During the last decade, the pocket door has experienced a renaissance. Misconceptions about cheap and unreliable performance may still plague the pocket door, but today’s adaptations are taking over new construction.
Pocket doors were once a custom space-saving feature that emerged in the United States and United Kingdom back in the 1850s, writes Direct Doors. The sliding track originally lived on the floor where it had a noisy and short life. Most recently, living in place and outdoor living trends have transformed the understanding of what a pocket door can do.
Similarly to its usage now, pocket doors were popular entries for libraries, dining rooms, and sitting rooms. Years later, the floor-mounted track moved to the top of the doorframe and slowly, over time, the design of pocket doors entered the modern era.
Due to the custom nature of original pocket doors, many were statement focal pieces in a home. The doors were applauded for their style and space-saving features until the onset of mass production in the 20th century when pocket doors became wobbly and noisy once again, recalls Paul Mahoney, senior partner and architect at KGA Studio Architects.
“In years past, the pocket door was a fallback when you ran out of room when the door swing was compromising the area, the flow through the space,” says Mahoney. “But more so nowadays, we’re using them a little more effectively to keep the clutter out of the way.”
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TruStile offers their “pocket stile” and “pocket top rail” door systems. The company says its practice of adding one inch to the top of the door helps to hide away the track hardware and looks just like other doors in the home. TruStile offers a wide array of door designs with custom options and a virtual design center.
Although the hardware and construction of pocket doors have gone through a massive makeover, resulting in more homeowners and architects opting for them, pocket door naysayers remain.
“I’m still not seeing flat out requests for pocket doors from my clients,” says Mahoney. “I think it’s more the architect educating the client that it's not the door of the past, that it can be good, and it does work … I have had times where I have presented designs that indicate a pocket door and I get pushback. And I think it’s largely due to the fact that they have those early notions of it not being any good.”
Pocket doors can be suitable for transitions into rooms where the doors typically stay open, says Mahoney, such as a parlor room, foyer, dining room, and even office spaces.
But as the living in place and outdoor/indoor living trends have been growing in recent years and accelerated through the pandemic, pocket doors have taken on an entirely new meaning for homeowners.
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For those large glass pocket doors, Western Window Systems offers its 600 Series Multi Slide door, fit for warmer areas such as the West Coast. The 7600 Series offers energy efficient capabilities for areas with changing weather conditions. Its products were chosen for The New American Home 2020.
According to Accessible Construction and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), pocket doors can widen an entryway, making it easier for aging adults to use their walkers or wheelchairs when entering a room. This is especially important for small spaces, such as bathrooms.
“We often see bathrooms that have doors which open right against the toilet making it impossible to use a walker in the bathroom,” Adam Fine of Accessible Design & Consulting tells Accessible Design. “A great solution is to replace the door and adjacent wall with a ‘pocket door’ which slides in and out of the wall.”
And due to the high quality of pocket doors today, many can be operated with minimal effort and do not require the turning of a door handle, which can be difficult for some older adults.
Barn doors can also be considered a form of a pocket door, though its hardware and actual door live outside the wall. Despite offering the same benefits of a traditional pocket door, homeowners are often much more receptive to barn doors, says Mahoney.
The hardware manufacturer offers several options for pocket door systems, such as its Hawa Junior 80/B-Pocket set for single-leaf wooden sliding doors. Hafele also sells various separate parts needed for a pocket door system.
The major push that has ushered pocket doors into a new era is the outdoor and indoor living trend. Massive glass pocket doors offering a clear view onto a homeowners’ backyard or view have continued to take over new construction, and even remodel projects, for the last several years.
The 2020 New American Home featured large sliding pocket doors, which offered expansive views onto the Las Vegas Valley. Many of the homes in both the 2019 and 2020 Best in American Living Awards (BALA) showcased the same glass pocket doors.
The 2018 BALA Home of the Year wowed judges with its pocket doors.
“This 2018 BALA Home of the Year boasts a never-seen-before feature: a re-entrant pocketing door, which unveils virtually the entire home’s living space to the exterior pool and view terrace,” writes NAHB.
Jeremy Flynn, vice president of custom sales for Western Window Systems (WWS), says exterior pocket doors are not looked at as a trend at WWS.
Ply Gem’s 4780 and 4880 pocket sliding patio doors are made of durable aluminum and offer custom sizing options. The 4880 series has a thermally broken aluminum frame and panel that increases thermal performance, the company says.
“We see it as something that’s here to stay,” says Flynn. “These pocket doors are only going to continue to grow in popularity as architects continue to specify these products in their builds, but also now consumers who have been at home with COVID and working from home, are really wanting to look at their home and see what other options are there out to really enjoy the entire home front and backyard.”
Flynn adds that homeowners who have the opportunity to pocket their exterior doors will do so. It greatly depends on the construction and flow of the exterior walls and home, but many homeowners will then opt for a stacking glass door instead, he says.
Photo: Chris Loves Juila / @chrislovesjulia
Simpson Door Co allows you to choose from 22 different wood types, but even more wood options may be available through a local dealer. Many of its doors are available in a pocket door application. The company offers a wide variety of door styles, from traditional to craftsman.
Exterior glass pocket doors are not usually considered the same as the interior pocket door by homeowners, though. While one faces scrutiny, the other is widely requested directly from homeowners.
These glass pocket doors blur the lines between indoors and outdoors, and can even double your square footage, says Mahoney.
So what is the future of these exterior pocket doors? Flynn says sky’s the limit.
“It continues to get bigger and taller and [better] on energy,” says Flynn. “The sky’s the limit on how high you can go on [WWS’s] doors. If it’s four, five, six panels, it’s not unheard of for consumers or architects to specify a door like that to really take over a whole wall to showcase that backyard or that outdoor living.”
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Johnson Hardware’s pocket door sets are suitable for new pocket door installations or pocket door repairs. The company offers hardware for one door, two, four doors, and more, including frames for 2x6 and 2x4 walls. All of Johnson’s products are made in America.
Specializing in pocket doors, this family-run company sells steel pocket door frame kits that utilize tubular steel posts and a manufactured LVL header that helps to prevent warping and twisting. The company says its products are maintenance-free and glide quietly and easily. HD also does custom orders.
Cavity Sliders manufacturers pocket door frames and tracks, barn door hardware, and even ADA-compliant pocket door hardware. Cavity Sliders’ CS Cavity Slider is made from aluminum extrusions and sold as a kit. It can even be cut down on site and upgraded to a soft close.