Four-Panelled Doors: Through the Ages.


The four panelled door has been a staple in joinery shops for centuries providing the wow factor for any home. From traditional to modern, this classic style has graced many doorways during the years. Regardless of the changing styles since the boom of its popularity during the Victorian Era, its timeless design has ensured that it remains a constant for those looking to add a little charm to their doorway. Many things in architectural design have changed over time, so why has this specific door remained in our favour for so long? Well, the answer lies in its simple design, ease to construct and sound structural integrity. Each different component of this traditionally crafted door fits together like an architectural puzzle. The interlocking parts offer strength and security, ingeniously piecing together to allow the wood to move freely without splitting, whilst the frame remains stable and strong.


The door is made up of two long upright stiles forming the edges, a strong horizontal bottom rail about twice the size of the stiles, a horizontal mid-rail at waist height, a head at the top and a vertical muntin set within the frame four panels. This layout can then be tweaked to form a unique design that warmly welcomes home its owner each day.

It’s only fitting the classic four-panelled door with such rich history has been the talk of the town for years beyond our own. The story goes that in the joinery shops of old, it was thought that a carpenter that could not assemble a door during a 10-hour working day was not worth his salt. Yet, this was not just assembling a door from nicely machine prepared timber, but instead handcrafting it from scratch including precisely sawing the wood, planning it smooth, setting out, cutting around 14 mortises and 14 tenons, glueing it and finally wedging together the joints. This long and difficult process would often throw up surprises such as defective pieces of wood and so these would be discarded for another purpose and the whole process would begin again with a fresh piece of timber.


Is this sounding like more work than even the most skilled of carpenters can manage in a 10-hour day? Yes, it is. The trade secret was this; the old-timers used the tale to wind up the newer and less experienced carpenters as even the fastest joiner could not make this door in a day.


As technology has advanced and changed since the 1800’s, the hard and intensive labour that was required to hand-craft the finest four panelled door has slowly been replaced by easily controlled machinery. Where once a carpenter would have to tentatively saw the wood into perfectly measured pieces, now a machine does so. Where each delicate detail would have been carefully moulded to make up the design of a grand door, now a machine does so. However, moving away from tradition is not always a bad thing as proven by the introduction of the spindle moulder; a rotating cutter that shapes wood. In 1836, a stepped moulding to a door known as a wooden bolection would have been made by plaining several grooves and then planning the shape which was incredibly time-consuming. The spindle moulder reduced this task greatly, allowing the carpenter to focus on other aspects of the door assembly in greater detail.


But within high-quality bespoke joinery, we like to embrace both the old and the new. We understand the importance of keeping some of the traditional manufacturing process close to our hearts and so here at Cotswood Doors a skilled joiner still selects the timber, sets out the unique design, cuts joints and assembles the door to create the perfect, high-quality and unique door for you.


Georgian (1714-1830) four-panelled doors:


The Georgian era is a period of history in the UK named after the four kings who sat on the throne consecutively. Its architectural design is distinctive and wildly impressive. Strolling among London’s townhouses, Georgian architecture stands strong and imposing and so their front doors needed to reflect that same thing. It was important that these front doors made the right first impression and that that impression was outstanding. A key feature of authentic Georgian terraced townhouses is symmetry; with the door often centrally positioned in the front of the home and an even number of windows either side.

The people of this time were the first to appreciate the panelled door and it reached the height of fashion. This was a stark difference to the plank doors of the past and a move towards the more stable mortise and tenon construction. The typical Georgian front door had six-panels however, the four-panelled door began to appear more often especially for interior and rear doors.


Most doors in this period were solidly constructed but towards the end of the era, it became commonplace to see glass inserted in the top two panels for a brighter and more stylish look. Typically, the doors were painted white or black against juxtaposing brickwork creating the ultimate statement entrance.


The townhouses of the time tended to open up straight onto the street with no porch protecting the door from unfavourable weather conditions and so different types of panels were used to protect the exposed wood. Doors often incorporated butt and bead panels, which were designed to be very flat on the outside, so that there was no risk of rainwater collecting and the door warping and splitting.


Victorian (1837-1901) four panelled doors:


Population growth in Victorian London was vast as the industrial revolution brought mass manufacturing which was powered by the poor flocking to the cities in search of jobs. Census returns for 1801 and 1851 show that the population almost doubled and as such thousands of houses were built very quickly. The most typical architectural design was the simple terraced homes which we still see on the streets of London today; space was at a premium so perfectly preened gardens or striking driveways were not possible leading homeowners to display their wealth in architectural detailing instead.


The Victorian period saw an abundance of four panelled doors fitted in homes around the country. People of that era appreciated a little luxury in their homes starting with their doors which acted as a mouthpiece for what was to be expected inside the home. Whether it was the humble house of a factory worker, the lavish sprawling estate of the factory owner or a grand public building the importance of the doorway was not under-estimated but instead celebrated with ornate detailing adorning the exterior of each door.

The external front doors for such a home usually comprised of flat panels with decorative bolection moulding added to the outside perimeter for an extra charming look. These were sturdy and secure in a time where crime was rife but unlike today, Victorian homeowners were not overly concerned by this. Often the key was left dangling behind on a string so that one could reach inside the letterbox and pull it through. Detailed mouldings were handcrafted and as such incurred a much higher cost than simple square edging resulting in the external detailing often being far finer than the internal to create the impression of wealth and grandeur. Similarly, interior doors often had square edges surrounding the flat panels as these were the least seen in the home.


Another detail which is often seen in historical doors from this time is stained glass replacing the top two panels for added allure. This was in stark contrast to the doors which had been commonplace previously as at the beginning of the 19th century stained glass was effectively a dead art, having fallen out of fashion and favour almost 200 years before. However, as a retaliation to the mass production of the era, Victorian designers were desperate for something to return them to the ‘simpler’ times and so, stained glass found its way back to the height of fashion. As glazing became more popular it also became less expensive and easier to manufacture leading to far more intricate and brightly coloured designs.


The desire for opulence continued even more so with grander residences investing in imposing four panelled doors usually set back in an open porch unlike the exposed doorways of the Georgian period. This meant that people were able to focus greatly on the design style of their doors without worrying about weather damage. The doors were often painted in dark and bold colours using decorative wooden panels and were bevelled on all sides to create a raised panelling, giving a more 3-dimensional look and enhancing the illusion that the door was thicker than it was. These shows of wealth were sure to catch passerby’s eyes and attention. Intricate and beautiful glasswork added to the striking impression through the use of rectangular fanlights above the door and side-lights surrounding it, allowing colour to stream in and dance in the hallway. French doors were also often seen in the homes of the wealthy providing an excellent source of light in the days before electricity.


Despite the focus on front doors during this time, Victorian homeowners also took pride in their interior and back doors to ensure continuity and a grace of elegance within their homes. The rear doors were often either solid four-panel or a glazed design with far more simplistic decorative means used. The internal doors were typically a very unassuming four panelled design which could be waxed or painted for a polished and stunning look.


The wood of choice for many Victorian doors was imported Baltic and Russian timber. This wood was typically Scotts Pine, whereas higher-end jobs were made from Oak or Pitch Pine. These days we craft our beautiful doors from a high quality, sustainable wood called Accoya which performs much better than the traditional timbers used in years past. It’s extremely stable, durable and resistant to rot enabling your new front door to look great for decades.




Edwardian (1901-1910) four panelled door:


The turn of the century represented a new lease of life and endless possibilities; automobile and aircraft technologies were emerging, and the innovative nature of the time was celebrated. This era was both in stark contrast to the dark, gothic revival of the Victorian’s and also inspired by its predecessors; the decorative detailing became lighter, houses were built in a style with the amalgamation of architectural influences from the years previous created a look that was so uniquely Edwardian.


The imposing and large doors from the years before remained and the Edwardians built on the Victorians theme of luxury and appreciation for the finer things in life. Elegantly carved and breathtakingly beautiful these doors incorporated multiple leaded panes and designs which took advantage of using stained and textured glass side by side. The intricate detailing adorning glass panels perfectly complemented the simple design of the four-panelled door, allowing the power of straight lines juxtapose the complicated nature of Art Nouveau style glazed panelling.


Gone were the days of dark and bold colours taking centre stage, the Edwardian people favoured muted tones such as beiges, greys and creams to brighten their homes.


1920s & 1930s four panelled door:

The 1930s is known as the decade of the suburbs; avenues, crescents and drives exploded across Britain with over 4 million new homes built. The sheer amount of homeowner’s skyrocketed and so did the desire for a personalized and unique entryway.

Panelled doors continued to be the most fashionable option however it was becoming less likely to see the classic four panelled door on the streets of Britain but instead a new original look. This era saw the introduction of what was known as the ‘one o’er threes’, after the distinct panelling style. The mid-rail and letterbox moved further up the door proportioning it at one third above and two-thirds below with three vertical panels in the lower part of the door.


Simple, sharp, geometric designs replaced the older fashion of grand and imposing front doors and reflected this new era of homeownership. Although this art deco style was entirely different from the doors of the past, one thing remained similar; the use of stained glass. Sunburst’s set in the top panel of the door became commonplace and set out this distinct 1920s & 1930s style.


Regardless of the era, Cotswood Doors provides hand-crafted wooden doors finished to the highest quality creating the perfect door for you. Our specification and service have been refined over 40 years’ experience and we offer free design surveys in London. Call 020 368 1664 for further information.