Swinging left and right, north and south.

“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door,” said Coco Chanel. And yet, Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that “every wall is a door.” As the fashion designer and the transcendentalist agree to disagree, may I present a few doors (and windows) that caught my eye on a recent trip.

The birch-bark door shown below is at the Russel Wright Design Center in Garrison, New York. Wright created this for his own studio, which is next to his Dragon Rock home and surrounded by 75 acres known as Manitoga.

A birch-bark veneered door at Russel Wright’s studio where no two doorknobs are the same.

I applaud Wright for not making the door convex, as a literal tree-door was not what he was after. Both indulgent and playful, Wright used the birch bark to make a connection to the surrounding landscape and show the contrast between it and the few man-made materials used at the property.

It surprised me that this is the door to a bedroom rather than an exterior space, but the latter would have been impractical. Imagine herbalists stealing bits of bark to put in their tea, and woodpeckers tricking you into thinking there is someone at the door. 

Being an interior door also forces you to interact with it, and thereby with nature, each time you enter or exit the room. By snagging your sweater on its curlicues that grab softly at anything that passes by, Wright’s door makes it impossible to forget the source of this door’s (and many doors’) natural material.

Wright’s home is an hour north of New York City, where it was 95 degrees and news reports warned that wearing flip-flops could be fatal. (I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that things percolate on sidewalks when it’s scorching in New York.) Seeking air conditioning, I strolled through the chaotic Chelsea Market at Ninth Avenue and West 16th Street where I was drawn to the gouged and scratched doors (below).

New York’s Chelsea Market.

Looking like an idea that began with a mistake, I discovered that there is an intentional “theme of industrial archaeology that runs through the space” and a desire to showcase damage, not conceal it (lucky break for the construction crew). The door was locked and I wondered what secret it held. Is it a utility closet, conference room or a practice stage for U2? If you know, post a comment below.

Rich in visual texture, it’s easy to imagine these doors having acoustic qualities as well. The look of the New York door reminds me of chains dragging on concrete, whereas the door at the Hatch Cottage (below) elicits auditory mirages of clicking ice in summer cocktails.

The Hatch Cottage in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Speaking of chains, the Hopkins House (below left) by Charlie Zehnder was disparaged in a recent Boston Globe blog for looking like a prison. To which I reply, “Lock me up.” These windows edit the view and accent how light and foliage change with time. And because another house is nearby, the small openings ensure privacy (or maybe the peek-a-boo view teases the heck out of whoever lives next door).

The work of Charlie Zehnder: the Hopkins House (left) and the Kugel-Gips House (right) are in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Also by Zehnder is the Kugel-Gips house, which has two elevations that are bunker-like in their use of concrete blocks and oblique windows. Facing south and west, however, are ribbons of glass (above right) running the length of each wall, and butt-glazed corner windows that project the living space into the landscape.

The last windows I’ll share with you are in honor of the new school year.

In 1965, Louis Kahn was commissioned by Phillips Exeter Academy to build a library. Described by the American Institute of Architects as a “modern architectural masterpiece,” I’ll tell you more about this library in an upcoming Design Notes. Until then, I offer a preview of its windows, which showcase Kahn’s ability to pull the sky into his buildings, creating fields of blue on the exterior while filling the interior with natural light. 

Gwendolyn Horton