Recently, I had the opportunity to tour some of the Gilded Age "cottages" in Newport, Rhode Island with a group of residential architects. The most fascinating house was the 1883, Isaac Bell House designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and. 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 over one hundred thirty 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 raise it disappeared into the wall above the window; creating a “door” much like the jib windows in Beaufort’s historic district.
Today, creating a 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'-6" tall up to 40' 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.
When selecting the 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 the 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 portfolio; two hurricane code compliant lift and slide door companies are Nanawall and Weiland Doors. Nanawall is one of the oldest folding door manufacturers; their hurricane approved door only comes in aluminum which may not fit with the design of a more traditional house. Weiland Doors have a wood door with a flush to the floor track that meets Dade County Florida hurricane codes. 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 - consider creating a big wall of opening doors.