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Join me as I chronicle my progress building 1:12 and 1:24 scale dollhouses full of steam power, stars, invention and yes, clockworks...

Pocket Doors, Part 1

Dec 21, 2014

I started work on the pocket doors this weekend.  Having limited mobility sure does change some priorities around, and gee, this might be hard to believe, but I would rather create mini things than watch TV!

Pocket doors are traditionally installed using a wheel system, where a small wheel attached to the top of the door glides along a track above the door.  It makes for a smooth operation and uses gravity, the track (and the pocket wall) to hold everything in place.  I thought about engineering something like this for the best fit, but finding components small enough to work with my design proved somewhat difficult and in the long run, left me doubtful of how well they'd hold up.

There are some great tutorials out there for pocket doors from some master mini makers, and for the most part I'm going to follow along the same lines.  Here are the tutorials I found in case anyone is interested:

Myrtlewood Manor Pocket Doors
Otterine's Pocket Door Part 1 (search her blog for the other parts)
KathieB's Creole Cottage Pocket Door

The key difference between these miniature doors and the wheel system is the track.  The mini door needs a guide to slide along. It's not getting opened multiple times every day, and no one really cares about gravity in a mini house, so a simple channel that allows the door to slide back and forth works fine.  Some miniaturists add a little wax to the channel to help the door slide better, and I'll probably do that too.

My dilemma now is the style of pocket door I want to do.  I'm adding these doors to both the parlor entrance and the dining room entrance, which means they will have a transom above the door track and I want them to resemble french doors.  Here's an inspiration shot:
 This door is obviously not a pocket door.  But it's not hard to re-imagine it as one, like this one:

Combined, these two pictures reflect what I'm looking for - an elegant door that allows the light to flow through, adding that modern open and airy feeling while also keeping the pocket door element that was so popular in Victorian homes.  I also like the look of the french doors, and I plan to make the window lights look like old, antique glass.  Also, because the Fairfield's foyer is so tiny, pocket doors are a perfect complement to the space and allow it to feel much bigger than it would be otherwise. (Experienced FF builders will note the staircase is no longer in the entrance hall on this build...that is getting it's own addition and will come later.)

To start, I needed to do some surgery on the wall. First, I cut a piece of matte board to the dimensions of the interior wall (parlor/dining side), which was 5" x 13".  Then I traced the outline of the parlor door, which came pre-punched in the arch style with the Fairfield kit. I wanted to repeat this arch in the dining room to add some symmetry and extra light.  The FF is full of arches - from the bay windows to the parlor entrance, and it makes sense to keep that as a consistent element where I can.

I cut out the arch and then traced that over where I wanted the dining room arch to go. In order for the doors to have enough room to slide into the wall on the dining side, I needed to move the dining room arch over slightly.

Then I checked the fit with the pocket wall in place.  You can see where the old square door was located (This was originally a single-wide door with an arch that I squared it off because I had originally intended this to be the entrance to the kitchen...which has obviously changed.)  I'll need to cut some pieces to fit that gap.  Since I'm planning to spackle the walls before I paint them, I'm not too worried about these little gaps or the structural element.

That little bit of surgery went well, but I discovered another little problem:

The tab slot for the tower front (where the door is located) leaves absolutely no room for trimwork on the foyer side of the parlor door.  I suppose that if you built this according to how it's laid out in the original kit it's no big deal, because there would never be a chance that you'd be able to see this corner of the house.  But I'm not doing that, and I took this shot through the window that I've added to the foyer, so it's definitely going to be visible.  What I'll have to do I suppose is sacrifice a tiny bit of porch width, and slide the tower forward just a tad to make room for trim. That will probably require me to cut new tower walls out of plywood, but that's ok because that's relatively easy to do.  Especially since I bought ample wood to cut walls for all the other rooms I'm adding...Ahem.

Here's another shot where you can see the adjusted location for the tower section. I've slid the tower back about 1/2", which adds an extra mini "foot" of space to this foyer room. Considering the foyer is barely 7 ft x 7 ft in mini-measurements, it's still incredibly small.  Then again, why stand in the foyer when you have such a warm, comfortable parlor and a roaring fire right there to enjoy?

Having decided on that, the last step before I was done for the evening was to flesh out the dimensions for the doors to be cut and figure out where to put my door track.

The transom definitely complicates things.  In the other tutorials, a significant top extension piece holds the door in place on the track and this is all hidden behind a solid wall. But with the transom, I don't really have much space for a track unless I make it look like there's a track there.  That's just not as visually appealing, because the trim size ends up being too large and ultimately, will look out of scale.  Here's some real world installations for comparison to see what I mean:

The trim work around this pocket door and transom has a consistent look and feel.  All the framing trim is approximately the same width, including the center beam where the track is located, so what your eye is drawn to is the beauty of the glass doors and the room beyond.  Unless you really look closely, you don't even notice that the outside pilaster trim is actually wider than the interior frame, but this detail adds a touch of elegance that helps the eye focus on the symmetry of everything else. It's a very professional finish.

But in these next two installations, the center trim below the transom where the door track resides is wider than the rest of the framing trim and the eye picks up on it being out of place right away. It makes the door construction look uneven and dare I say (considering the houses in these pics are probably 4 times the cost of my own), cheap. The second picture on the right isn't as bad as the first, but the feel ends up being more farmhouse and less old to new Victorian.  One thing about remodeling a Victorian home and keeping old elements like original trimwork, etc is that they almost never look cheap because they are works of art.  They were built with the same craftsmanship and attention to detail as the above example. 

So, the next stage of this build is going to be building that narrow track so that it's consistent with the rest of the trim size and seeing how that works. But, darn it all, to START I need window panes, so I need to order some transparency film. The center channel supports both the track for the door below and the groove the glass sits in for the transom above.  Glass (or in this case, transparency film) doesn't need much to hold it in place, but overall I'm only looking at a trim width of 3/16" for my doors.  I based this width on the width of the trim around the Grandt line doors I purchased awhile back and I'd like to keep things consistent with them, as I'll be using them elsewhere in the house and feel that size trim really looks in scale. I might be able to get away with a full 1/4", but keep in mind that 3/16" is just over 4" wide in real world scale, and 1/4" is 6", and that's a really wide door trim size.  If the track space is too short to allow the door to slide easily or it somehow skips out of the track, I'll have to resort to plan B - which is to go with something more like this:

This is of course a gorgeous door and evokes a very elegant, Victorian feel, but it wasn't my first choice.  It has grown on me quite a bit though, and I love that wall color and the wainscoting, so we'll see :)


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