I don’t know if it’s because of simple evolution, healthy living by our ancestors, or a good food supply over the years. But my wife and I, and many of our friends, are taller than the reported height of the average man and woman of the Middle Ages. That’s why my wife and I, and many of our friends, have often smacked the tops of our heads while entering our house through the front door.
The problem was that the door was just a bit too short for people of today. For years, we figured that we would simply have to live with our relatively short door, because it would be just too difficult to enlarge the door opening, given our house’s thick stone walls. Then a friend of ours who works on the old stone houses of the Greater Daglan Area (the GDA) said that the opening actually could be enlarged relatively easily, and a new custom-made door could be installed. (Although he was quick to say that he doesn’t do that kind of work, thank you very much.) But for us, that settled it.
So here we are — some months later — having first ordered a custom-made door, and then found a contractor to enlarge the door opening. Fortunately, the door maker and the contractor had worked together previously, which made communications and coordination much easier.
What follows is a blow-by-blow account of how a new, larger, modern door is installed in a very old house with very thick limestone walls.
On Monday of this week, the work began. The first step was for our contractors to chip away the mortar around the stones above the lintel, and start pulling out stones. As they dug into the centre of the walls, they found a lot of open spaces where rocks and mortar should have been. On the plus side, they didn’t uncover any awful problems. (You just never know…) Here’s how the opening first looked:
Naturally, the contractors wanted to salvage as much of the better rock as possible. So many of the good chunks were stacked on the floor of our garage, like this:
To make the new door opening look good, it wasn’t just a matter of recycling the rock that was removed. Our contractors also had to bring in new oak beams to use as supports, as well as some limestone blocks that could be used to frame the doorway on the exterior. Here’s one of the oak beams and the two new stone blocks, ready to be removed from the truck that carried them to our house:
Meanwhile, back at the door, the hammering continued, as mortar and stones were chipped and knocked out of the walls, falling in piles on the front steps. Like this:
Then, once the opening was raised sufficiently, the contractors began to complete the wall above the door and below the roof. That meant installing oak beams as supports, and cementing rocks into place. It looked like this when it was partly done:
On the inside of the house, chunks of limestone were cemented together to add bulk and fill in the empty spaces in the wall. Here’s that step, as it took place:
Once the opening was raised sufficiently and then braced on the inside with an oak beam, the exterior lintel could be fitted in place. It’s a solid oak beam, and it rests on the new limestone blocks that our contractors had hit repeatedly with hammers to make them look as old as the other stones in the house. Here’s the new lintel as seen from the outside:
All of this work took place on Monday — and it was pretty much a full-day job. On Tuesday, the contractors returned and spent a few hours tidying up the new mortar they had used to set the stones.
Now, what about the door itself? We wanted a traditional door, in keeping with the overall look of our house, but with some sensible modern touches. So it incorporates a window in the centre of the door, and an iron grill on the outside. The glass is translucent rather than transparent, so that it lets in light but still offers privacy. And there will be a screen permanently fixed on the outside of the window, so that we can leave the window open in summer for ventilation, while keeping flies out.
On Wednesday morning, the door maker showed up with the new door, ready to install it in the enlarged opening. So here’s a look at the old door, leaning against a wall, next to our new door, and the window that fits into the new door:
Our new door came complete with its own frame, so that it would close perfectly. But first the framing had to be installed in the enlarged wall opening, and secured in the stone walls. Here’s that operation:
Once the framing was put in place and then bolted securely into the stone, it was time to hang the door. Even for professionals, this isn’t an easy task, so our contractors did a lot of huffing and puffing as they wiggled the door onto its hinges. Here they are:
So, by noon on Wednesday, we had our new door. A few things still remain to be done — staining the oak lintel dark (like the other beams on our home’s exterior), and then repairing and painting the walls around the door on the inside of the house. As well, the door maker has to come back and install the screen for the window in the door. But the door itself is in place, it lets in lots of light, and the lock works well. Here it is:
So from now on, visitors won’t need to worry about whacking their heads as they come into the house. That is, unless they enter by the cave door on the ground floor, and then come in through the door from the laundry area. Now that’s a low opening.