pocks and chips are a part of the charm, we think. While the putty dried (the yellow areas below), we took time to tape off each window pane individually. We knew The results wouldn’t ever be 100% perfect, since there are about 90 years of paint layers stacked on top of one another, but we find taping things off prior to painting is always faster than trying to scrape off all the excess after the fact. (To be honest, we wished we had FrogTape on hand!)
The next day, we removed the doors from the hinges, then removed the hinges from the door frames.
The oil-rubbed bronze hardware we chose will start off looking almost like a matte black powder coat, but as they’re exposed to natural oils from use, they’ll gradually wear to reveal a lighter brass/bronze finish underneath. It’s a fun process to observe, but happens over many years and hundreds, if not thousands of touches. The hardware in our Chicago kitchen is the same finish and has just stared to show some beautiful wear patterns on the more frequently used handles.
The new hinges were the exact same size as our old hinges, but with the opposite screw pattern. That’s an easy fix; I marked them all and drilled tiny pilot holes to allow the screws to bite properly into the aging wood, and I did the same thing to the doors.
Once the putty was completely dry, we gently sanded all of the patched areas to a smooth surface, and we were ready for paint! Using Valspar Ultra White paint in a satin finish, Kim used her favorite angled stubby brush to brush the grilles and followed up the flat areas with a 4″ foam mini roller to cover each door in three sequential coats. While she had the supplies out, she even went on a bit of a painting streak and was able to put a few coats onto the exterior of the guest room and bathroom doors as well! She’s a painting machine, I tell ya! Tip: Pull the painter’s tape off while the paint is still wet. If doing multiple coats, peel after the final coat, but don’t wait too long between coats (no more than an hour – tops).
More than once, we debated between white and black paint for these doors, but decided that the ‘rule’ for the house would be that all exterior windows and doors would be painted black and all interior doors would be painted white. This allows the interior to flow more seamlessly and remain cohesive. The black finish on our exterior windows and doors frames our view to the outside nicely.
That evening was spent scraping off small bits of paint, installing the handlesets and shining up all the glass. Aaand, the doors were done! We love how the ORB knobs and hinges tie into our matte black bed frame and the living room light fixture.
Below, you can see that formerly missing glass panel on the bottom left. No more CC mystery escapes! It’s obviously impossible to convey in photos, but this new hardware is incredibly solid and heavy. It gives the doors a hefty weight that was formerly lacking. Everything feels like it’s always been there – just how we like it.
The doors! They match! Sorry if you’re feeling stuck now, Jackson McDogg.
This project was truly a labor of love – we happily spent two full days on a pair of doors that we feel deserved it. The meticulous chiseling (while wearing a nerdy headlamp to see what I was doing, mind you), hole-filling, taping, and painting have restored these former exterior doors to full interior glory.
We’ve kind of, sort of kicked around the idea to complete replace the identical set of doors at the back of the house in favor of a set of sliding French doors similar to those in our Chicago kitchen, mostly for ease of use out to the fire pit and a more open view. But now? Now we’re second guessing ourselves. Do we restore those doors using the same hardware as well? (Kim thinks yes.) We’ll need to figure out some sort of screen door option, and they’ve seen a lot more wear from weather, but they’re worthy of love, too, don’t you think? Plus, they’d look pretty stunning painted black.