Home Improvement : Fake Panels Brighten Dull Doors

<i> Los Angeles Times Syndicate </i>

If your home is typical of those built within the last 35 years or so, most likely all the interior doors look the same. Odds are, every one of them is the type called the hollow-cored flush door. These doors function well and they’re very economical, but their plain, flat plywood faces can become something of a bore.

What can you do about this, short of replacing the doors? Lots of things. One simple way to dress up doors like these is the creative use of paint. Lay out some fake panels in the door using masking tape, then paint the “panels” with a color that contrasts with the rest of the door.

This technique, executed with bold, bright colors, can add real zip to a child’s room. By toning the colors down--to different shades of the same hue, for example--you can use the same technique in other rooms of the house.

An even more effective scheme is to dress up the door with moldings. Go down to the lumber yard and pick out some molding that strikes your fancy. Bring it home, cut it in your miter box and glue it to the door. You can lay out the molding to form a single rectangular frame, spaced in a few inches from the edge of the door to clear the knob. Or you can use it to create two, four or six fake panels.


For even greater effect, you can try the special door molding kits made in France. These come in a variety of styles (some with interesting curved moldings) and require no cutting. A mail order source for these kits is the Bricliff catalogue, 921 Alma St., Palo Alto, Calif. 94301.

After installing your moldings, finish off the door with a good paint job. You can stick to a single color or even try contrasting colors. Often a subtle, two-tone treatment such as white and very light blue looks best.

Raised Panels. If you have a router, you can go one step further, creating fake, raised panels, like those shown in the sketch. These are nothing more than lengths of clear pine with routed edges, glued to the door face. In the example shown here, we have made six separate panels, cutting the upper left panel with a jigsaw to clear the area around the doorknob.

You can determine the number, size and layout of the panels by drawing out a plan to scale. Or you can simply draw things right on the door. This is easiest if you take the door off its hinges and lay it down flat on a table or bench. Experiment by drawing the panels on the door, or by cutting out panels from strips of paper. Your design will probably look best if you leave spaces about two or three inches wide between panels to simulate panel frames.


You don’t have to make all your panels plain rectangles. Curving the tops of the upper panels to create a crown effect can add extra interest to your design.

After cutting the panels to shape (before gluing them to the door), rout their edges. For this job, you’ll need a router, plus an appropriate bit. The best bits to use are carbide tipped with ball-bearing pilots. These are fairly expensive but they cut smoothly, and their ball-bearing guides make them nearly foolproof. All you have to do is adjust the router to the desired depth and run the bit clockwise around the perimeter of each “panel.”

For the smoothest possible cut, it pays to do this in two separate passes. Set the router a hair shallow of the finished depth you want. Rout all your panels at that setting. Then lower the bit just a hair more and repeat all your cuts. This final light pass will produce a smoother surface, especially on the tops and bottoms of the panels where you are routing across end grain.

You can use any of a number of different bit profiles for this job. My favorite is the classical bit, shown at the top of the row of samples to the right of the door in the sketch. This bit produces a lot of interesting detail. Below it are three other choices, an ogee with filet, a cove and a bead.


After your panels are routed and glued in place, paint. As with the moldings, you can use a two-tone treatment if you like. The panels carry a good deal of their own design punch, however, so it’s usually best to keep the paint job subtle.

Designer Doors A plain door can be given character by gluing fake, raised panels to its surface. With a router, the edges of the panels can be shaped into one of the profiles at right.