The door slab, that is.
“It's an easy fix in this market,” says Henry Wallace, of Titan Interiors, a family-owned remodeling firm in Athens, Ga. “People often don't notice how bland the doors look until you point them out.” The kicker is when Wallace actually pops one off the hinges and hands it to a customer. “They can't believe how light it is,” says Wallace. “That's usually it; those doors are gone.”
The typical Titan client is an upwardly mobile professional moving into a tract neighborhood who, Wallace says, needs a house and needs it now but isn't particularly thrilled about the kind of house it is. “They want quick fixes,” Wallace says. “We focus on surfaces: kitchen cabinets and counter-tops, hardwood floors, and interior doors throughout — nothing but solid-core panel doors with ball-bearing hinges and plain, solid-brass passage sets. No bifolds, no hollow-core slabs.”
Pick a Door According to Wallace, it pays to shop around for interior doors. Quality varies widely, particularly with hardwood veneered doors. Wallace generally sticks with Jeld-Wen and TruStile doors, appreciating both the quality of the veneer over a warp-resistant MDF core and the wide variety of both traditional and contemporary designs.
Prices, too, can vary widely in markets served by a range of distribution channels. “We can get a pretty good margin if we buy in quantity,” Wallace says. “But I don't always just go for the best price. I get the best deal from lumberyards where we have a personal relationship. I've never had much luck at the big boxes. It's things like delivery that always take all the wind out of any savings on the units.”
Labor Matters Wallace claims that what matters more than product pricing, however, is having good labor to install a house full of doors. Wallace typically buys blanks, and his crew cuts the hinge mortises and bores for the passage set on site with a Porter-Cable hinge template and lock mortiser. For this work, Wallace depends on a crew that can balance production and finesse. “Replacing a whole house full of doors is the closest we come to production work,” explains Wallace. “But it's still match existing. We're going to get killed if we forgot to measure the door thickness and have to move all the stops.”
He admits they can't get all of the mortises perfect every time, but he warns the client in advance. “Minor gaps around hinges and strikes aren't the biggest problem. I mean, we're clearly not selling a museum-quality remodel on a ranch.”