Just in case you hadn't noticed, we've been enjoying a wonderfully warm spring spell. The hawthorns in fine blossom, the dawn choruses have been melodic and very loud and everything in the garden has been growing rapidly.
The focus of activities has been on barbecues, paddling pools, parasols and trampolines but as soon as the temperature drops and the rain begins, that focus shifts to staying indoors and bringing the “outside in”. Goodness knows why. If you want to be outside, then go outside and if you want to stay inside and enjoy the outside, then stay indoors and look at your garden and views through a window.
Back in the 16th century, following a series of wars with Italy, the French borrowed and adapted glazed full-length doors in grand houses and they became known as “French windows.” We, in turn, borrowed this idea and in Georgian town houses they were often installed on the first floor, giving access to balconies. In large country houses, they opened out from the ground floor to paved areas and gardens. This may well have been the first formal attempt to bring the “outside in” and in the early part of the twentieth century, the fashion for French windows in more modest houses opening onto back gardens grew.
In the 1970s, with the proliferation of double glazing and aluminium window frames, along came the sliding patio doors. These usually had one fixed glass panel and one panel that slid open. Not only did this open up part of the wall for access and ventilation but it also allowed far more light into a room, which was particularly welcome in north-facing houses.
Of course sliding doors had been used in commercial properties for some years and when Lee Hewitt and Dee Horton invented the first sensor activated, electrically powered sliding doors first installed in 1960, they immediately became popular in shops and offices.
Later, in the 1980s when uPVC windows became the “go to” material, sliding versions and French window styles continued to be popular. Most recently, we have “bi-fold” doors. This type of folding door is not new: the Romans used wooden versions in the 1st century and remains have been found in Pompeii. In the 1960s, Marley introduced a range of concertina style folding doors but these were used inside and were a space-saving device for wardrobes where there was not enough room for an opening door or as a divider between two rooms.
It wasn't until the 1990s that bi-fold doors became popular. This coincided with the growth of decking and the attempt to reflect the mid-century modern houses of 1950s California or the international modernist style of architecture promoted by pre-war European architects. However, they do not take into account that our climate does not allow much opportunity to fling open a whole wall. Yes, the last few weeks have allowed this but along with the warm air comes a swarm of flies, wasps and other insects as well as dust, grit, fallen blossom from garden trees, an occasional bird, a neighbour's cat and a good dose of hay fever inducing pollen.
Fly screens, so common in America and sunnier parts of Europe, are still relatively rare here and are problematic and expensive to fit to bi-folds. For most of the year, bi-fold doors will remain firmly closed making them an expensive addition to any home. Far better to fit a large window and a simple glazed door: you'll use it more and appreciate not having to clear up the wildlife and debris.