The Pros and Cons of Pocket Doors

Dining Room with Pocket Doors
© lawcain / Adobe Stock

When space is at a premium, a conventional full-swing door can be a real inconvenience. With a sliding pocket door, you’ll save space and give your room a more streamlined look. These doors are mounted on tracks and roll in and out of a “pocket,” or hollow compartment in the wall, so they don’t take up space in the room. They’re not the most reliable doors around, though, and the noise some models make can be an annoyance.

Pros: Space Saving and Elegant

White Pocket Door
© Dave / Adobe Stock

Pocket doors are best known as space-savers, but they also bring an element of minimalist style to a room. In turn-of-the century homes, they’re a convenient and authentic feature.

More Free Floor Space

The average full-swing door opens to a radius of between 2 1/2 to 3 feet. To use the door, you’ll need to keep around 10 sq. ft. of space free. In a small bathroom, laundry room or closet, that can be a considerable loss of space that could be used for something else. A pocket door gives you that space back. You’ll have room to arrange cabinets, seating, and other furniture exactly how you want them. A frosted glass pocket door is perfect for a small bathroom because it not only saves spaces but also lets in light.

Improved Flow

Pocket doors are perfect for connecting two spaces you might want to join without a door getting in the way. By installing one between the living room and the family room or the kitchen and the dining room, you can open up the space for parties or keep the door closed for more intimate gatherings.

If your home has two guest bedrooms, installing a pocket door between them lets you offer your guests a choice of separate rooms or a two-bedroom suite. Want to set up a home office off the living room? A pocket door lets you separate the space when you want privacy or open it up without cutting into the living room.

Minimalist Appearance

An open interior door breaks up the line of the wall and can look a little clunky. Pocket doors disappear completely when open, creating an elegant, streamlined look that works especially well with Japanese- and Scandinavian-inspired interiors. Their disappearing act makes pocket doors good places to experiment with daring colors and design elements. Paint the living room door lime green, and if you decide you don’t like it, you can push it out of sight until you have time to repaint.

Historical Authenticity

Pocket doors were fashionable in the late 1800s and enjoyed a short period of revival in the 1950s. They fell out of popularity not for stylistic reasons, but because older models used raised tracks on the threshold, posing a tripping hazard. To avoid this problem, today’s pocket doors use ceiling tracks or recessed floor tracks. In a Victorian-era or mid-century home, modern pocket doors lend an authentic feel without the danger.

Cons: Noisy and Tricky to Install

Hand Unlocking Pocket Door
© Colby / Adobe Stock

Notoriously temperamental, pocket doors are more likely to malfunction than conventional doors, and when they do, they’re harder to repair. These doors require precision installation to operate correctly, so they’re not great DIY projects.

Minimal Seal

Closed pocket doors don’t always form a tight seal, so light, noise, and odors travel through them more easily than through a conventional door. They can let odors and steam escape from the bathroom and fail to keep household noises out of your home office.

Noise

A conventional door can be swung open or closed silently. A pocket door, no matter how carefully you roll it, will make some noise as it moves along the tracks. Aluminum tracks with nylon rollers minimize the noise, but don’t eliminate it. If you’re a light sleeper, think twice before installing a pocket door anywhere near your bedroom.

Less Reliability

Pocket doors have a bad habit of developing problems that make them hard to use. They can start to stick, screech or fall off their tracks entirely and become next to impossible to use until repaired. This is even more likely if you have young kids who might be rough on the door. Regular cleaning and, depending on the door type, lubricating with silicone spray, reduces the risk of problems. Conventional doors, however, can work flawlessly for decades with only occasional oiling.

Limited Accessibility

Someone with limited grip strength or dexterity in their hands, such as a person with arthritis, is likely to have more trouble with a pocket door. Adding a bar pull or mortise pull can make the door easier to use. For wheelchair users, on the other hand, a pocket door that slides smoothly is easier to open, close, and maneuver around than a conventional door. If the pocket door starts to stick, however, it becomes a real hassle.

Installation Difficulties

A pocket door requires a sturdy wall that’s a little over twice as wide as the door itself. A 36-inch pocket door needs a wall that’s at least 74 inches wide. If the wall contains wires, pipes, heating ducts or other utility lines, these should be relocated. If it’s a load-bearing wall, extra support should be added.

Installing a pocket door is a challenge even for experienced carpenters. The slightest error in installing the frame or track means the door won’t roll smoothly. If the frame becomes damaged or something falls into the track, repairs will take some effort. That could mean tearing out part of the wall to access the track.

Space-saving, streamlined, and versatile, pocket doors help you make more efficient use of your rooms and open up new decor options. They’re well suited to both historical architecture and modern minimalist aesthetics. If you decide to install one, though, consider having a professional do the work to avoid ending up with a finicky door.

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