There are doors, and then there are doors! Portals are now works of art, says Aparna Karthikeyan

Traditionally, doors in South India were made of solid wood (usually teak) and a carved panel, devotional or mythological in theme, was placed just above the frame. On either side, carved niches in the wall held oil lamps. All that, of course, changed when apartments and urban architecture swept into the scene.

Doors didn’t just become lighter; they went beyond being functional portals of entry to design elements that created an impression long before you opened them and stepped in. An intricately carved door, for instance, promises a house with strong Eastern influences. A stark brown veneer suggests a contemporary theme. A kitschy one, with names spelt out in small ceramic tiles, brass numerals and wooden beading drops is a hint of your eclectic style.

“Doors were, in the past, simply part of the civil structure,” says M. M. Philip, managing director, Barausse India, the high-end Italian door brand now in India. “But now, they’re viewed as a piece of décor.”

Spice it up

Doors made of glass, aluminium, wood veneer or a combination of all three, along with high-gloss lacquered finishes are on offer for those with contemporary homes. The change is evident not just in the finish, but also in the way the door works. Besides the regular hinged doors, folding and sliding doors are popular, freeing up precious floor space and, at the same time, retaining the sanctity of a closed room. The Scandinavian look — lightwood, crisp, straight lines, and clutter-free interiors — work best for such door designs.

“Creatively combining art and aesthetics, high-end doors also feature metal inlays on wood,” says A. Sampath, director, Artistick’s, an architecture gallery in Chennai. A contemporary take would be hand-beaten strips, squares and rectangles of white metal embossed on wood. A classical design would imprint brass or copper inlays, often in Victorian or decorative motifs, on the wood. And a traditional Indian wood-and-metal door would typically feature gods and goddesses picked out in brass inlay work, and double up as a pooja door. The trend, Sampath says, at present veers towards contemporary designs — solid colours and fuss-free straight lines — in line with the preference for minimalist home décor styles.

Old is gold

Antique doors, however, continue to operate in a niche market. These doors — typically from the Chettinad region — are very heavy, intricately carved, and made of Burma teak. Indika Creations, Chennai-based antique shop, makes reproductions of antique doors with recycled wood for people who do not want a real restored antique door (they claim negative vibrations as the reason). In a restored antique piece, the only modification that is called for is raising the height of the door, as old doors are usually just 5 feet tall.

Hand-carved teakwood doors are, similarly, a timeless design. They are statement pieces and can be customised in different designs and finishes. While contemporary designs are maintenance-friendly, Prasad Nair of Arya Bhangy (specialist in hand-carved doors) says that thanks to the polyurethane coating applied on top of the melamine and sealant, the wood finish remains fresh and unwarped for years and moisture stays out. Carvings are no longer limited to gods and goddesses or floral and vine designs. Arya Bhangy, for instance, incorporates patterns from Aryan, Mughal, Islamic and Georgian cultures. Or you can go with bespoke doors, if you are of an artistic bent. When a customer wanted a Mediterranean feel, Indika sourced local wood that would suit the look and added a Mediterranean touch by using ironwork in the design.

Clearly, the days when doors merely kept the elements out are passé. Today, they make a statement about you and, if made of wood, they are also an investment.