In case you don’t know, our house was originally built in 1944, and quite often when we try to remodel or renovate it, I curse it for being so weird and difficult to work with. Whether it’s just how it was built originally or some weird DIY fix the previous owners made, nearly every single, simple change you can imagine making to our house has been a struggle.
On the other hand, if each little makeover and remodel were so easy, I’d have nothing to blog about. Wanna revamp your tired-looking door? Just go buy some new knobs at Home Depot and install them. The end.
What a boring blog post that would be! So let me tell you all the long story about the struggle that was remodelling our upstairs doors.
Why Not Get New Doors?
First of all, I would have loved to just replace our old and boring upstairs doors with some super cute vintage/salvaged doors. But because our house is so old and has been settling for the past 80 years or so, there is some definite sinkage near the centre of the building. Consequently, our door frames are not perfect rectangles with 90 degree angles. Getting new doors is not a simple matter of just taking off the old doors and hanging the new ones. Oh, no, no, no. We would probably have to take out the frames and cut out new, perfect rectangles or whatever builders do to make doorways. It just seems like such an involved and expensive process!
So then you say, “Well, maybe someday we can do that, but for now, there are other ways to make our lame doors look cuter, like changing the knobs and maybe adding some fun trim!” But alas, the problems have only just begun.
The Problem With Mortise Locks
We have these super cute, old-timey, mortise lock door knobs on all the upstairs doors except the bathroom. Although we have no keys for any of them. While I do love the look of these knobs, they never worked super well, and were super squeaky and just loose all the time. Not to mention, they didn’t match the bathroom knob. So I’ve thought about replacing them with equally charming vintage knobs for years, but just never got around to it.
That is, until I got trapped in my office one day.
We think the latch spring just got moved out of place or something, so the knob would just keep turning and turning, and nothing would happen. And of course, my phone was in the bedroom. Good thing we’re in a pandemic and Kyler was not only at home when this happened, but he was right outside in the hallway!
He slid me a tiny screwdriver under the door and we proceeded to break me out of my office by removing the knobs and plates, and sticking a screwdriver into the knob hole and turning it. We removed the entire lock set, as Kyler wanted to inspect it, and he ended up losing the spring. So now, there’s a spring loose in the house somewhere, and at the time, no knob on my door.
Side story: in order to draw attention away from the very attractive holes in my door that I knew Theo would want to stick his hands into, I taped some blank, white paper over the holes and that actually worked! He didn’t notice something was off for at least a couple of days! I should have drawn on fake knobs though, that would have been funny. Next time.
All this to say, fate kind of decided for me that I needed to get on the whole door remodel thing.
The Problem With New Knobs
There were a lot of vintage knob options I was looking at, but because our door was fitted with a mortise lock set to begin with, a lot of styles would not work with the existing holes in the door, particularly the keyhole and the face plate. We could have gotten away with just covering the key hole with a decorative plate, similar to the old one, but we would not have been able to just stick a modern face plate in the giant mortise lock face plate hole.
Now, we could have tried to patch the holes and make them conform to whatever knobs we wanted, but patching a hollow door is not something I’m interested in learning how to do at this point in my life. And I am not confident that I could do a good enough job to make a secure home for a door knob that I really need to function correctly. Because although I got out of my office pretty fast, being stuck in there is NOT an experience I want to repeat.
We ended up finding a fairly affordable knob option at Home Depot that was nearly identical to our old knobs, except it has a glass handle (which I was leaning towards getting anyway) and they’re a different colour. In case you are looking for similar knobs, be aware that although the photo on the website shows the set is matte black, it’s really an oil-rubbed bronze. It looks very black in person, but the edges are quite a reddy-bronze colour, like faux antiqued.
It was actually really lucky that we could even find a mortise lock set that could fit our door so perfectly. Obviously, the style isn’t exactly in vogue right now, and many of the sets that do exist have either the lock above the knob or are just different dimensions. But we ordered one to test in my office and it fit my door more or less perfectly.
The Problem With The Bathroom
So you must be thinking, “Great! You found some cute knobs that fit your weird doors, installed them, and lived happily ever after.”
Well, you’re wrong.
For some reason, the bathroom is the only door we have upstairs with a normal, modern passage door knob installed. And as such, the previous owners obviously just HAD to install the ugliest builder grade knobs possible THAT DON’T EVEN MATCH. Obviously.
Now you know I love me some mismatch furnishing and fixtures. But there has to be a certain level of intention and thoughtfulness put into your mismatch choices, so it looks aesthetically pleasing and not just a big ol’ mess. Using the same style knob, only one is a glossy finish and the other is brushed, and one is all silver and the other is brass AND silver, does not strike me as very thoughtful. It strikes me as….I don’t even know what. Like they just had a couple of spare knobs lying around, but not a full set, and they didn’t want to go to the store, so they were like, “meh, good enough”???
And to top it all off, on the interior of the door, the knob sits fairly close to the lower towel bar that’s on the door. We have a pretty small bathroom and no room for towels anywhere else, so we can’t move the towel bar. Basically, even if we could find the same new style of knob in a regular passage or privacy version, we wouldn’t be able to fit the plate on the interior part of the door.
So I went to work hunting for a similar style glass doorknob with an oil-rubbed bronze plate that could potentially be swapped out with the same rectangular plate as all the other doors on the exterior of the door only. I wasn’t sure if swapping out the plates would actually work, but at this point, as long as it kind of matched the others, I couldn’t be bothered to worry about it.
I ended up getting this knob from Wayfair for the bathroom, though it was not without a few issues:
- It’s fully black (I couldn’t find an oil-rubbed bronze glass knob that could fit over the existing knob holes for under $100).
- The glass part is a different size, shape and style .
- The finish is actually semi-matte (the other knobs are fully matte).
- Also with the way the knob was designed, the black part couldn’t be swapped out for a spare decorative, rectangular plate to match all the other knobs.
But after all this, I just had to let some things go, otherwise, nothing would get ever get done, and quite frankly, I’m kinda tired of thinking about doorknobs. Maybe someday down the road I will put more effort and money towards making the bathroom knobs match all the other knobs, but that day is not today!
Oh, and the troubles didn’t end here.
Once we had chiseled out part of the knob hole (because the original hole was not quite a perfect circle), we installed the new knobs I got and found that one of the handles was askew.
It seemed like the glass part of the knob was adhered incorrectly to the rest of the knob. When Kyler tried to fiddle with it a bit, the crystal part just detached completely!
It was only $31, so I guess you get what you pay for….?
Regardless, I really didn’t want to get a more expensive knob at this point and thought, “maybe it was just a fluke. So I just ordered a replacement. To Wayfair’s credit, their customer service was excellent. I very easily got a refund without having to send the defective product back and I was able to reorder a new one easily.
Upon first inspection, the replacement did not have the same glass handle alignment problem, so I am hopeful this will work out. I guess only time will tell if the glue will hold it all together for years to come.
I don’t even mind so much that the bathroom knobs don’t match the rest of them. The closest knob to the bathroom knobs is still, like, 6 feet away, so you really can’t tell just by glancing at them that they’re not the same style. They all just look dark and vintage!
All in all, changing our upstairs door knobs has been quite the odyssey. But I’m super happy with the results, and I can really feel the difference in the look of the second floor as a whole. You know how sometimes things can look “old” and “dated,” which are undesirable traits, but you just tweak some small thing about it, and it becomes “vintage” and “classic”? That’s what a lot of my renos, remodels and DIYs aim to do, and I think we’ve succeeded in this case!
You might be thinking, “this barely looks any different” or “why not change the style completely if you’re gonna change the knobs?” Well, not only do I feel like the vintage aesthetic is one of my personal defining aesthetics, but I think we really need to stay true to the vintage spirit of the house any time we go to update it in some way. It’s very obvious that we have an old house and I don’t want to hide that fact. I just want to put a little shine on it!
You know, in some ways, I’m glad every little house update has to be a wacky adventure. Despite how much I’ve complained in this post, I would not trade our crazy-ass house for any of the modern builds or show homes out there. I do actually like how different and unique it is.
Okay, I have to end this post here ’cause this is getting crazy long. Listen, this is what you come to Eclectic Spark for. Don’t deny it. You’re here for the crazy 2,000 word rants about doorknobs.
I’m currently in the process of figuring out if and how I’ll add some decorative trim to the doors to liven them up further. We’ll see if I end up doing it.
To be honest, after all of this hassle with doorknobs, adding trim SHOULD be a piece of cake. But I’ve learned never to enter any house project with such a broad, dismissive attitude. If my many DIYs have taught me anything, it’s that while nothing is impossible, it could very well take about three times longer than you think to tackle it, and we will undoubtedly come across some very unique challenges.