The Interior Design Move That Adds Major Mystery To A Home
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The Interior Design Move That Adds Major Mystery To A Home

Doors that blend with the wall around them, what design pros call jib doors, offer aesthetic, practical and straight-out-of-Nancy-Drew benefits.

Mon, May 16, 2022 10:57amGrey Clock 3 min

A JIB DOOR, that is, one sans visible jambs and camouflaged with the same decoration that surrounds it, disappears into the wall. Cue the pivoting shelves that open at the sound of a pattern of notes on Bruce Wayne’s piano in “Batman Begins” or Harry Potter’s sad closet-room concealed behind panelling under the dreadful Dursley’s stairs, virtually unnoticeable but for the slide-bolt latch.

Beyond their inherent mystery, however, jib doors appeal to interior designers for various reasons. “Secret doors are super chic and surprising but also practical,” said Charlotte Barnes, a Greenwich, Conn., pro who simplified the architecture of a family room by continuing the paisley-patterned wallcovering across two flush doors. These nearly invisible doors are ideal for establishing symmetry, for example, in an oddly apertured room, she said, “or to play down a hallway full of closets, so your eye flows along without interruption.” Jib doors have other advantages but also some challenges. Here, a guide.

The Appeal

“I love the history, novelty and secrecy of jib doors and the way they trick the eye,’’ said Mallory Mathison, an interior designer in Atlanta. Perhaps the most famous examples stateside are found in the White House Oval Office, where damask wallpaper (this administration’s choice) and panelled wainscoting continue nearly seamlessly across two doors that frame a fireplace. In grand 18th- and 19th-century estates, jib doors let servants enter and leave public rooms without, heaven forbid, the risk of sharing a doorway or stairwell with superiors. Far more dramatic: On the night that rioters stormed Versailles, in 1789, Marie Antoinette fled to a secret stairway to the King’s chambers via the jib door in her bedroom suite.

Their trompe l’oeil character means a functional door can exist without visually interrupting an expanse, noted Jacksonville, Fla., designer Andrew Howard, who hid a powder-room door among white stile-and-rail panels (shown at right) for a home in Ponte Vedra, Fla. When the door is open, a view of blue-and-white lattice wallpaper and azure wainscoting provides a vibrant contrast—an “aha” moment. Bonus: Any room that’s not chopped up by multiple doorways will seem larger.

The Tips

Grubby hands can easily stain a touch-latch door, warns Ms. Mathison. If the surface is glossy and easy to clean, no problem, but if wallpaper covers the surface at “push” level, she recommends adding an inconspicuous recessed ring pull. That said, she’d reserve jib doors for little-used portals. In an Atlanta home, she installed one as a discreet passage from a butler’s pantry to a formal dining room that sees little wear and tear, concealing the door’s existence by extending hand-painted Gracie wallpaper and panelling across it. On the pantry side, the designer hung a painting to further pass the door off as a wall. If you’re not sure you’d want to constantly give guests directions to a concealed powder room, Mr. Howard—who’s seen library bookcase walls that conceal safes and gun closets—counters, “When clients are entertaining a crowd, [they] simply leave the door ajar.”

The Caveats

Find a carpenter with experience installing these odd elements. “A jib door takes expert skills because of the way the soss or other specialized hinges are installed to make them invisible,” said Mr. Howard. Another of his cautions: When hardware is embedded in the door and humidity causes woodwork to contract and expand, the door might stick or bulge out slightly. And installation isn’t cheap. Budget at least $2,000, he says, to retrofit an existing door and more for the hinges and latch hardware. While your concealing elements—wainscoting, baseboard moulding, wallpaper—can also add to the expense, don’t discount the romance factor. “I do think a jib door conjures images of speakeasies and private gossip spaces—a sense of mystery and discovery outside of the everyday,” said Ms. Mathison.


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Stronger demand in some areas is pushing unit rents up faster than houses

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Renters are returning to the apartment market, leading to higher growth in weekly rents for units than houses over the past year, according to REA data. As workers return to their corporate offices, tenants are coming back to the inner city and choosing apartment living for its affordability.

This is a reversal of the pandemic trend which saw many renters leave their inner city units to rent affordable houses on the outskirts. Working from home meant they did not have to commute to the CBD, so they moved into large houses in outer areas where they could enjoy more space and privacy.

REA Group economic analyst Megan Lieu said the return to apartment living among tenants began in late 2021, when most lockdown restrictions were lifted, and accelerated in 2022 after Australia’s international border reopened.

Following the reopening of offices and in-person work, living within close proximity to CBDs has regained importance,” Ms Lieu said.Units not only tend to be located closer to public transport and in inner city areas, but are also cheaper to rent compared to houses in similar areas. For these reasons, it is unsurprising that units, particularly those in inner city areas, are growing in popularity among renters.

But the return to work in the CBD is not the only factor driving demand for apartment rentals. Rapidly rising weekly rents for all types of property, coupled with a cost-of-living crisis created by high inflation, has forced tenants to look for cheaper accommodation. This typically means compromising on space, with many families embracing apartment living again. At the same time, a huge wave of migration led by international students has turbocharged demand for unit rentals in inner city areas, in particular, because this is where many universities are located.

But it’s not simply a demand-side equation. Lockdowns put a pause on building activity, which reduced the supply of new rental homes to the market. People had to wait longer for their new houses to be built, which meant many of them were forced to remain in rental homes longer than expected. On top of that, a chronic shortage of social housing continued to push more people into the private rental market. After the world reopened, disrupted supply chains meant the cost of building increased, the supply of materials was strained, and a shortage of labour delayed projects.

All of this has driven up rents for all types of property, and the strength of demand has allowed landlords to raise rents more than usual to help them recover the increased costs of servicing their mortgages following 13 interest rate rises since May 2022. Many applicants for rentals are also offering more rent than advertised just to secure a home, which is pushing rental values even higher.

Tenants’ reversion to preferring apartments over houses is a nationwide trend that has led to stronger rental growth for units than houses, especially in the capital cities, says Ms Lieu. “Year-on-year, national weekly house rents have increased by 10.5 percent, an increase of $55 per week,” she said.However, unit rents have increased by 17 percent, which equates to an $80 weekly increase.

The variance is greatest in the capital cities where unit rents have risen twice as fast as house rents. Sydney is the most expensive city to rent in today, according to REA data. The house rent median is $720 per week, up 10.8 percent over the past year. The apartment rental median is $650 per week, up 18.2 percent. In Brisbane, the median house rent is $600 per week, up 9.1 percent over the past year, while the median rent for units is $535 per week, up 18.9 percent. In Melbourne, the median house rent is $540 per week, up 13.7 percent, while the apartment median is $500 per week, up 16.3 percent.

In regional markets, Queensland is the most expensive place to rent either a house or an apartment. The house median rent in regional Queensland is $600 per week, up 9.1 percent year-onyear, while the apartment median rent is $525, up 16.7 percent.


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