Nice car, but wait till you see my garage doors

Americans love their cars, and it's beginning to look like some love their garages just as much.

The market for high-end custom and semicustom garage doors is small but growing.

Why would people want to install a wooden garage door that resembles a piece of finely crafted furniture? Partly because garages are such prominent features in many of today's homes.

Most new homes are built with two or more garages. Sometimes extra parking bays serve as workshops or garden sheds, or simply as a convenient place to store bikes, lawn furniture, and toys.

"Garages are taking up quite a bit of the facade of a house, so homeowners are starting to pay attention to what their garage doors look like," says Amy Jamieson of Clopay Building Products, a major manufacturer of high-end garage doors.

Increasingly, homeowners are recognizing the warmth and character beautiful doors can bring to their homes.

If there's a danger here, Jamieson acknowledges, it's that garage doors can steal the show if you're not careful. "You don't want people to drive by and say, 'Wow, look at that garage door,' " she says. "You want them to say, 'Look at that attractive house.' "

To achieve that balance, she notes, the garage doors need to harmonize with the house doors and windows.

The cost for a single custom door starts around $2,000 (not including installation) and goes up from there. A semicustom product brings the price down to around $1,200, still significantly more than a good-quality steel door, which sells for around $700.

Interestingly enough, it was a steel garage door distributor who hit on the idea of crafting wooden doors that look old.

In installing ordinary steel doors, Kent Forsland became captivated by the old-fashioned wood carriage doors he was replacing. Asked to replicate some of these, he set about making copies that could take advantage of the electric garage-door opener.

Thus began a new company, Designer Doors Inc., of River Falls, Wis., which specializes in working with architects, contractors, and homeowners in building handcrafted garage doors. They may look like the kind grandma or grandpa used to swing or slide open, but in fact they are the sectional roll-up overhead variety.

The company has done extensive research on doors dating back to the 1880s, says Samantha Bluhm. This helps renovation and restoration enthusiasts, as well as homeowners looking to adapt vintage styles to today's custom homes.

Forsland began making wooden garage doors in 1987 and founded his company five years later.

In anticipation of increased demand, Designer Doors has showrooms in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia and sales teams nationwide.

Customers can submit one-of-a-kind door plans or choose from a collection of four basic types: swing-look in a square or curve-top pattern, fold-look, or slide-look.

Clopay, which sells through a network of 3,000 dealers, also offers the cost-saving option of ordering a line of predesigned styles. A door from this Reserve Collection, which comes in redwood, cedar, or hemlock, is usually available in two or three weeks. A custom product can take up to eight weeks for delivery.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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