Sometimes, when a door opens, the only thing to do is to walk right through it. For architect and Doors Unhinged founder Andrew Ellsworth, it wasn’t a single door. There were many.
He was on the board of Construction Junction, a nonprofit warehouse in Pittsburgh for surplus construction materials, when he noticed something.
“I knew that Construction Junction didn’t really deal with commercial waste,” says Ellsworth. “They focus on residential. There was so much waste coming out of commercial buildings. I wanted to work with the commercial sector to capture and reuse a lot of that great material.”
Doors seemed particularly ready for reuse. Those found in offices, university classrooms or hospitals are typically well-made and durable. With all the buildings undergoing demolition or renovation in the region, Ellsworth thought he could find uses for a lot of doors that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
For example, Fulton Commons — a new kitchen incubator and coworking space in Manchester — got some unique doors from Doors Unhinged.
“In this Fulton Commons project, we got some doors out of the president’s suite at CMU,” says Ellsworth. “1960s vintage — beautiful, walnut — really fit into the vintage feel they were going for in their coworking space.”
“We strive for uniqueness and authenticity in our developments, which made working with Doors Unhinged a great fit,” says Brian Mendelssohn, principal at Botero Development, who created Fulton Commons.
“I did my undergrad at CMU, so there’s also a personal connection in this for me.”
Keeping them out of the waste stream is particularly important to Ellsworth.
“The environmental benefits are tremendous,” he says. “Not throwing them into the landfill, protecting resources that would otherwise have to be mined — or trees being lumbered — and reduction of transportation emissions.”
There’s also the concept of reducing “embodied carbon.” That refers to the amount of carbon dioxide that would be generated in the manufacturing process when creating a new door from scratch.
Doors Unhinged tries to sell doors for half the price of new doors.
“A standard door system has a door, frame, a hardware set,” says Ellsworth. “It can be from $600 to several thousand dollars. It can be a substantial savings if we’re selling it around $300. At scale, that’s thousands and thousands of dollars (for a larger project). These materials are in really good shape. We really only take the best. People won’t even know it’s used.”
Of course, he has favorite doors. Some of them came from 30 Isabella Street on the North Shore.
“Just really pretty doors, the veneer is a maple, a clear maple,” notes Ellsworth. “I like the feel of that. They’re tall and very elegant; a lot have glass. We got like 150 of them.”
Doors Unhinged operates from a warehouse in North Oakland, in the old Blumcraft building — which, ironically, used to make and store high-end glass doors, says Ellsworth.
Their next project is to explore a remanufacturing process that strips old doors of their veneers and adds new ones. It saves 90% of the old door while creating something that looks new.
“There’s so much value from an economic and environmental standpoint,” says Ellsworth. “I don’t want to be the only company in this field. I want there to be a whole economy built around this.”