At Entrance Café in Chennai, the first thing you see is a massive ten-foot wooden door with carved Gothic-style panels. Tucked away in the by-lanes of Kilpauk, the restaurant’s Insta-worthy interiors is courtesy city-based architect Faisal Manzur, who sourced the solid Burma teak door from an antique shop in Puducherry. “It is an old church door that was part of a six shutter panel. At the café, we could only accommodate two shutters,” he says.
The brief by the branding team was to “leave the pressures and stress of your everyday life at the entrance. So, it was envisioned as a portal to a retreat of beauty and calmness”, says the architect, who draws inspiration from TV shows and Wes Anderson movies for his designs. “The Crown showed us an elaborate version of English classical doors, and Mad Men showcased mid-century modern art meets pop culture.”
Portals of beauty
The door has taken on a leading role in architecture, says Manzur. “It might be considered a secondary, instrumental element, and yet it is the first thing that people come into contact with when entering a building.” He believes that it is through doors that you can enter other “worlds”; they are the face of a building.
Addressing how the design of doors have evolved over the years, Manzur, who has worked on several residential projects, explains that material trends have shifted through the eras. “Trends have been mainly influenced by cost, and the introduction of softwoods and plywood [made up of layers of softer wood to boost strength]. Plastic doors enjoyed a boom in the mid 1900s and early 2000s due to their perceived low maintenance and affordability, while aluminium and composite doors — made from combining materials to create one that is stronger than its individual components — are currently enjoying a surge in popularity.” But these variants have merely been pretenders to the crown, he adds. “While solid wood doors will undoubtedly cost more in the short term than contemporary alternatives such as metal and glass, their unrivalled beauty, longevity, durability and energy-efficiency are just some of the reasons they remain the first choice.”
Manzur’s 5 inspirations
Which is why there is a lot that he wants to bring back from traditional door designs. “Old world carvings, brass hardware… there are a lot of elements. The old proportions with huge lintels and wider shutter expanse, and combining them with contemporary materials such as glass and metal that suit our present day usage of doors.” He also emphasises that the aesthetics of a door must match the characteristics of the structure and its owner.
Try the Peranakan style
The sustainability factor also gives wooden doors an extra edge. As the world becomes more aware of the growing climate crisis, Manzur says the fact that wood is globally known to be one of the most naturally renewable energy sources is another draw for environmentally-conscious customers. “This is especially true following reports of the potential impact that cheaper plastic doors have on our health due to the release of highly poisonous chemicals when disposed of,” he says.
Manzur recently designed the doors — incorporating tiles and funky colours — at the city’s newest Peranakan-style restaurant, Pandan Club. Decorative majolica tiles (an Arabic glazed, hand-painted style that became popular across the world) were commonly used in Peranakan (descendents of Chinese settlers in Southeast Asia) homes from the mid-1800s to 1950s.
The tiles were mostly imported from Europe and Japan. “They were favoured by the Peranakans in Singapore and Malaysia, and became popularly known as ‘Peranakan tiles’ in the region. These tiles would frame a doorway or even be incorporated on the door panels. These shutters are characterised by bright colours and contrasted by the tiles,” he says, adding that in Chennai they “used sketches of jade and turquoise [green is the hero colour in Peranakan design] juxtaposed with warmer tones of pink and red to bring out the true essence of the Peranakan culture that you see in Singapore”.