Sliding doors connect indoors with outdoors

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 28, 2013 - 2:26 PM

New retractable door systems (think sliding doors on steroids) help make the most of Minnesota’s abbreviated outdoor season.

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Custom home builder David Bieker closes the sliding glass doors leading to the patio overseeing Lake Minnetonka that are a main feature in a custom built home in Greenwood, Minn.

Photo: ANNA REED/STAR TRIBUNE,

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This weekend, Rebeca Lergier and her fiancé plan to move into their new custom-built home in Greenwood. What is she looking forward to most? “The patio, the openness,” she said. “And that door.”

“That door” is the 24-by-10-foot retractable wall of glass that spans the entire length of the couple’s great room. When the door is open — its four 6-foot panels hidden in a built-in pocket — the great room becomes one with the landscape and the Lake Minnetonka shoreline. “I love to hear the boats going by and the sound of water,” Lergier said. “When I’m in there, I forget about everything else and look at the lake.”

Sliding glass doors have been around a long time, of course, but interest is growing as innovation and technology produce bigger, automated doors with architectural bells and whistles.

The look has long been popular in balmy Southern states, but now it’s gaining traction in harsher climates like Minnesota’s, where homeowners are highly motivated to make the most of the short outdoor season. One of the biggest new retractable door systems is the Ultimate Lift and Slide, available in sizes up to 48 feet, from Marvin Windows. The company, based in Warroad, Minn., developed the door primarily for warmer climates, said regional sales manager Daryl Doehr. “It’s really great for Down South. It gives a home such a signature.”

But local builders and homeowners are embracing it, too. “I was shocked at the reception it’s received in Minnesota,” Doehr said.

Porch replacement

Denali Custom Homes, the Deephaven firm that built Lergier’s home, has installed the Ultimate Lift and Slide in six Minnesota homes since the product was introduced in 2010, said president David Bieker. “It creates a big connection between the inside and the outside.”

It also creates a big reaction when people see it for the first time. “They comment on it a lot,” said Bieker, who watched visitors’ reactions as they entered the great room during the recently concluded Luxury Home Tour. “They walk in and say ‘Wow!’ or ‘Oh, my gosh.’ They’re completely taken aback by the expanse of view. Then they start asking a lot of questions.”

A common question: “Can we add this to an existing home?” Bieker said. The answer: “It’s not impossible, but it really needs to be designed in.”

The system requires an “extremely square and stable” frame, made of engineered lumber or steel, according to Doehr. “It can’t expand or contract like typical lumber.” And though the door is designed with a “weeping system” to shed water, it’s best installed under a wide overhang.

At approximately $40,000 for an installed 24-by-10-foot door system — plus $2,800 for an automatic drop screen to keep mosquitoes out — a wide-open view is pricey. But it’s not really an extravagance when compared with the typical Minnesota alternative, a separate screened porch, according to Bieker.

“When you use one of the systems, it, in effect, creates a screened porch out of your great room,” he said. “When people wonder how they can get it in the budget, that’s one of the suggestions we make: ‘Instead of a screened porch, why don’t we do this with space you already have?’ ”

A family room that doubles as a screen porch is a “dual-use” space, which homeowners often seek, Bieker noted. And it’s comparable in cost to a large, separate screened porch.

‘Fun factor’

Kristin Taunton’s home on Lake Minnetonka, built by Denali in 2010, was the first in the state to incorporate the Ultimate Lift and Slide, actually three of them: one on the lower level, one in the living room and one in the kitchen. The kitchen door sees the most action, she said. “That’s where we spend most of our time.”

Opening the wall to the back yard and the lake is “a great, free feeling,” Taunton said. “It completely changes the feel of your home.” The open wall has “a fun factor” that’s great for entertaining, she noted. “But we use it just for us, too. Even on rainy days. We sit under the overhang, and the rain doesn’t come in. It’s a cool, camp-like feeling.”

Taunton and her husband, who spend a lot of time in Florida, where “the outdoors are part of the indoors,” were determined to re-create that open vibe in their northern home. “We decided, ‘Let’s see if we can make it work up here,’ ” she said. “People pooh-poohed it. But we took a chance — and we love it.”

Sure, there have been some minor annoyances, she said. “Stuff blows in. If it’s humid outside, it makes the whole house humid. And we’re on a point, so we get a lot of wind,” which sometimes makes the retractable doors “whistle.”

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