Bespoke Front Door investigates a principle of modern design.
‘Truth to materials’ is a straightforward concept to explain and much more difficult to apply in practice. It came to the fore in the nineteenth century and is particularly associated with the work of Augustus Pugin, William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement as a whole. Its simplest requirement is that designers should not disguise, hide or contradict the nature of the materials they are using. The architect Charles Voysey (1857-1941) and the sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986) both took as their starting point the need to understand the nature and possibilities of the materials they were using. Voysey valued simplicity over ornamental complexity. His designs had a straightforward functional logic which generated richness without the artificial complexity beloved by the Victorians.
“Stone is stone and wood is wood,” insisted Moore in the 1930s, and to make them look like anything else was, he said, “coming down to the level of a stage conjuror.” Now a front door is, well, simply a door you might say and a person does not have to be a skilled designer or an expert on materials to tell, at a glance, what material a door is made from. The form it takes in detail is largely determined by the properties of the materials used in its construction.
One of these Victorian front doors is an early twentieth century original, made from wood and bevelled, float, glass. The other is a late twentieth century generic intruder, mass-produced in uPVC with added double-glazing. There are no prizes for guessing which is which.
uPVC or, to give it its proper name, ‘unplasticized polyvinyl chloride’, is a versatile and durable low-maintenance material which is resistant to many chemicals and to oxidation by water. Unlike timber, it does not rot or biologically decompose and it retains its shape in normal climatic temperatures. A superb material for making doors, you might think.
uPVC doors are made up from extruded sections which have an intricate beauty hidden within themselves which is, sadly, not apparent in the finished product. The tragedy of uPVC doors is that their designs invariably imitate the lines of traditional timber doors and fail lamentably. In comparison with timber doors they look clumsy, phoney and badly proportioned. There is, it seems, as yet no uPVC aesthetic and try as hard as they might, the imperative to imitate wood makes uPVC doors always look as if they are made of plastic. It’s high time someone applied ‘truth to materials’ and came up with a uPVC door which was honestly proud to be plastic.