How to Make A Door Invisible
Sounds spooky right? 😱
There are lots of times when a high end design will want to make a door "disappear".
Maybe it's a door that isn’t used often, or a door that serves a utilitarian purpose but it's in a very visible location in a public space.
Maybe it's the secret entrance to a speakeasy or hidden treasure?
Or maybe there are just some hardware items that you don't like how they usually look, and you would like to hide them?
There are many detail choices that go together to make a door invisible, and hardware selection is an important part of that.
Let's consider what parts of a door are typically visible that you would like to conceal.
It helps to start by looking at these parameters:
Is the door usually found to be closed or open? In other words, is it typically held open (as with some fire doors), or is it usually closed (closet door, egress-only door, speakeasy entrance, etc)?
If it is typically closed, are you trying to make it invisible from the push side or from the pull side?
Are there codes that require the door to be visible and readily distinguishable? This is particularly relevant for exit doors from the egress side. It's not a good idea to hide a door if people need to be able to find that door in a panic.
To make a door as invisible as possible (or as much as desired), it takes a combination of architectural detailing and hardware selection.
Adjacent wall (and ceiling) construction, geometry of the door and frame, finishes on the door panel, and several other factors need to be considered in the architectural detailing.
I can help with these, just ask!
The remainder of this article will focus on some hardware options that can help hide the door.
Some Hardware Items that can help make a door invisible:
Hidden operable component options (integrated door assembly)
There are several types of hinges that are less visible than typical butt hinges.
Concealed hinges (example at left). This type of hinge is 100% concealed from view (interior AND exterior) when the door is closed. It is mortised into the frame and the edge of the door leaf, with a knuckle system that recesses into both.
Other types of hinges that can be less visible include pivots, pocket pivots, and continuous hinges. While they are not 100% concealed, they tend to be less noticeable than butt hinges.
Perhaps it's worth mentioning... even butt hinges are "invisible" from the push side!
Closers can be hidden in the frame at the head of the door (overhead concealed closer), or in the floor at the door sill (floor closer).
Also some manufacturers offer a self-closing feature on concealed hinges.
Concealed closers can aid the aesthetic impact of a design even if the overall goal isn't to make the door "invisible".
Who likes looking at big boxy surface closers? You don't have to!
HM or wood door frames - when installed in framed walls - are typically wrapped over the studs and drywall, so that the frame and/or casing are exposed at the surface of the wall.
This exposed face makes a visual perimeter around the door leaf in the closed position. This is the normal "door in frame" appearance that you see everywhere.
Some manufacturers have developed frame systems that interface with the drywall similarly to drywall bead/trim rather than being surface-mounted over the drywall.
This allows the door leaf to sit flush with the finished face of drywall, with no visible frame at one side of the door. If the finish on the door leaf matches the wall finish, all that can be seen is the narrow gap between the leaf and the frame, and any operable hardware.
Hidden Operable Components
One component that many designers find visually unpleasant is panic hardware. Some manufacturers have developed an innovative solution for panic hardware that builds the exit device (and other hardware components) into the door leaf, with minimal exposed components.
Among other advantages, the push plate can be made nearly invisible since it only projects 5/8" from the face of the door (or 1/8" when open). This is far less visually obtrusive than standard panic hardware which uses a surface mounted push plate.
This system is called an "integrated metal door opening assembly". It is a specialty system and has its own spec section that includes the door, frame, and hardware, Section 081713.
The system comes at a premium price because it is mostly pre-assembled in the factory, including the hardware. There should be some savings in the installation cost since the hardware is pre-installed.
It can be especially useful for fire doors that are normally held open with electromagnetic hold-opens. These are doors that really want to look like the wall, because 99.9% of the time, that is what they are.
Stops are needed to prevent collision of the door leaf with adjacent walls or other items that could be damaged. That means usually, it is most practical for them to be surface mounted, which makes them very visible.
One novel option available (only for wood doors) is a hidden stop that uses a powerful magnet to temporarily extent a pin up from a recess in the floor (Rockwood 495, image at left). All that is visible is a tiny circle on the floor.
An option that is available for both wood and metal doors is an overhead concealed stop. This is a device that recesses a track and arm into the top edge of the door leaf. It is usually not visible, except for a slim view of the arm when the door is fully open. This type of stop can have a hold-open option as well.
Please note: overhead concealed stops cannot be used in conjunction with overhead concealed closers because they both need to occupy the same space within the top edge of the door leaf.
If the door has a surface-mounted closer, the closer can be specified to have an integral stop feature. In this case, no auxiliary stop is needed.
One strategy that designers sometimes use to hide (or sometimes to emphasize) doors is to apply additional millwork or other finishes to the face of the door, to the frame, and/or to the adjacent walls.
When a door or adjacent construction becomes thicker, it often projects into the arc that is needed for the door to spin on its hinges. In order to prevent a collision, the pivot point must be moved so that it is outside of these physical obstructions.
Wide throw hinges are often used to solve this issue. The pivot point is moved outwards so that the thickened door and frame are able to swing freely without crushing the finishes near the hinge.
If wide throw butt hinges seem too visually obtrusive, there are also wide throw continuous hinge options. It would be a larger hinge, but since its appearance is a continuous line rather than a series of separate barrels, it may be less noticeable.
What techniques have you used to make a door invisible? I would love to hear about them!
Questions? Ask me in the comments section or contact me directly. Also if you think I got something wrong, let me know and if appropriate I will make sure to issue a correction.
Architects, do you have a project with door hardware questions? Check out my website www.rshoopconsulting.com. There you can find my contact info, and reach out to set up a call. Let's discuss how I can save you time and money while helping to ensure high quality results for your clients.