Welcome to Woolsey Drive. The front door was never much to speak of, just a big slab of wood painted a flat dark red. On the sides of the door are two large glass panels of textured glass right out of the 1950’s. They let in the light, but you cannot see through the glass. We thought seriously of replacing the front door, but then the glass panels would have to go. One of us likes the 1950’s glass panels, so an all new door was not an option.
Last Thanksgiving, we hid the door behind a festive wreath hanging from a hook at the top of the door. The wreath welcomed guests at Thanksgiving, then guests at Christmas, then guests at whatever holidays fall in January and February, until it finally welcomed a mother bird in March. For two months we did not use the front door as baby chicks made a racket on the other side of the door. When they finally left the nest in May, I took down the every-occasion wreath. Picture a one year-old’s high chair after eating a meal of vanilla pudding and cereal with his hands. It looked something like that, but not as clean. That was it. If we could not have a new door, we could at least have a clean door – one Saturday’s work, tops.
We popped the door off the hinges and ceremoniously displayed it on a set of saw horses in the front yard. This had the added benefit of calling the neighbors on three sides to come on over and inquire as to our dilemma. In hindsight, we should have worked in the back yard. Folks in Chevy Chase do not work on their house and certainly not in their front yard. I plead ignorance; begged them to understand that the door was very heavy and hard to move; accepted their business cards for reputable South and Central American handymen; and promised to restore order quickly.
The door was heavily damaged in many places. It had been amateurishly repaired at some time in its long life. The paint was uneven, chipped, and dull. The day was warm with only a 10 percent chance of rain, so we dove in.
The door hardware was old and tarnished, but it was a big piece of brass and unique in design. We taped off the hardware and painted the door a colonial red. To this day, I do not know why we chose colonial red. Neither of us are colonial red door kind of people, but at least it went on easy and dried fast.
Sometime during the drying, a small bug landed in the paint. Sheri picked the bug off using a fingernail lifting just a fleck of paint. I picked the fleck off and it pulled off a strip of paint. We lifted the edge of the strip of paint and the paint cam off the door in large patches of red Saran wrap. In two minutes we had completely peeled the door, not only of the new colonial red but also of two layers of paint below it.
Staying calm, and not alerting the neighbors of the unexpected turn of events, we regrouped and thought, “if paint comes off that easy, why not just take it all off?” …including the door hardware.
Coming back from the local hardware store with their best paint stripper, we poured it all over the door in order to answer the question of just how many coats of paint were on the door anyway.
Our door had begun life styled like a country barn door and in the ensuing six decades had been painted and repainted eight times. That was good to know. I bet the neighbors did not know this kind of crucial historical information about their doors.
Sure, it had been a lot of work and a lot of entertainment for the block but it had to end because the sun was setting. Muscling the bare slab back onto its hinges, we felt secure inside the house behind the strength of its natural wood look. Realizing that we both were not fans of colonial red, we pivoted onto a naturally stained wood door. No one on the block had that!
The next day, with the outline of the barn door pattern clinging powerfully to the wood, we went with a dark brown oil-based stain to cover the imperfections of the original wood. We laid the stain on thick and wiped it off lightly. Two hours later we had a shiny, glossy brown door tacky to the touch.
Twelve hours later, we had a shiny, glossy brown door tacky to the touch. The sun was setting.
We moved the door into the foyer to dry overnight. Not having a front door, we tacked up a sheet and slept with a baseball bat by the bed ready to confront any opportunistic burglars who managed to get by the security of 400 thread count fabric.
Twenty-four hours later we had a shiny, glossy brown door tacky to the touch.
A lot of the fun of door refinishing had left the project at this point. Breaking out the Stripeze once again, we removed the stain in gooey gobs of brown sludge. While Eric coated the door with Kilz, Sheri tackled the door hardware. To her amazement, each time the door had been painted, the hardware had been painted along with it. She began to restorative process of laboriously removing paint and varnish from the brass.
After having convinced ourselves that we loved colonial red, then having convinced ourselves that we loved chestnut brown stain, we had no trouble convincing ourselves that we loved a deep purple called mulberry.
We applied three coats of purple and four coats of varnish in the bug-free foyer in order to get a smooth hard finish.
Here is a helpful hint when removing obscure door hardware. Take a picture of how the locking mechanism and latch operate before removing. Otherwise it could take someone up to six hours to reinstall it. Ask me how I know.
For four days we slept behind the security of a sheet. We had applied and removed paint and stain numerous times. We had filled the street with the sweet sound of a palm sander for most of three days. We have been forever branded as ‘those people’ on the block. We found the perfect door knocker to commemorate the door refinishing project.