Thursday Doors–A Few Minutes at Grace Church

Doors
Grace Episcopal Church

We’re jammed up right now and my partner had to run an errand. Would you mind waiting about 15 minutes?

Normally, if you hear that request from the guy at the hardware store, you sigh and resign yourself to the fact that: they are the only people in the area that can mix this shade of paint. I say normally, because this store, on that day, didn’t qualify as normal. This store is in the heart of the Windsor, Connecticut downtown district. It’s across the street from the Library, Windsor Town Hall and Grace Episcopal Church. In other words…Doors!

I have had Grace Episcopal Church on my “To Photograph” list for several months. I drive through this district often, and as Norm has pointed out before, churches are a great source of door material.

I’ve actually featured this church before, not in Thursday Doors, but during a Photo-365 project several years ago. I like the church and I like the building that sits next to it. I could pour into the history of this church, but, today, I want to focus on the doors.

Close up
This close-up shows how the panels are mostly straight but, even at this resolution, appear rounded.

At first glance, the doors in the church and the front door of The Tuttle House appear to include rounded panels. After closer examination, we find that that statement is more literally correct than one would think. The panels “appear” to be rounded, but they aren’t. The craftsmen used a relatively simple technique to make the doors appear to be much more complicated than they are. They beveled the edges of the rails and stiles (or the molding that was applied) on the four sides of the panels to trick your eye into seeing a curved panel where one doesn’t exist.

Woodworkers do things like this all the time. Tapered legs give tables a lighter feel than square or round legs that are the same width all the way down. The table benefits from the wider stock where it matters, at the joints with the apron, but convey a more dainty appearance. Similarly, a wide bevel is often cut on the underside of a table top or a shelf, to make it appear much thinner. The table retains the mass necessary for the joinery to the legs, the shelf retains its ability to hold a substantial weight without sagging, but our eyes tell our brains that the surfaces are nearly fragile.

In the case of these doors, the wood that has been removed alters the appearance, but doesn’t alter the structural integrity of the door. The bevel is stopped before the joint between the rails and the stiles (horizontal and vertical frame elements respectively). Those (mortise and tenon) joints have the full surface area of the stock involved in providing support. The panels float freely in grooves that are cut into the rails and stiles so they can expand and contract with changes in temperature and humidity without cracking or warping. Since they aren’t attached, the wood removed in cutting the bevel has no effect on the strength of the door.

The men and women who built these buildings wanted them to look good, but like woodworkers and homeowners today, they were on a budget. As long as people have been working with wood, there have been ways to make things look more interesting.

Another possibility, is that the bevels, while adding a decorative element, were actually cut to prevent fire from spreading quickly across the face of the door. Fire spreads fast on sharp corners, a fact pointed out to me early in my woodworking career. That lesson will be the subject of a future blog post.

In any case, I love the doors and I really like the fact that they took the time to tie the front door of (what was) the Parish House to the front doors of the church through this interesting architectural detail.

More information about the buildings is contained in the captions of the photos in the gallery. As on most Thursdays, this post is part of a fun series run by Norm Frampton called Thursday Doors. You can join us with your own door or see all the other doors by following the link on Norm’s blog.

77 thoughts on “Thursday Doors–A Few Minutes at Grace Church

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  1. Oh, these are wonderful! I’m drooling from my eyeballs … Er, I mean, how lovely, to be able to see all this in person! It reminds me of Grace Lutheran Church, the church I grew up in. Very similar architecture and, as used to be traditional with Lutheran churches, red doors. Thank you so much for explaining the door panel construction and all the woodworking detail; I love that kind of information. Wow — great Thursday!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Marian. I like hearing that people like the details. Otherwise I feel like I’m being a wood-geek. I was so impressed because I started thinking about how the curved panels matched the curves of the opening. As I got closer to the doors, I realized the way they were cut was fooling me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful pics, Dan. I’m not a bit surprised that the newer doors are plainer and less imaginative. It’s a shame how churches of almost every stripe have lost that beautiful Gothic look that used to predominate. It’s no coincidence, in my view, that the trend away from lovely, classical architecture has tracked with a decline in faith. What we wear and where we work, live and pray has an effect on what we believe (albeit subconsciously, in most cases), either for good or ill. And the architecture of the last few decades has produced much ill.

    I won’t elaborate the way I’d like in a simple blog comment (though for those who are interested, I would recommend Michael Rose’s book on modern church architecture, “Ugly as Sin”), but let’s just say I appreciate today’s doors more than usual. What matters, for our purposes here, are your pics, which are typically excellent. As Manja says above, they invoke serenity. Well done.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Paul. You are absolutely right about where we work affecting how we feel. From school, to church, to my job, to my workshop, I feel a part of where I am and I adapt. Modern architecture is usually an awful mix of utility and a cheap facade in a few key places that masks a dull and beige inside with little to care about. The building I work in is interesting to walk into, and it makes a big difference, even though it’s a cookie cutter copy of every building around us.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well that technique is very clever, indeed! And interesting, like the fire on sharp corners and all that — interesting stuff. I understood the leg references when it comes to furniture, how our eyes are fooled into thinking taller skinnier legs mean there’s more space. Those of us who live in small houses know all about the creating the illusion of space. I’d never have known about the bevel trick.
    It’s a very pretty church, and the doors do it justice. Around here, most churches (and way too many buildings) have beautiful stone or concrete facing, but boring doors.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comment. I think the churches that are interesting but have unremarkable doors are likely ones where the doors fell into disrepair and had to be replaced. I don’t have great examples of the bevel trick, but here’s two pictures of a three-legged stool that I made. The first is the dry fit, where the seat is the full thickness. The second is after the top was rounded over and the bottom was beveled. Due to the unusual shape, I couldn’t bevel it back as much as I would have liked (alas, a tool I don’t have :)

      full https://flic.kr/p/bRE58p

      bevel rounded – https://flic.kr/p/bXp4qE

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t imagine there’s a tool you don’t have. I’m impressed completely, of course. Very nice. It does look better with the finishing details. Cuter. More feminine. Perfect for wife.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful church doors! That info about the rounded panels is fascinating – who would have known?? So many churches have red doors like this, which are beautiful, but there is one church in New Britain that has the most fantastic turquoise blue doors – I’ll have to track down my pic and post it next Thursday!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Woodworking is my hobby and was once my (meager) source of income. I love stone buildings and I really like it when the craftsmen matched the architectural elements of the building with the doors, windows and inside artifacts. Even when they just made us think they did. Thanks for the comment.

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  5. My mind is thinking about the bevel and how I can make my wide parts appear thinner…

    That’s a gorgeous church, Dan. I saw a few in the D.C. area (other than the Catholic basilica) that were photo worthy (but didn’t get a photo, darnitall). I love old churches, the brick, doors, windows…it’s all very beautiful.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Not going to comment on your parts Mary – nope, can’t make that mistake. Thanks for the comment though. I did see some wonderful churches in DC. I’ll be digging into that supply as Winter keeps me from snapping new doors. I love stone and brick buildings the best.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Teh church is gorgeous — as is the setting, which is not so usual. We have a lovely Catholic church across from my bank but gads the setting now is awful — slammed under the overpass — but then again, it is stil standing! Nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I like the shape, and color of the red doors, and window frames. I never knew you do so much to achieve an expensive, complex look with door panels, and yet it’s done economically!

    I love how they drew the eye up toward heaven with their Gothic architecture, and I love those gables!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comment. I love this building. You can’t help but feel good around it. Panel doors offer many opportunities to add interesting elements. This way is so much easier than making curved panels and frames.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This was a beautiful door, Dan. The hardware store gave you that opening to help enrich our eyes and your blog post, too. I love how Episcopal churches come with their red doors. I will someday capture our red (Delaware, Ohio) Episcopal church doors. I think it is called St. Peter’s, will know by time the door post comes.
    I always appreciate your ability to describe with “personal knowledge” and “authority” your doors. (My quotes are to bring attention to my respect level for your building and carpentry skills.) The details about rounded edges on the door panes and the purpose behind the beveling mean a lot to me. You take this door post writing to a fascinating level. Thanks for all angles chosen and shared for the lovely Grace Church.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Although I am not Christian and not too religious I love visiting such old churches. I really don’t know what the connection is, but I just feel good. Similarly I visit some not so popular fire-temples where I can sit and talk to the higher power. One of my favorite is in Lonavala at my sister’s place. Not many people visit it, so its clean and quite, most of the time I am the only person sitting alone watching this huge fire in front of me.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Great doors and beautiful church. Yes churches are great for doors.
    I didn’t know you once did a 365-photo project. Mine is getting near the end, I can sort of see the finish line already, just one more big final push and I will be there.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Dan, I keep returning to this article of yours. Two reasons. No, make that three. Or maybe more. One: Your grand photos evoke memories, long ago, of my life on the east coast. Two: This church; its architectural features reach toward a concept of God, unlike so many box-like churches here on the opposite edge. Three: Your writer’s voice is clear and unaffected; you move out of the way and let your story shine. Four: I enjoy photography. Your camera and your eye work well together. I hope your ham and cheese is not toasted today.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much Anthony. The Gothic style was chosen to lift your eyes, and it works so well, especially when your eyes are lifted to beautiful sky and the changing fall colors. I’m sure something like this would cost way too much to build today, even if we have people who knew how to build it. I remember when they repaired the canal in Lowel, MA for a historic mill site, they had to hire long-since-retired stone workers to direct the workers who were trying to fix the stone lining of the canal bed. Thanks again for visiting and for the very nice compliment.

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    1. I think I know the picture you’re talking about. To get a better perspective on that, I would have had to have been standing in the road (or have a better camera). The church is full of very steep elements though. Thanks for visiting.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Sorry I’m late, Dan. That’s fascinating about the “trick of the eye” with the (main) door. I’d swear it was curved/rounded. Great choice. Not only is it a beautiful door, it has that added point of interest. Nice collection of photos. Have a wonder-filled weekend. Hugs!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Janet. There’s always a door around that needs to be photographed :) They seem to have worked pretty hard to get the Tuttle House crafted in the style of the church. When it was first built, it was a private residence (of the Rector, but still).

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