Here on the East End, a barn door is not merely a decorative note. Its also a nod to the past and homage to the farming tradition that has dominated this area since Europeans first settled here.
So when Jane Kosovsky imagined the home she wanted to build on her Southold property in 2003, she was thinking farm.
“I’m animal-oriented, and I wanted to blur the lines between the inside of the house and the outside, as far from a suburban family house as possible,” said Kosovsky, who installed two sets of barn doors inside her house. “The builder thought I was nuts, but he’s since brought people over to see them.”
She uses the doors for visual separation of indoor space, as well as for privacy. One pair sits between the large entry room and the living room, the other between the entry and the den creating a multi-use space for guests or just peace and quiet.
Builders say barn doors work for interiors because they are a versatile way to divide space and provide privacy. They also point out that rolling door hardware works better than hinges for very large doors because the stress of a bigger door will cause hinges to fall. Barn doors will also fit in spaces that don’t allow the forward clearance needed for the swing of a large door. When considering a site, it’s important to consider that barn doors are not airtight, since they must clear the floor and that the wall space adjacent to the opening must be equal to the width of the door.
April Hardwick’s Shelter Island home, built in the 1950s, is a genuine farmhouse. When she began to renovate it in 2013, she was determined to keep the look of the house, “local, and not too rustic — like a Scandinavian farmhouse.”
The barn door, she said, turned out to be a feature of the house that grabs everyone who walks in.
The door, which separates the living room and an adjacent alcove, was not part of the plan until their builder, Eugene Burger, suggested it. Actually, he insisted on it.
“We did not consider it in the beginning, but I love it now,” said Hardwick. “It’s a showpiece.”
Burger’s company, Burger Construction in Cutchogue, builds three or four new homes a year. In the past five years, most of them have featured interior barn doors. He’s done so many — at least 15 by his estimate — that creating and installing custom barn doors, often using antique barn wood from demolished structures, has become a specialty for him.
“People like to use barn doors in interiors because the doors have character,” Burger said. “Finding the doors is not so easy.”
Burger constructed Hardwick’s door from reclaimed barn wood and hung it on a metal track. At first, Hardwick planned to paint the door, but she found she liked the natural look of the wood, especially since the dining room table, which is visible from the living room, is made of a large slab of barn wood from 1865.
Beautiful and practical, the door creates a space that will evolve with the family’s needs. Hardwick, whose third daughter is six months old, said she sees a possible future for the alcove as a guest room or additional bedroom. For now, it seems right that a barn door defines a playroom for her two older girls and their dog.
“People have an affinity for places that are real,” said Ed Dart of Dart’s Tree Farm in Southold. And he should know.
He’s the third generation of his family to farm on Main Bayview Road, and his beautiful 1753 barn is an example of why the rural barn has become a design ideal for modern homeowners. This historic structure features two sets of huge doors on the north and the south sides.
“They were built to allow a horse and wagon to drive in,” Dart said. “You could drive right through the building.”
Nowadays the barn is retail space for the Dart family’s Christmas tree and trimmings business and an event space for cocktail receptions, art exhibits and weddings the rest of the year.
“It is a space that looks authentic because it is,” he said. “And it has a smell that can’t be equaled.”
Peter Stoutenburgh of the building company Environment East said city dwellers living in lofts and former industrial spaces, where walls are few and space is at a premium, fuel the trend toward the large, sliding doors. Their East End homes incorporate the industrial aesthetic of a large door that offers privacy where you need it, with the bling of rail hardware, sometimes sleek and European, sometimes antique and reclaimed, from which the doors hang.
Stoutenburgh said he’s working now on a renovation that mixes the old and new, with sliding barn-like doors in a farm-style kitchen with a deep sink and a large top-of-the-line stove.
He pointed out that in late 19th-century Victorian-style homes in this area, sliding doors to the parlor were often an important part of the interior. These doors often featured etched glass and displayed the skill of the craftsman.
“Sometimes we’ll find a pocket door still stowed in the wall of one of these Victorian homes that was just painted over and forgotten,” Stoutenburgh said.
And there’s one more feature some homeowners look for in barn doors, according to Stoutenburgh, that lends that farm authenticity: “It needs to have some chicken feathers on it.”
This story was originally published in the 2016 edition of northforker Home and Garden