Transforming a Boring Single-Panel Door Into A Custom-Looking Masterpiece

Okay, maybe masterpiece is laying it on a little thick, but I’m a Leo. We live for the dramatics.

And speaking of drama, that’s exactly what the original door was lacking.

We moved into our house in mid-2016. It’s a great house; the kind people like to say has “great bones”. It’s an early 1960s ranch, built with the expanding middle class in mind. It has a walkout basement garage, a flagstone retaining wall, and very little character to denote the era in which it was built.

A recent photo of our house, but you get the point. No super-cool architectural details to be found.

A frequent complaint with our home when we bought it was ugh, these old doors are so flimsy and ugly. There was nothing inherently wrong with them, but nothing was right with them either.

Being from the 1960s, this house originally came with many doors. There were French doors leading from the living room to the dining room, and then a single door leading from the dining room to the hallway. We took the doorframes out and drywalled them to act as entryways which was easy enough. We replaced the remaining doors around the house with traditional, four-panel doors.

A before and after of the doorway-turned-entryway is below:

Once that was all over, and for some reason that I cannot explain other than we were young and dumb and not paying attention, we left two doors original: a closet door in our guest bedroom, and the door that leads to the basement.

The basement door is literally in the heart of our home. It separates the living room and kitchen spaces (so if the stairs didn’t exist, we’d have an open-concept kitchen). I’m actually grateful for that space because I’m a firm believer in openish, but not studio apartment open. But, anyway, this door was an eyesore and is visible from nearly all communal spaces in our home.

It was boring, painted white, and one day I decided to put a mural on it.

And then about a year later, I got bored. So I painted another mural on top of it.

And a few months after that, I decided “murals on this door in this space detract from the beauty of the big dining room mural, the soothing lagoon-green kitchen backsplash, and the coziness of the living room,” so off it went under another coat of white paint.

But that didn’t mean it had to stay boring.

Geometric, simple, and interesting.

These are my three words I kept repeating over and over in my head. I have a slatted headboard I built last summer, and that’s where the inspiration for my door came from. I loved the way light played off the slats in the bedroom, and figured the same would ring true if I put that same detailing on the door.

The design I chose was pretty math-heavy because I had to calculate the total length I would need to get all of my pieces, as well as the math for how much space to allow between each slat. I won’t pretend — I balked at this at first but then I reminded myself “yo, I am a capable woman who is capable of basic math, and I will not let my insecurities rule over me.”

(PS – in order to find the correct spacing, you take the number of pieces you have and multiply by their width. Then, you take that number and subtract it from the width of you door. And then you divide it by the number of slats you will have. I think…)

And that, ladies and gents, was the end of that. I did the math, and it worked out great.

my grocery list + length piece reminder

Once they were all cut, I did a “dry run” in my garage with them to make sure I had all of the pieces I needed. For this project, I just used pre-primed 1×1/2″ pieces. I found them in my Home Depot’s stair trim aisle.

And from there, I nailed them onto my door using my Ryobi brad nailer.

Details matter!

I chose a brad nailer over a finish nailer because the holes left behind by brad nails are generally much smaller than the holes left behind by a finish nailer. If you only have one or the other, it won’t make a huge difference.

One thing you should be mindful of are the hinges and the doorknobs. I did have to use a hole saw to cut an area out for the doorknob to fit snugly into, but if you don’t have that available, you can always re-work your design to not even touch the doorknob.

Once I had all of the slats securely fastened onto the door, I painted them and caulked them. I would highly recommend caulking the edges and the nail holes to give it a finished look. Take a look at the photos below to see what it looks like pre- and post-caulk.

I would also recommend priming your wood pieces if they did not come primed. Mine did, so I skipped that step entirely. My door did take a few coats of Behr’s Ultra Pure White gloss trim paint, but it turned out just fine in the end. Since I was going over such vibrant, high-pigment hues, I believe it took me three coats. The photos below show you what the first and second coats looked like.

Once your pieces are painted over, this project is done. It was a very simple, very satisfying project and easily doable on your own with minimal power tool knowledge. The tools I used in this project are my Miter saw to cut the pieces down to size and my brad nailer. You could also use liquid nails or something similar, though the drying time may affect the overall design without the quick adhesion.

And just like that, you have a custom-looking door that was incredibly affordable, unique to you, and made by you!

As always, if you ever try any of these DIYs, I would love to see them!

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