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French doors originated in France in the 17th century. At first, they were used as a kind of floor-length, single-pane window. As the architectural fashion of the time and the ready availability of glass led to windows being used much more heavily and in new ways, the idea of making an entire door out of window glass with a thin wood frame took hold easily. When mounted in pairs, they are called French windows, due to their resemblance to the traditional casement window.
French doors are a style of door which feature two door panels that open either outwards or inwards from the centre. As they tend to be a glazed door style, they are most commonly found on the rear of properties, leading out to the garden.
Typically, when French doors are paired they open at opposite, outside edges. This allows a doorway to be twice as wide as either single door. This is partly due to the fact that in the 17th century it was difficult to make very large French doors that were not unduly delicate. Mostly though it was because the concept of symmetry was extremely important in architecture at the time, and that arrangement was considered to be quite elegant.
Like most architectural features, French doors became more elaborate over time. As glassmaking and construction techniques advanced, different types of French doors became available. Today, several different styles are popular, with each being best suited to different purposes.
The French doors available to architects and homeowners today vary widely but can be divided into two main types: internal and external French doors.
French doors are called French doors due to the fact they originated in France. Though originally, the French door was not a door at all. They actually began as large windows that could be opened, and a person could step out onto a balcony. However, as architecture developed during the Renaissance, the French began incorporating glass into more areas of their architecture, including doors. With more natural light available, homes could stay well-lit for longer! French doors grew rapidly in popularity, and by the end of the 17th Century, they began to appear in other countries.
The chief concern with interior French doors is that they transmit light and a sense of space between rooms. They might be clear or frosted, shaded or curtained, traditional wood-and-glass or made from some surprisingly high tech materials, but they all seek to connect two rooms or spaces, where normal doors divide them.
Exterior French doors share all of these concerns but are also built to be sturdy, secure and thermally efficient. A nice, open feel is lovely, but a homeowner needs to have confidence that their exterior doors will keep unwanted guests out.
What is the difference between French doors and patio doors? French doors are often mislabelled ‘patio doors’, due to the popularity of using French doors to open onto a patio or other semi-secluded exterior space. In fact, any door opening onto a patio is a ‘patio doors’, regardless of its style or construction.
A sliding door is defined by its method of closure – it slides along a track either alongside or within the wall that encloses it. However, if you have a pair of sliding doors that are composed mostly of glass panels, the distinction becomes rather academic.
Again, one could make a French door out of nearly anything. However, most French doors sold today are made of either timber, aluminium or uPVC frames, with panels of transparent materials including shatter-resistant glass and a variety of plastics. Each choice has different benefits and appeals to different styles.
Substituting a screen for some or all of the lights on a French door allows for a brilliant amount of airflow, while keeping out insects and other pests. Of course, this is best suited to spaces where another, more weather-resistant door can also exclude the wind. Frosted glass lights are another popular choice. These allow light and a sense of airiness without sacrificing privacy. Some designers opt for frosted glass up to eye height but clear lights above, for the best of both worlds.
Many French doors feature integral blinds, usually between 2 panels of double glazing. This allows you to control the transmission of light – and sight – through the door, but never needs dusting! Other French doors feature lights that open – a window within a door. This is ideal for letting a bit of breeze through without leaving your door open.
Other French Door designs incorporate side panels – opaque, clear or translucent lights set in the wall outside the door, but arranged to give the feeling of a very large, open doorway even when the doors are closed. French doors can even accommodate dog doors and cat flaps without compromising their style or utility. The options are nearly limitless.
French doors are very versatile and have been used to make up entire walls. However, a single set of French doors becomes impractical for doorways much beyond 4 metres in width. Within that limit, it is possible for a bi-fold French door (each door consisting of 2 hinged panels, but attached to the wall by only one of the panels) to be practical, attractive, secure and weatherproof. For doorways beyond 4 metres wide, it may be more practical to use multiple sets of doors, possibly separated by door-height panel windows or opaque panels.
This varies by design and manufacturer. However, all exterior French doors from reputable home improvement companies are manufactured with safety and security in mind, and to meet (or exceed) the UK standards set out in PAS 24:2012, BS and 3621:2007+A2:2011.
To secure your exterior French door, all that is normally required is to use the lock system. However, there are add-on devices that can be of help. Fitting a door chain or door limiter bar allows anyone inside to see and talk to callers without allowing them access, and to prevent entry even to those with keys. These are simple to fit to timber doors and French doors, but a professional installer should be used if your door frame is uPVC, aluminium, or any similar material.
French doors, in particular, can benefit from mortice sash locks or mortice security bolts, as described here. It is also advisable to choose laminated glass lights rather than normal or toughened glass, particularly for exterior French doors. Again, take special care with uPVC or aluminium French doors, as these extra locks may not be compatible.
French doors have a very long history and are likely to see use for hundreds of years to come due to their beauty, light transmission and convenience. Modern examples come in a variety of materials, but all offer substantially upgraded security, weather protection and durability compared to the first French doors developed in the 17th century.
There are many different styles of French door on the market today, and most of these can be further customised with lights (or window panels) in a wide range of shapes, sizes and even materials. With so many options, French doors can be found which will complement and enhance virtually any home or space.
One of the reasons people love French doors is their sheer versatility. Nearly any room can benefit from one of the many types and styles available. In addition to a huge choice in the size, shape and material of the lites, there are a host of other options. There are many different things you can do with a transom for French doors. Many people opt for a windowed transom to match the doors themselves, but different spaces might benefit more from an opaque transom of the same type as the doors’ frame.
Modern French doors are used both internally and as external doors, and have similar safety and security ratings to single leaf, opaque panel doors. The addition of curtains or even integral shades gives the homeowner the option of openness or privacy – whichever seems best at the time.
If you’re looking for new French doors, you’re probably wondering which brand is the best. Well, this ultimately depends on your chosen material. As leading installers of double glazing products, we offer only the best brands available on the market.
There are many factors to consider when choosing French doors, from the type of material to the number of security features, to the colour and style. Every type of French door is guaranteed to enhance your home and the best option simply depends on your specific requirements and budget. If you want to find out more about our range of French doors, contact us to book a free one hour Design consultation, or visit us at one of our showrooms.