Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.Joseph Campbell
‘I Am The Door Of The Sheepfold’
by Malcolm Guite
Not one that’s gently hinged or deftly hung,
Not like the ones you planed at Joseph’s place,
Not like the well-oiled openings that swung
So easily for Pilate’s practiced pace,
Not like the ones that closed in Mary’s face
From house to house in brimming Bethlehem,
Not like the one that no man may assail,
The dreadful curtain, The forbidding veil
That waits your breaking in Jerusalem.
Not one you made but one you have become:
Load-bearing, balancing, a weighted beam
To bridge the gap, to bring us within reach
Of your high pasture. Calling us by name,
You lay your body down across the breach,
Yourself the door that opens into home.
I have been installing salvaged doors into the farm house we are moving into. As is usually the case with houses over a hundred years old, particularly houses that have had several renovations and additions over the years it has its own unique personality, (translate as challenges) when it comes to floors and walls not being perfectly straight. Things have sagged a bit here and there requiring some ingenuity if you are going to hang new doors.
The original structure was a small home, two story roughly 20 X 30 on each floor. In the late 1970s early 1980s two roughly identical 14 foot additions were added off the front and back of the house facing east and west that now give the first floor the perfect amount of space for two people. There are two front rooms that serve as offices and TV space, then the original living room and kitchen (which were reversed in location somewhere along the way), and then a new bath, new master bedroom and new laundry room off the back all on the main floor. It is a good house to grow old in, everything you need is on one floor. There are guest accomodations and a sewing/adult time out room are on the second floor with a second bath. It has everything two people would ever need and is small enough that its easy to take care of. It will require sensible decision making on how we combine our possessions from multiple households, while adding a few new things, all into one space. We have cheated by moving most of our furniture and boxes of stuff into a temporary storage unit. Once we finish renovations, we can start purging “things” that don’t fit and paring down our possessions, something our children will appreciate when they carry us out in a box someday.
In my experience, the process of moving offers a narrow window for renovations, before possessions are unpacked and dust a tremendous bother. I know that every project deferred into the realm of “I’ll get to it someday”, is likely to turn ten years from now, “I meant to fix that years ago,” so I am doing my best to get as much done as possible up front. Its amazing how quickly we accept our new surroundings as status quo. It’s why every time I have ever moved into an old house, which this is fifth time in my life, there is a frantic dash to get as much plaster fixed, walls painted, wiring fixed or replaced, new carpeting laid, plumbing repaired as one can afford and has time to do. I am both blessed and cursed with the tendency to be both fearless and handy when it comes to fixing things, which can add up in terms of projects that I am attempting to tackle. This time round its mostly simple plaster repairs and paint, along with new light fixtures that were needed. However, my partner and I wanted a way to keep pets from going into the basement and second floor. Neither set of stairs had a door on them and so searching around on Craigslist I found a guy selling salvage doors in the very town I was moving. It was perfect, we found two outstanding doors, with glass pains that match the style of the house. The one leading to the basement has frosted glass so that you can’t see through it and the light for the stairs back lights it as well throwing much needed light into a dark hallway on the first floor. The other is clear glass that is also back lit, thanks to a clever bit of wiring, (I uncovered an existing switch outlet with power hiding behind the sheet rock and was able through a careful bit of measuring from the basement hit it on the first try with a drill bit. From there running a new badly needed light on the stairs to the second floor was a cinch. My investigations from the basement did uncover the cause of the settling on the floors and its because somewhere along the way the bottom plate for half the wall was torn out and never replaced to accomodate new runs on heating ducts. Not exactly up to code, but next winter I’ll spend a day figuring out a way to shore that up and jack things a tiny bit with a screw post or at least prevent it from settling any further
Neither door was the dimensions for the opening, each requiring a bit of trimming on two or three sides. The bigger issue was what to do about the door jams that were anything but plumb. The door leading to the basement was level on top but desperately out of level on each side, off more than 3/4 of an inch from top to bottom in the 76 inches of the height of the door on the side I was going to hang the hinges. The only solution was to remove the molding, start ripping out the jam and rebuild it. The problem was the jam was firmly attached to the plaster and lath that was near a lovely plaster arch. I realized how much trust my partner had in my abilities when at 11:00 pm on a Saturday night I am sawzalling through plaster and studs in her beloved farmhouse saying; “trust me dear, I will have it back together in no time.” True to my word a week later, I did. Both doors required my 40 years of experience in working on old houses. Both turned out great, but the key to each one’s success was I didn’t try and make them look perfect, didn’t try and make them look like new construction. Both door openings were crooked to start with and are a little crooked when finished. I made the hinge side perfectly level and dealt with the rest by shimming and acceptance of a certain amount of tilt that will add to the character of the house.
I enjoy taking something someone else didn’t want and through a little hard work, ingenuity and acceptance turn it into something that transforms the space. I have bought a third door that will be the next project once all the painting is done. Its a massive solid walnut exterior door that is unfinished. Our plan is to replace the old painted hollow core door going into the first floor bedroom with this incredible piece of architectural wood. There are oak hardwood floors throughout the first floor stained dark and the door will add a bit of additional wood accent on the first floor as all the molding is painted white. The door to the bedroom happens to be the same size as an exterior door, so it matches the opening. I have to sand it down and put several coats of marine varnish on it and it will create a statement piece that you will see as you walk in the front door looking through two plaster arches down a long hallway from the front door. Can’t wait to get started on it.
by Malcom Guite
Perhaps this poem’s just another write-off,
Another scrap of paper for the bin.
So, should I struggle on or turn the light off?
My muse, maybe, has booked another night off
Without her help I can’t even begin.
Perhaps this poem’s just another write-off.
And yet I can’t forget what I caught sight of;
A grace I mustn’t lose, but cannot win,
So, shall I struggle on, or turn the light off?
I’m weighted by the love I most make light of,
I cast aside what’s not yet counted in.
Could I presume to recognise a write-off?
It is despair itself that I must fight off
When giving up feels just like giving in
So, do I struggle on, or turn the light off?
There’s something here to salvage, something right off
Life’s radar, or else underneath her skin.
Since I’m redeemed, (and I was once a write-off)
I’ll struggle on until they turn the light off.