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Installing a pocket door may not be the right choice

QuestionI am interested in installing a pocket door in a small bedroom with limited space for the door to open into the room. Our 1910 home has beautiful wood crown moldings, wood wainscoting and cap molding installed four feet up the walls, wallpaper, picture molding, and raised panel doors. How hard would it be to replace an existing door with a pocket door in a bedroom wall? Would I be able to find a raised panel door to match? Would I have to remove the wainscoting?

AnswerIt sounds like your home has lots of character, so I'm curious to learn what style it is. After the 1906 earthquake and fires in San Francisco, the rebuilt city featured many different architectural styles, such as Victorian, Mediterranean, and California Bungalow, so I can appreciate your concern about finding a matching raised-panel door.

This is not the type of project that I would recommend homeowners tackle, especially in an older home with existing finished walls. Considering the home's age, the room's wainscoting and wood moldings, and the lath and plaster walls, which I assume you have, your project could be challenging even for an experienced professional.

What makes this so daunting is that a section of the wall needs to be removed and reframed so it is large enough to accommodate the finish door and the pocket. The pocket framework and the track needed for the door must be installed into this reframed rough opening before the wall can be completed. If this wall is a bearing wall, then a proper-sized header will be required. Removing the framing members will destroy the lath and plaster walls and the potential to damage the wainscotings and moldings does exist when trying to remove them. Of course, a building permit will be required, and possibly an electrical permit too, as any wiring in this wall will need to be relocated.

Finding a door with raised paneling should not be a problem. I'm sure that in your area there are companies that specialize in used building materials and that's a good place to start the search. If push comes to shove, you can always have a cabinet shop or door company reproduce the same style door.

If the existing door is painted, you should be able to use this door by plugging the door handle hole and filling in the hinge gains (mortised or recessed cuts into the edge of a door to receive the hinges).

I would carefully evaluate all the available options as I also considered the home's resale value, the amount of work to be done, and whether or not the bedroom door needs to lock.

Two options to consider are bifold or folding (also known as multipanel or accordion) doors even though they'll be difficult, or near impossible, to set up with a lock. Bifold doors are available in both one-half louvers and one-half raised panel or full raised panel. Folding doors are available in a few select species of hardwood veneers.

I would lean more toward a folding door, even though I know it would have a flat-panel design. However, Inet Distributing (www.inet-dist.com) sells the A.J. Boyd Colonial, a prefinished PVC raised-panel folding door.

If you want to spend the money, you can always have a wooden folding door custom made with a raised panel design to match the room's woodwork.

Either of these options can be a temporary fix without damaging the walls, door jambs, and casings.

To install bifold or folding doors, first remove the existing door, complete hinges, striker plate, and doorstops and store them all away. If the doorjambs are painted, fill in the nail holes, striker area, and hinge gains. Fill in the striker and hinge gains with wood secured in place with finish nails (no wood glue) and repaint.

For door jambs with a finish, cover the existing side and head jambs with 1/4-inch-thick stock cut from the same (or similar) wood (or 1/4-inch plywood) to the same width and height. Fasten these thin jamb skins (veneers) in place using finish nails (no adhesive). This will provide a level clean surface for the new door and its hardware. You can either pre-finish the pieces or finish them in place.

Both options will allow you to remove the fill-ins or jamb skins with very little trouble later on down the road so you can reinstall the original door.

Only you can evaluate how important it is to have a pocket door for this one bedroom. The bottom line is: how much work do you want to create for yourself and how much are you willing to pay for the project?

Copyright © 2005, 2006, & 2007 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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