“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.
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.