They remind some of Sherlock Holmes pre-Cumberbatch. For others, it’s films starring Humphrey Bogart.
The solid oak doors from the old Roy Building in downtown Halifax evoke a sense of history, mystery and nostalgia. They’re also making a design statement.
Before workers demolished the crumbling 120-year-old Roy Building in 2013, owner Louis Reznick permitted a Halifax architectural salvage shop to strip dozens of its demi-glass oak veneer doors. It didn’t take long for word to get out that old Roy doors were for sale at Renovators Resource on Maynard Street.
Individuals with an eye for rustic, reclaimed design snapped them up, leading to an effect you could call the Roy door reincarnation.
On the Northumberland Strait, a Halifax architect hung Roy doors as sliding room dividers in her off-the-grid oceanfront cottage. In Terrence Bay, one family transplanted half a dozen Roy doors into their new modernist home overlooking ocean, evergreen and granite. A Roy door also marks the passage into a hip, throwback-style barbershop at the back of a skateboard store and cafè on Quinpool Road. And in the seaside village of Chester, a Roy door marks the entrance to an upmarket home décor shop.
Everyone it seems has a memory of the Roy.
Ken McRobbie and Colin Blanchard love old things. The 31 Westgate design duo scored a Roy door for the front entrance of their seaside offshoot in Chester, Lunenburg Co.
“Ken and I always focus on things that are historically accurate and the building that we’re in in Chester has such a pretty little charm. We thought a Roy door really enhanced the character of the location,” says co-owner Colin Blanchard.
After an antiquing trip in South Carolina, the pair redesigned the shop this past summer to reflect their current vision of a relaxed, beachy home: Bohemian pillows, Dorothy Draper fabrics and wallpapers, a few pieces of classic English furniture, and unique mid-century finds.
The Roy door on the front of 31 Westgate Seaside sets the tone for the pair’s interior style. It’s painted the colour of a faded red sand pail found on the beach and has all the original hardware. “The colour and the hardware really welcome people in,” Blanchard says. “Everyone that comes in mentions the door.”
Years ago, Mark Rutherford and his wife Karen Schaffer visited their midwife in the rundown Roy Building on Barrington Street. Behind a thick old oak door, the midwife listened to the baby’s heartbeat.
Today, that baby, now nine-year-old Teddy Rutherford, slips a note through the stylized brass mail slot in his Roy bedroom door.
Rutherford designed the family’s new ultramodern, steel-sided home in Terence Bay. Inside, a hallway of Roy doors and panoramic views greets visitors. At one end is Teddy’s bedroom with its fancy mail slot. Roy doors are on the utility room, bathroom, laundry closet and Rutherford’s favorite—the master bedroom.
Under the pane of frosted glass, “enter” is hand-stenciled in black on the door’s blonde varnished oak veneer. “I find if you have a house that’s entirely new it can be kind of uninteresting, so antiques, found objects or heirlooms add character,” Rutherford says.
He’s a bit of a salvage junkie. In his early 20s, he ran a business making steel furniture out of scrapyard metal in Toronto. Today he’s a lighting specialist, but maintains his love for making new things out of reclaimed materials.
Joel Martell brought back to life a lot of old things for his Oddfellows barbershop in central Halifax. He fixed an old pinball machine from the ’80s, a couple of old-school barbershop chairs, and the shop door is from the old Roy Building.
“It just adds a lot of personality,” says Martell. “It’s the first thing you see when you walk up to the barbershop. That’s your introduction to what the space is going to look like. You can also look at the door and almost assume what it’s going to look like on the other side. It’s a nice representation of what the barbershop is all about.”
Inside, there’s a mish-mash of curated décor and knick knacks from various decades: the eight-track, record player, skulls from a steer and coyote, a row of old movie seats, a pair of mismatched art deco vanities. “If you buy something brand new straight out of the box it’s got very little conversational appeal, and it’s shiny and it’s new and too pristine” Martell says. “There’s beauty in imperfection at least in something that’s weathered.”
Martell’s appreciation for the Roy dates back to 2011 when he worked there as a sales rep for an IT company. He recalls taking the stairs whenever he came and went from the Roy, so he could check out all the doors of various businesses. “Some people had signs. Some people just had the numbers of the rooms,” he says. “I liked the way it felt as you’re going through, like you were on the set of an old detective movie.”
Lee Cameron Surrette fell in love with the old Roy Building while visiting her husband at work. During the late 2000s, the self-employed architect often used her husband’s satellite office in the Roy as a quiet place to
work while her young children were home with a babysitter.
“The inside was amazing,” Surrette says. “You just felt like you were in a Humphrey Bogart film. It just seemed so sexy in its own way. The office had this big thick door, a name on the door and this frosted glass. It just had this presence that you wouldn’t have today. While the building was crumbling away and it had terrible carpet, the doors were amazing.”
When she heard the old Roy doors were for sale she quickly went and bought a pair for $100 each—a steal compared to the $350 EZ Wood in Lower Sackville charges for the same style of door.
Her builder used barn door hardware to hang the demi-glass Roy doors as room dividers in the small summer cottage for her and her sister’s families in Toney River.
Cameron Surrette is most attracted to the beauty of the Roy doors, how each is handmade and slightly different from the other. They bring warmth to her cottage’s white washed walls and concrete floor, a texture that enlivens the stark Scandinavian aesthetic. “The Roy doors are bringing life to our cottage” Cameron Surrette says. “It’s the detail of the cottage that I think is essential to finish it properly.”
WHERE TO SHOP FOR OLD DOORS
• Renovators Resource, 2457 Maynard St., Halifax
• Habitat for Humanity ReStore, 81 Wright Ave. Unit H, Dartmouth
• Onslow Historic Lumber, 6 Havelock Street, Truro
• Graff Brothers Salvage Company, Petit Paradis Road, St. Bernard, Digby Co.
HOW TO SHOP FOR AN OLD DOOR
1. Decide how you want to hang the door. Is it going to be inset in an existing frame? Or will it have a new frame? Is the plan to hang it barn style? How you want to hang the door will determine the size of the door you’ll be shopping for.
2. Measure the height, width and depth of the door opening. If you’re going to hang the door barn style, the door should be bigger than the opening.
3. Take into account whether the door will be used indoors or outdoors. An exterior door will need to be sturdier and weatherproof.
Source: Alison Philbey of Renovators Resource
HISTORY LESSON: THE ROY BUILDING
James E. Roy built the brick and pressed stone Roy Building on Barrington and Granville streets in 1897 for $100,000, according to a Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia document by Garry Shutlak of the Nova Scotia Archives. The first tenants were Public Works Canada, insurance companies, physicians, barristers and agents. The street level shops sold pianos, jewelry, books and shoes.
As years passed, the tenants turned over, but of notable interest were architect Andrew Cobb and Henry Rosenberg, the artist and principal of the Victoria College of Art & Design. In 1919, a fire gutted the building, leaving only the outer brick walls and roof. Roy asked Cobb, who also happened to be his neighbour in Bedford, to rebuild the structure. Work began in 1928.
In the last two decades before workers tore down the Roy Building in 2013, the rent was month-to-month, attracting many small businesses, start-ups, not-for-profits, and artists. Construction is now underway to build a 22-storey luxury condo tower on the site of the old Roy Building.
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