Butler's Door

vjrntsFebruary 23, 2007

I have a Colonial Revival, built in 1922. The kitchen was redone inexpensively sometime in the past, and I am going to re-redo it in the spring. I'm putting in marmoleum floors, soapstone counters and subway tile with oak cabinets. I'm pretty sure that the original kitchen was unfitted; I'm not going to go that far in restoration, but I want the kitchen to be period-appropriate.

The door to the dining room is a folding louvered door which is screamingly anachronistic. Since every doorway in this house had a door at one time (many have been removed and are stacked in the basement), I'm almost certain that the kitchen-dining room door was a swinging butler's door. All of the other doorways from which doors were removed still have hinges on the woodwork and strikeplates for the latches, but this doorway has unmarred woodwork, and signs in the floor that the mechanism for the swinging door was there at one time and had been removed. Sadly, the doors in the basement all have hinges and doorknobs; not one swinging door in the bunch, so apparently it was discarded when it was removed.

The contractor who is doing my kitchen agrees with me that it's almost certain that a swinging butler's door used to be there and feels that it would be a simple matter to put one back in. We have a friendly disagreement, though, about whether or not there would have been a window in the door. My mind's eye sees a square, rotated 45 degrees so it's oriented like a diamond. Or an oval, perhaps, oriented with the long axis up. My designer feels that there would not have been a window. I know that my dining room never had a bell or buzzer under the table to let the maid know when to bring in the next course, so it's my contention that she had to be able to monitor the progress of the meal through the window. (Can you tell we're having a lot of fun with this?)

Anyway, what's your best guess? Window? No window? What shape? Stupid idea all around? What?

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I don't think it would have had a window, but that's because I haven't seen any. We had a house built in 1923 once, one door from the dining room into the kitchen, another door into the breakfast room. I think both swung.
Part of the problem with a window in a kitchen door was that though the cook could see if the diners were ready for the next course, the guests could also see into the kitchen when they entered the dining room.
She could have used that tinkly bell, you know. The little silver one on the dining table.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2007 at 10:17AM
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Ah, yes, the tinkly bell on the silver salver. Try saying that three times, real fast! :-D

I saw a swinging door with a window in a house on our local landmark society's housewalk last spring. Of course, that means absolutely nothing about the authenticity of the door. The window, however, was at about face-height, and fairly small, so you'd have to be trying to look through it to see much, so I think the view of the kitchen would not have been a problem for guests unless they were standing exactly in front of the door.

And I'm remembering restaurants in NYC with two swinging doors (one into and one out of the kitchen) with windows, but considering that there was constant traffic in and out, one waiter after another, you'd almost have to have a window to avoid collisions.

Anyone else? I guess I can have whatever I want in the end. I'd just like to have some basis for my decision.

Thanks, Kennebunker!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2007 at 10:25AM
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The 1930's house we used to own had a swinging door with no window.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2007 at 8:36AM
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Dang. That's three for no window vs my recollection of having seen one or two back in the day.

I could still have one, though.

I can just see it with that diamond-shaped window.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2007 at 11:00AM
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My friend has a 1920s craftsman with a butler's door, and YES, a diamond-shaped window....although it is stained glass...

Don't think that helps much...LOL

    Bookmark   February 24, 2007 at 11:06AM
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A bit early, but my parent's 1903 Queen Anne has no window in the double-swing door.

If it's a butler's door, why would it need a window? The butler isn't going to crash into himself coming and going while serving dinner. :-)

    Bookmark   February 24, 2007 at 12:37PM
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I've a 1830's Federal Style home. Last update of any significance was done in the 1920's. There is a swinging Butlers door from my dining room to the kitchen. It does not have a window.
My guess is the lady of the house used a handbell set at her place to call in the staff when needed.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2007 at 3:52PM
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Being that you're in a 1922 time frame, I think a circular porthole window would be very much in keeping, very art deco.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2007 at 11:43PM
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HA! We went to the annual winetasting party tonight. The whole block is invited (all of us live in homes built in the '20s and '30s) to go through about 5 or 6 volunteer homes for a progressive wine tasting and munchy party. It's always great fun, especially since we get to see inside some of the great old houses on this street. One of the houses had a swinging butler's door, and it had a diamond-shaped window in it! Ah, sweet vindication!

So. A window it is. I know that there is precedent for it in our development, it matches the age and the style of the house... Full steam ahead!

    Bookmark   February 25, 2007 at 1:21AM
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"Ah, sweet vindication!"

Nah. That's just the hangover talking. :-D

    Bookmark   February 25, 2007 at 9:32AM
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"Nah. That's just the hangover talking. :-D"

What? Sorry, I can't hear you. I have a headache.


    Bookmark   February 25, 2007 at 10:02AM
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We had a swinging butler's door in one old Victorian era home between our kitchen and dining room..........no window.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2007 at 9:12PM
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I have recently been in contact with a woman who grew up in my house; her parents owned it for over 30 years. There was indeed a swinging door between the kitchen and dining room, and it had a triangular window in it! I don't know if it was point-up or point-down, but there you go!

I wonder if she has a picture.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2007 at 9:44PM
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vjrnts, did you get your door with a window installed? And did you go for diamond or triangular? The home I grew up in was built in the 1940s and had a swinging door between the kitchen and dining room. It had a circular window.


    Bookmark   July 31, 2008 at 7:54AM
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We are looking at a 1938 Craftsman bungalow that has a swinging door (much to my delight - I always wanted one as a kid for some reason, hadn't thought of it in years, and then last night on our 3rd look-through of this house noticed it) and original floors in the dining room. No window in the door, no bell in the floor. Seems to me like the door is there to block the view of the kitchen so a window would defeat the purpose - plus it would only solve the no-bell problem if the servent were glued to the window and therefor not getting any kitchen work done. makes more sense in a restaurant where you'd have the collision problem.

I don't know if a window could be authentic. Just because you find a door with one doesn't mean it wasn't added later you know? Personally I wouldn't want one as I have worked in food service and it would seem too resauranty to me - but you do want one. :-) Since it seems like you're making a new door anyway it's not like you're destroying an original by adding a window. If you want to resell the house it seems like a new door with a window wouldn't be any worse than a new door without a window since it's already not original - it could be make period correct without making it any less original.

Does that make sense to anyone but me?

You could also look for an old door with a window but like I said the window could have been added at any time so it may or may not be authentic anyway.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2008 at 9:10AM
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The kitchen in my 1920 Dutch Colonial Revival was at one time equipped with two swinging doors. One lead to the dining room, and is currently missing in action. You can see where the door jamb was mortised for the spring mechanism and hinges. The second swinging door is adjacent to the side exit door and leads down to a landing that directs you down the basement. This door still exists with it's original hardware and has no window.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2008 at 9:45AM
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FWIW- our house (across from vjrnt's) still has an original swinging door with no window. I don't think there was ever a floor bell (though other houses in the neighborhood have them). There may have been a pantry with 2 doors (one to the kitchen and one to the dining room), one of which is in the basement after a late 1990's kitchen remodel. I was there for vjrnt's eureka moment at the house with the diamond shaped window- which looked original. Since this was the last house on the tour I also recall having had a lot of wine- so maybe it really was square. I'd be inclined to believe the prior owner (who recalled a triangular shaped window). Maybe it was there so the butler didn't knock over the maid.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2008 at 9:22PM
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No. I haven't got my door yet; there are a lot of things in the priority list that are higher. But I'd sure love to have it. This house is going to be unbelievably great by the time they carry me out of it!

But Mikend is right. I'll believe the former occupant of the house and if I have a door built, it will have a window.

And Mikend, I'll bet that door at Joe and Lucy's house is original. They've lived there for 50 years!

    Bookmark   July 31, 2008 at 9:55PM
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When I said just because you find one with a window it doesn't mean it wasn't added later... I mean the door might be original, but the window hole was added some time after the door's initial installation. Maybe to prevent collisions. Or to keep an eye on the help.

Or because the owner of the house was eccentric and fancied a window in the door. :-D

Enjoy your door, when you get around to it. :-)

    Bookmark   July 31, 2008 at 11:18PM
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