Interior doors can provide a good bit of insight to the history and style of a home. Here in the Deep South, specifically Atlanta, we typically have six-panel heart of pine doors in our Craftsman bungalows and American Foursquares: homes built during the late teens and into the early 1930s. Six panel doors are assembled with six beveled “judge’s panels” separated with rails and stiles.
The doors themselves have a simple look, although there is nothing simple about crafting the beveled edges of the panel itself. Even with modern tools, the machine that rips these panels causes the maker to risk life and limb.
The majority of these Southern doors were made from virgin longleaf pine, otherwise known as a heart of pine. While today heart of pine is nearly exotic in its scarceness, in the turn of the century it was the most common and by far the least expensive wood on to be found. Much of the South was still heavily forested. Similarly, in other parts of the country, whatever was convenient and inexpensive was used. In New England, antique doors can be oak, chestnut, white pine, poplar, or cherry.
Tudor homes usually featured heart of fir doors with two large recessed flat panels of plywood, trimmed with cove molding and held together with rails and stiles. Clearly this is a more economy-driven door style as it requires less wood and less labor. Occasionally this style of door is also found in smaller bungalow homes.
Victorian doors, which date from the 1800s to the early 1910s were assembled differently. Instead of having six horizontal panels, the doors were assembled with beveled panels that run vertically and are found in a four panel symmetrical configuration.
The amazing thing is that after the Industrial Revolution of 19th century, milling was simplified and wood products were mass produced with the help of coal engines and cast iron machinery. Homeowners could order doors and millwork both simple and ornate. In fact, they could order entire homes from the Sears and other catalogs.
However, if you go back to the early Federal period, the doors were often board and batten, meaning that the doors were planks fastened together with batten boards holding them as a solid unit. This style of door is the simplest and arguably the most primitive style.