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HOME DESIGN : A SPECIAL ISSUE OF ORANGE COUNTY LIFE : French Doors Usher in a Traditional Look to Homes

August 12, 1989|NANCY JO HILL | Nancy Jo Hill is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Homeowners who have grown weary of that old aluminum sliding glass door leading to the patio or balcony are finding an easy way to turn their view of the world from blah to beautiful.

They are replacing that old slider with French doors or a French slider, which has all the beauty of traditional wooden, multiple-pane French doors.

Retrofitting patio doorways with these more traditional looks is a hot trend in home remodeling.

When you consider what remodeling costs these days, changing a door is pretty reasonable. Double French door sets are available from $500 up to $1,800, depending on options, and sliders range from $800 to about $1,500.

These systems are designed to go into openings of existing five-, six- and eight-foot patio doors. Installation averages from $270 to $500, and all doors are installed unfinished, which means you must paint or stain them or hire someone to do it for you.

"I've been selling French doors myself over 10 years," says Donna French, sales manager for Fine Finish in Huntington Beach. "But of course, they've become more and more popular." She says Fine Finish had to expand to meet the demand and now has stores in Irvine and Anaheim.

French says Fine Finish added sliders about three years ago because "we saw a need for it. There (were) a lot of people who wanted a sliding door. . . . It looks as good as your traditional door."

The easiest and best way to improve your home "is to change your doors and windows," says Keith Powell, chairman of Atlanta Door and Window in Laguna Hills and Orange. "It's not that expensive. It adds tremendous value to your house, and it makes you feel like you live in a whole different house."

Irene Lamb agrees.

When she moved from Boston to a 20-year-old tract house in Fountain Valley four years ago, she longed to add a more classic look to her home. The sliding glass door in her family room was practical, yet she preferred the romantic look of French doors so popular on the Eastern Seaboard.

Eventually, Lamb solved her dilemma. She chose a French slider and replaced a window in the same room with a French bay window with beveled glass.

She originally planned to stain the wood frames, but her "East Coast traditionalism brought me back to that Cape Cod look." They were painted white in the true classic style.

"I like looking in at it when we go outside," Lamb says of her transformed family room, to which she also added new carpeting, paint and furniture.

"I like looking through those windows and through the door with the lights on. It gives it a beautiful look. I would say it's a very relaxing look."

George Vizmeg of Mission Viejo chose French windows and doors because he thought it would give his four-year-old Spanish-style house a different look.

"Believe me, it did," Vizmeg says. The style looks "beautiful in the type of home we have."

He had his whole house retrofitted with French doors and windows, including a front entry with a double French door topped with half-circle windows matched by half-circle windows in the three-car garage. He also had a French door installed to replace an aluminum slider leading from a breakfast nook area to the back yard.

It's more common for people to replace one or two doors at a time as they upgrade their houses, according to Roger Cerny of Roger Cerny Door Co. in Anaheim.

"The largest percentage of people can afford maybe one thing at a time," says Cerny. "They want to have something nice because they can't afford to go out and buy that big house."

He says there's "something serene" about the French-door look that makes a house special, even if you change only one door.

Powell says his customers tend to retrofit one section of a house at a time over a couple of years.

"When we begin the conversation," he says, "they're certainly interested in the patio doors. A lot of the times they're surprised at how inexpensive this is compared to how they expected it to be. And, within their budget, they may decide they want to replace all the patio doors upstairs and downstairs, or maybe they want to get a bay window."

Changing sliders is also a good portion of the Pella Window Store's remodeling market, and cost is a factor for many of those customers, according to Wendy Williams. Williams is advertising and promotion coordinator for the firm, which has stores in Fullerton, Santa Ana, Huntington Beach and Mission Viejo.

She says that her company offers both sliders and French doors but that the French slider is probably more popular because of the lower price. The base price of both Pella doors is around $1,300, but the slider includes hardware and a screen, and the true French door does not. That means an additional $200 for hardware and $330 for optional screens, Williams says.

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