Terminology: Door Types

Doors can provide more than function in a home. Well designed doors have the ability to create a sense of entry or arrival and a preview as to the style of the space beyond. Swinging doors are definitely the most common in residential (and commercial) applications, but there are a ton of other door types that may work in your home. An alternative door type can to things like save space or reinforce your particular style. Here I have listed some alternatives to the typical swinging door along with some of the design challenges that may be associated with them.

Double pocket door

Double pocket door


Pocket Door

Pocket Door

A pocket door disappears into the wall when opened. They are great because they save the space associated with a door swing and they can look quite elegant.

Sounds simple right? There are a few more things to consider. First, the wall that the pocket door slides into needs to be slightly thicker than a typical partition. The wall needs to be thick enough to accommodate the thickness of the door (about 1 3/4"), plus a little bit of space so that the door slides easily. It does not sound like a big deal, but in some cases you would need to thicken the entire wall in that room to accommodate that door so do not not end up having an odd out in the wall.

In addition, you need to consider what is in the wall that the door would be sliding into. Let's suppose you have an existing doorway into a bathroom and you want to install a pocket door in order to save space. On one side you have a door into a linen closet. On the other you do not have any opening into that wall, however, you have the plumbing from the shower in that wall - less then 2'-8" from the edge of the doorway. If you put a pocket door in this wall and it slides to the left it would run into the closet door. If the pocket door slides to the right, it runs into plumbing. At least one of those things would need to be changed. In regards to budget would that be feasible? Would it be worth it? Think about if a pocket door would run into anything else in the space that may not be readily visible such as plumbing, electrical switches or ductwork.


Gliding or Bypass Door

Bypass Door

A bypass door unit often consists of two doors. These doors are most commonly seen opening out onto a patio or deck or as closet doors. At times one door that is stationary, while the other slides over it when opened. In other cases both doors are be mobile, so you can slide either side of the unit open. Sometimes this type of door is referred to as a sliding door, but that can be misleading because a pocket door and barn door slide as well.

One thing to keep in mind is that the maximum opening width ends up being the width of one of the doors. If you have a bypass door unit out onto a balcony and plan to purchase oversized outdoor lounge furniture, make sure it will fit through the doorway. 


French Bypass Door

French Bypass Door

If you have two units of bypass doors that are adjacent to each other, you end up with a sliding French doors. These are great because the maximum opening is the width of two doors instead of one. This door type can also have a more elegant feel. If your goal is to make an outdoor and indoor living space feel like one, this is one solution. However, keep in mind that there may be challenges associated with what may already be inside the portion of the wall that would need to be opened to accommodate this unit.


Barn Door

Barn Door

A barn door is essentially another type of door that slides. However, instead of sliding into a wall or over another door it slides over a wall. These are sometimes a great solution when a pocket door will not work because there is something within the wall that you would rather not relocate. Bar doors also come in a variety of styles solid wood, paneled, wood frame with glass....one of my favorite looks is when someone finds a salvaged piece from an old building and the serves as one of the major focal points in the home.

The basic components of a barn door are the door itself and the hardware, which typically has an industrial look. Therefore, a barn door may not be the most appropriate solution for say, a restored Victorian styled home. The hardware is mounted above the door opening and you can generally choose whether you would like the door to be able to slide to only one side or both. One thing to be conscious of is the weight limit of the hardware versus the weight of the door. This can usually be found in the hardware manufacturer specifications.


Harmon Door

Harmon Door

Harmon doors are sort of like a hybrid of a swinging and pocket door. Usually designed as a pair of swinging or bi-fold doors, when opened, the doors fit seamlessly into an oversized door jamb. That being stated, in a renovation project the incorporation of harmon doors needs to be especially well thought out. Instead of adding a few inches to the wall thickness as with a pocket door, you would be adding feet with a Harmon door in many cases because the wall thickness needs to at least be the width of one of the doors.

Consider how you would like the wide jamb designed, because you will see it when the doors are pulled out of the jamb - closing entry to the room. When the doors are open the wall behind often has a decorative detail like paneling or even built-in storage. This door type is more commonly seen in traditional homes. I had the opportunity to incorporate some harmon doors into designs while at Peter Zimmerman Architects and they look stunning in person. 


As with any design element, aesthetics are important, but so is feasibility. If you are thinking of replacing a typical swing door think of the other factors mentioned above. Then really get into the design of the door itself because you have the opportunity to make it a statement piece.