Shaping the look of austin
Shut the front door: Crestview Doors' modern first impressions (for your house)
Crestview Doors is Christiane and David Erwin. Started in 2007 after not being able to find a modern door that would go with the renovation of their 1951 home, they were soon swamped with requests from friends (and readers of a blog they had also started at the time) for information on where they too could find such sassy, modern first impressions for a house.
Originally selling and shipping doors, it was the economical and gas price woes of 2008 that pushed their business into the clever and wildly successful version it is today: Crestview Doors doesn’t sell actual doors; they sell Doorlite Kits—do-it-yourself kits that you can use to add windows to any door.
The kits come with everything you would need to get the job done: wood-and-glass inserts, screws, dowels to cover the screws, silicone sealant and installation instructions. There are more than 50 pre-configured designs to choose from, with looks inspired by Modern, Mid-century, Craftsman and Contemporary architecture. If you need to be one-of-a-kind, you can mix-and-match kits for a custom design. You can use these kits in hollow or solid, wood, metal or fiberglass doors (and don’t just think they’re for exterior doors—plenty of folks install them indoors, too).
Maybe I’m overstating the obvious, but isn’t that such an Austin thing to do? Stumble on a product need, but do it in the coolest, smartest and hippest way possible?
Two self-proclaimed computer geeks, talk with either of them for even a moment and you can sense how much Christiane and David love what they do, what they sell and being a part of a movement toward changing the look of Austin (and boy have they been instrumental in change—they estimate well over 500 Doorlite Kits installed in and around Austin alone).
We asked them some questions about their business, and were so thoroughly entertained by their answers that we are publishing them below. Read on to hear more about their backgrounds, the farthest place in the world they’ve shipped a Doorlite Kit and find out exclusive information about some new products they’ll be debuting right here in Austin in October at the Sunbelt Builders Show.
Adrienne Breaux: You sell people the tools to transform their doors—not actual, whole doors— with a new look. How the heck did you guys think about doing this?
Christiane Erwin: We started out selling doors, but when gas prices jumped in 2008, so did freight prices. We test-marketed the DIY kit idea and, as the economy worsened, sales of the Doorlite Kits picked up. Ultimately, the Doorlite Kits were selling better than the custom door systems.
David Erwin: Shipping was a major challenge and we spent as much time, space and materials shipping the doors as we did making them. I didn’t have the stomach for problems that happened in transit. We had a very special door snapped in half by a pallet of fire extinguishers and frankly, I’m still not over that one.
AB: What are your backgrounds like?
David: I’m a geeky engineering-type, with a degree in studio art. I’ve worked as a graphic designer creating wine labels and as an interaction designer building web applications for Fortune 500 companies.
Christiane: My professional experience is in e-commerce web app development. I’m no stranger to entrepreneurial endeavors; just prior to meeting David I sold a web services company I had started. In fact, I had just finished up a consulting gig when David pitched the idea of Crestview Doors to me. I didn’t take him seriously at first, but when I decided we had a viable business idea on our hands, I jumped on board. We joke all the time about how crazy it is that two computer geeks started a manufacturing business, but the truth is that we love working together. He could have pitched a much less glamorous idea and I probably would have still jumped on board just so that we could collaborate professionally.
AB: So can anyone use your Doorlite Kits? I love that video of a customer installing the kit. It actually looks doable by the average person.
Christiane: We were so excited when Chad Kelly, the guy in the video on our homepage, told us he was willing to make that video! He had originally come to us to get a quote on a custom door, back when we were making doors. Our doors were hand-crafted in our workshop and had the price tag to match. Chad didn’t want to break the bank on a new front door, and he had done a few woodworking projects at home just for fun. When we pitched to him the idea of testing out one of our new Doorlite Kits, he was game. The results were fantastic. He turned an old door into a new masterpiece and had fun doing it.
David: Here’s how I would describe the project. It’s as difficult as installing a ceiling fan and takes about as much muscle as you would need to move a couch. So you need some tools and a buddy. The hardest part is drilling that first hole in a perfectly good door. But then you get that maker “rush” and start wondering what other perfectly good things you could drill holes in. It’s great fun and very rewarding.
Christiane: Yeah, when someone asks Chad where he got that fine door, he can tell them he built it himself!
AB: How do you guys come up with the kit designs?
David: At first, I tried researching retro doors by going to the library to look at magazines and architecture books published in the 40s, 50s and 60s. The big surprise was, I found virtually nothing. I looked at every page of “Better Homes and Gardens” from 1945 to 1965 and found maybe three examples. That was when I decided the only way to find and catalog these designs was to drive around Mid-Century neighborhoods and look at real doors.
Christiane: We started out by driving up and down all of the streets in our own Crestview neighborhood, taking pictures of what we knew to be original doors. We named the first few designs after the streets we found them on (the “Grover,” the “Pasadena” and the “Piedmont,” for example).
David: I always took a camera, notepad, tape measure and a cute baby (that always helps when knocking on stranger’s doors).
Christiane: Any time we take a business trip or a family vacation, we carve out some time to go “doorspotting.” We’ve catalogued doors from all over the country! We have lots of customers and Facebook fans who have sent us photos of doors from their cities. You can see that some designs are regional, or specific even to a neighborhood. Occasionally we have a customer that creates their own design. With their permission, we add it to the catalogue with their name or a name of their choosing.
David: Once we have a design catalogued and have a good idea what year it was used, we draw an intricate grid the way a book designer would (we’re big fans of the Penguin book covers from the 50s) and create a geometrically idealized version.
AB: Does someone have to have a Mid-Century Modern home to use your Doorlite kits?
David: No. First off, this is America, and you can put any dang door you want on your house.
Christiane: Our passion is Mid-Century Modern, but our Kits are completely period-unspecific!
David: Second, while our designs are from the Mid-Century, not all are modern. Many, like the “Grover” and “Throckmorton” are the Mid-Century interpretations of hundred-year-old European designs. Some, like the “Pasadena” and “Allandale” are so purely formal and modern, they look great on contemporary homes.
AB: About how many doors in Austin do you think have had a Crestview makeover?
Christiane: Personally, I stopped counting at 500.
David: I know that I see at least six on the way home from the grocery store.
AB: Where’s the farthest location that someone’s bought a Doorlite kit from?
AB: Have many commercial or hospitality businesses have used you guys?
Christiane: Most commercial buyers are development companies; we don’t get a lot of information from them about their jobs, but we do know that architects often spec our stuff for commercial builds, which is flattering. We’ve tried to make that as easy as possible by having Google Sketchup elements available for free download on our site. I wish we could brag in detail about some of the famous customers we’ve had! Let’s just say you should keep an eye out in “Architectural Digest” in case some of our high-profile customers get featured.
AB: Talk to me about the fancy panels and redi-screens.
Christiane: These are new products debuting this year; in fact, they will officially debut at the Sunbelt Builders Show here in Austin in October. We surveyed over 500 of our customers and fans this summer to find out what else they wanted from us besides the Doorlite Kits. Overwhelmingly, they asked for more Mid-Century inspired interior design elements. Redi-Screens are versatile wood screens that can be used in a variety of ways to separate space around the home...they can be used as doors, partitions, room dividers, interior shutters and hanging or mounted screens.
Fancy Panels™ are our stylish response to stuffy wood wall paneling that embellish any wall with a hip, three-dimensional design carved out of stain-grade Maple. Available in a number of custom shapes, sizes and patterns, they can be tiled to create an infinite repeating pattern, installed as a classic wood paneling or wainscoting, or mounted as wall art using our unique display hardware. Fancy Panels and Redi-Screens can also be ordered with coordinating patterns to harmonize the look-and-feel of any room.
AB: Do you feel like you’re having an effect on the look of Austin? Do you feel like you’re shaping the way neighborhoods look?
David: Yes! The biggest effect is that we got people to stop leaving Mid-Century Modern doors on the curb on bulk trash day. Instead they are fixing them up and keeping them. And we’re getting people to see their 50s house as having real style.
Christiane: I like to think that we are part of an unofficial movement that is bringing Mid-Century Modernism into the zeitgeist the way that bungalows and Arts and Crafts came back into vogue 20 years ago. And on some other level, I like to think that we are using design as a medium to honor traditions that need to be revived or simply persisted: that is to say that the utopian ideal of the 1950s neighborhood was a place where everyone knew everyone, everyone felt safe, everyone had a home that felt cozy and “just right.” The other day, a neighbor posted to Facebook that she needed some fresh basil and rosemary for dinner, and might anyone have some to spare? I had some growing in the yard, and I needed four eggs for a birthday cake recipe. I responded, and she came over to swap moments later. I loved everything about that exchange: I loved that both of us have restored our 1950s homes yet added thoroughly modern elements to them that represent our personal taste. I loved that we used Facebook, a thoroughly modern communication device, to enact what was essentially a 1950s cliché.
AB: You guys seem to have a pretty rabid fan base of adoring fans—and the stunning testimonials to back up your products—why do you think Austinites and the rest of the country have fallen so in love with Crestview Doors?
David: We found something that we really wanted, and made it real. If somebody else had done it before us, we would be big fans of them, and probably have one of their doors on our house.
Christiane: I hope people see that we are authentic in our goals and actions, and I think our fans are, too. They share our values and our vision. I have never felt like we were making the hard sell as much as we have simply found our tribe out there across the digital divide. The Mid-Century remodeling group is a small group, and we are often misunderstood by people who think we have bad taste (how dare they!) so we stand up for one another. In that way, I suppose our company is almost like a support group! Most of the time, it is our fans that provide the real support. Without them, we would never have been able to make it through this recession. We aren’t alone, and for that we are truly grateful.
Check out all the Doorlite Kits plus tons of customer door makeovers (many in Austin) on their website.