As a bespoke joinery specialist, we use wood to shape the character and function of rooms into distinctive and beautifully livable spaces. So, if beautifully conceived joinery is our passion, and our mantra is that without it, a room presents as plain as a box, what is our interest in jib doors which are, essentially, invisible?
Our aesthetic favours interiors which are carefully considered with symmetry and a sense of order being paramount. Jib doors are therefore an important tool in our armoury when planning interior spaces. We also enjoy the playfulness of a secret door – helping to add depth and interest and a sense of surprise to a scheme.
What is a jib door?
Jib doors (or secret doors) are flush mounted into the wall or plane of panelling or bookcases, sometimes without hardware, making it as discreet as possible so that it blends into a wider scheme. Such doors are hidden with wallpaper, panelling or painted and they often have matching skirting at the base of the door, disguising its existence. The use of jib doors during the Georgian period was a popular interior design trick employed to help maintain the balance of interior decoration. It’s a trick we find just as useful in our work today.
An invisible door
When setting out beautifully proportioned panelling to fit within the existing proportions of a room, it’s often seen as detrimental to interrupt the flow of the panelling to insert a door and architraves. While apertures present a fantastic opportunity for us as designers of architectural joinery, at times an architraved opening might upset the equilibrium of the interior. Jib doors are discrete and occasionally a good option for a bespoke joinery specialist like us.
In this North London project, we inserted a jib door into a wallpapered wall. The dark line around the door is a hardwood bead which acts as a frame to encapsulate the de Gournay wall paper and stop it fraying.
In grander houses, there are often rooms with a hierarchy of doors set within their walls. Some are deliberately larger than others to denote it being a portal to another important room (such as between a drawing room and a dining room). It’s a form of classical nudge theory, with the grander doors taking on an architectural joinery treatment which denotes their significance. Supporting these larger feature doors are the necessary secondary doors which might lead to an important part of the home but demand a more subtle treatment. This is a moment worth considering a jib door.
Historically, jib doors have been used to hide entrances to servants’ quarters in grand country houses. Called the green baize door, it was not only discrete but the felt prevented the transfer of noise so that people talking behind the door weren’t heard. The masters of the house were therefore shielded from servants’ chatter while the padding afforded some privacy for the owners and their dinner party conversations.
The history of secret doors goes back much further – there were even secret doors found in Egyptian tombs (albeit not jib doors!). During Elizabeth I’s reign, hiding places concealed behind secret doors were quite a feature of the English country house. They were created specially for priests to hide away safely during a time when Catholics were persecuted, hunted down, tortured, and murdered. The design of these Priest holes was often ingenious, and there were often multiple hiding places in one house. Harvington Hall is one such house; the priest hide is 8ft long, 3ft wide and 5 ft high with the entrance barely a foot wide. In the library there is a swinging beam which looks like a timber in the wall but is in fact a beam on a pivot.
The fun of a jib door
So, jib doors can be useful to hide entrances, disguise storage and maintain symmetry but they can also be purely for fun. Our clients love the fact that its secret. There’s nothing better than a surprise feature which is not necessarily noticed at first. This adds depth and texture, elevating a scheme beyond the ordinary. These features, beautifully made, are what we love.
Jib doors must be executed with precision as they must work well as well as look beautiful. Very strong hinges need to be designed for jib doors that contain books in order to ensure longevity. Fake spines of books are a popular way round this but not one that we like – although its playful we don’t find it convincingly secret.
The library at Osterley Park
For future generations
As a bespoke joinery specialist, our work is all about the door. While the clever thing about jib doors is their discretion, they bring so much more than just hiding a storage space or correcting an asymmetrical elevation. What jib doors can bring is a sense of fun, character, and novelty for our clients to enjoy today but also for future generations.
If you’d like to discuss our approach to design and discover first hand our passion for brilliantly designed furniture and how it can improve your experience of living in a period house, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)1934 745270.