When is a door not a door?


The answer to that childhood riddle was, “When it’s ajar.”

Now it’s so much more.

It seems that more and more, Sally and I are being asked by our clients to design little gems or architectural jewel boxes. The scale can vary from multiple rooms to highly customized projects within a room – such as the concealed/hidden doors I’ve been working on this fall. One is adding a new door in a way that it will blend seamlessly with an adjacent bar. The other we were asked to make two closet doors “disappear” in a living room.

Sally and I were fortunate enough to see several different interpretations/applications of hidden doors during our visit to France last fall. In certain instances, it seems the classical architects of the mid 18th Century did not want doors “messing up” their designs.

Here are two doors cut into the paneling at Petit Trianon. All you see are shadow lines and tiny door knobs. Note the scale and delicacy of the knobs, rosette and hinges. The integrity of the paneling and decorative onlay is preserved.

This door swings out of the room.

Petit Trianon, hidden door;  photographer John Kelsey

This door swings into the room.

hidden door, Petit Trianon; photographer john Kelsey

At Fontainebleau – upholstered wall and wainscot.

Napolean's bedroom, hidden door; photographer John Kelsey

Fontainebleau, hidden door; photographer John Kelsey

And Vaux Le Vicomte. I could get lost in this photo…

hidden door, Vaux le Vicomte; photographer, John Kelsey

let’s wind the tape forward to our contemporaries. My Belgian friends, Lefevre Interiors, are masters of their craft. look closely. The oh so tiny pulls give the concealed panels away.

traditional living room; Lefevre Interiors

A single pull… The person who hung this door is a true artist!

Lefevre Interiors; tradtional French paneling with hidden door

Axel Vervoordt hid a door in a book case, providing access to the office beyond.

Axel Vervoordt, Timeless Interiors; photographer Christian Sarramon

 Several years ago, Wilson Kelsey Design designed a small library in which the cherry paneling hid the all the plumbing shut off valves and electrical panels for a home. (photographer, Michael J Lee)  The panel with the artwork on it swings out, providing access to the utilities behind. Those were interesting details to work though… Pretty cool pocket doors, too!

concealed door in paneling; photographer Michael Lee

Back to this fall’s challenges… First the hidden closets in the living room. I had hoped to use the requirement to create a focal point for the room, pulling it all together, as the room currently lacks focus. The fireplace was existing, with “Gothic” overtones. The client likes French style… Another aspect of the overall project was to open up the wall to the right of the fireplace, connecting the small galley kitchen to the adjacent living/dining area. The new “L” is to the right of the proposed concealed doors and wood paneled mantel surround.

Proposed concealed doors by fireplace; Wilson Kelsey Design

The client didn’t like all the wood trim around the fireplace, but did want to tweak the look of the “L” by adding large corbels from Enkeboll to support the countertop. We designed what looks like built in cabinetry with bookshelves above for the closet doors. Overall not as elegant, but I am content. The closet doors are about 2 ¾” thick.

hidden closet final design, Wilson Kelsey Design

We will be sourcing the book bindings from Original Book Works in England.

faux book bindings, The Original Book Works

Looking at both elevations, if I could combine the mantel surround from the first elevation with the “L” and soffit bracket from the second elevation, I think we’d really be on t something! Save it for another job, John…

Moving on to the seconds hidden door challenge. I needed to design a door between the entrance to a wine cellar and a custom built in bar. There’s just over 36″ of available space. The client didn’t want anyone to know it was a door. I drew 4 options, starting with a simple wood panel solution and worked up to the base cabinet/shelving option. The wine cellar is on the left. The door will swing into the hall behind the bar, so no hardware will be visible. We started out using a standard 6′-8″ door.

sketch 1; Wilson Kelsey Design

sketch 2; Wilson Kelsey Design

sketch 3, Wilson Kelsey Design

sketch 4, Wilson Kelsey Design

The client loved Sketch #4. Working drawings are complete.

outswing concealed door, WIlson Kelsey Design

The job has been priced and the door is in fabrication.

Can’t wait for the Holiday Party in December!!!



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This weekend Sally and I (with the good help of our son Drew) performed one of our Fall rituals – dismantling and saying goodbye to our screened porch until next spring.

screened porch; photographer John Kelsey

screened porch; photographer John Kelsey

If I’d had my druthers, I’d have spent the weekend at the Kemble Inn in Lenox.

Kemble Inn in the Fall

Leisurely exploring the grounds.

Kemble Inn, Lenox, Ma

Appreciating the fall flowers.

Kemble Inn, looking back toward the terrace

And savoring the fall foliage from the terrace.

view from the terrace

Or from my bedroom window.

view from the terrace

Even though the fall leaves in the Berkshires are past their peak colors, there are many attractions to make the trip worthwhile. This summer, Sally and I stayed at the Inn while we spent a wonderful weekend visiting her brother, who was hiking the Appalachian Trail. We took in two concerts at Tanglewood and visited two lovely Trustees of Reservations properties, Ashintully Gardens and Naumkeag. My blog post about our visit can be seen here.

Another nearby Trustees of Reservations property of interest is The Mission House in downtown Stockbridge. Finished in 1642 for missionary John Sargent, it remained in the Sargent family unit it was purchased by Mabel Choate who relocated the property to it’s present location. She then worked with landscape architect Fletcher Steele to design the Colonial Revival garden you see today.

Mission House, Stockbridge, MA

The Norman Rockwell Museum located on the Linwood House estate is must. Linwood was designed in 1885 by Stanford White for the Butler family.

Linwood House; photographer John Kelsey

Linwood House; photographer John Kelsey

Peering thru the glass at the front door…

Linwood House; photographer John Kelsey

The Norman Rockwell Museum, designed by Robert Stern in 1993. (Classic design ages so well, doesn’t it?) has all of Rockwell’s iconic paintings including many I had never seen before. I was amazed to learn how carefully he constructed his paintings.

norman rockwell museum

His studio.

Norman Rockwell Studio.

So carefully preserved.

Norman Rockwell Studio.

Equally fascinating is Spring Lawn, immediately adjacent to the Inn. Designed by John Alexander in the classical Beaux Art style. It appears to be slated for future development as an inn and spa.

Spring Lawn mansion; photographer John Kelsey

Spring Lawn’s interior stair.

Spring Lawn, Lenox, MA

On the other hand, should you just want to lounge around the Inn, the accommodations will not disappoint. From the moment you step thru the front door you sense the Inn’s graciousness and history. This is the main lounge, which over looks the Inn’s terrace and grounds.

Kemble Inn, Main Lounge

Grand Foyer

Kemble Inn, Grand Foyer

The Piano Bar is the perfect place for coffee and dessert after dinner.

Kemble Inn, Lounge/Piano Bar

I returned home with several ideas for cabinet door glass.

Kemble Inn, Window detail; photographer John Kelsey

Kemble Inn, Window detail; photographer John Kelsey

We both loved the details in the dining room. Actually quite restrained for a Victorian Era home.

Kemble Inn, dining room; photographer John Kelsey

Couldn’t get enough of the ceiling light fixtures…

Kemble Inn dining room light fixture; photographer Sally Wilson

Or the bar cart… A little Art Deco perhaps?

Kemble Inn  bar cart; photographer John Kelsey

Which of course leads to my favorite part – the food and wine… The Inn is blessed with a wonderful menu (beautifully prepared) and wine list. I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Table Six at the Kemble Inn; photographer John Kelsey

Table Six at the Kemble Inn; photographer John Kelsey

OH yeah! Breakfast!!!

Table Six at the Kemble Inn; photographer John Kelsey

Very cool wine chiller idea!

Table Six at the Kemble Inn; photographer John Kelsey

We could linger on the front stoop and continue chatting…

Kemble Inn front door; Photographer  John  Kelsey

You get the idea. Sally and I would go back in a heart beat.



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Since our Paris trip, Sally and I have had opportunities to use what we learned and and absorbed in a number of our projects. (Posts can be seen here and here.) We have designed a paneled living room, and a chinoiserie style mud room, a Hall of Mirrors powder room, several hidden doors and pieces of furniture. Today, I will stick with a china cabinet. It was designed for a project in Chestnut Hill. Sadly, the two pieces that were commissioned were not built. So…, if you know any one…

For inspiration, we drew from a hutch we had seen while visiting Petit Trianon. Particularly it’s cabinet doors, fiches hinges and hardware.

Petit Trianon; photographer, John Kelsey

Petit Trianon; photographer, John Kelsey

 And the stepped corners from this display case in the Louvre.

Louvre, display case; photographer John Kelsey

I drew two different sketches. One showing the cabinet in the context of the room setting. The cabinets show the stepped corners. One aspect of the design I was looking at were the esthetics of two doors (left) vs one door (right). The one door solution was selected.

french style cabinet a & b; Wilson Kelsey Design

I then drew larger partial elevations to prove to myself that the stepped corner worked visually and to check it’s proportion.

french style cabinet a & b; Wilson Kelsey Design

The base cabinet door was a raised panel door. The door panel trim on the left wold have been exquisite, but a custom knife needed to be made in order to mill the shape of the trim profile. The cost proved to be too much, so we settled for the style on the right, using a slightly modified panel trim profile I was able to find thru a local cabinet making shop.

With an approved design, I prepared a set of construction drawings, which the cabinet maker used to price the project. If the commission had gone forward, shop drawings would have been produced by the cabinet maker. Shop drawings are important because they provide an opportunity for demonstration of the cabinet maker’s understanding of the designer’s intent. Questions can be asked back and forth, details worked through, etc., such that there is  a clear understanding by all parties as to what the final piece will look like and how it will be built.

You can see that the upper cabinet door was tweaked, giving the piece an updated feel. Yet the idea came from the circle at the top of the Petit Trianon hutch above.

french cabinet construction drawing; Wilson Kelsey Design

This is an example of one of the horizontal detail sections I drew at full scale in order to sort thru the finer points of trim profiles, hinge clearances, etc.

fiche hinge detail, Wilson Kelsey Design

At any rate, since the cabinets were never built, I found myself wondering what if the finish were jazzed up a bit, a la Grange. Not sure exactly how, maybe inside the upper cabinet interior with it’s glass doors? Pop the trim between the base and upper cabinet?

One inspiration idea from a Grange piece Sally and I saw in the Paris Grange showroom window. Liking the high gloss black paint as a finish, too.

Grange Sideboard: photographer John Kelsey

Or possibly a wallpaper theme…

Wall paper and screen; photographer John Kelsey

Any thoughts?



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