suite doors

A guide to rejuvenating suite doors

Scheduling tips, on-trend colours, paint versus stain
Thursday, September 3, 2020
By Samantha Angel and Peter VanSickle

Home has taken on new meaning for condo-dwellers these past few months.

Even hallways are no longer just a space for passing through, but an aesthetic gateway to a place where people spend more time working and living.

Ensuring common elements remain in great condition helps to instil a sense of pride in the community, and there are many budget-friendly upgrades that can help make big visual impacts.

Condo suite doors represent such a significant design opportunity. Whether they are painted or stained, it won’t take long to experience a return on this investment. Here are a few key tips to keep in mind when undertaking a door refinishing project.

Paint vs stain

When deciding between paint and stain, a condo board can sometimes base its decision on a love of quality wood doors. They may choose a stain, feeling it would be a shame to cover the wood with paint. But paint gives endless colour options and typically has a fast-drying time. An oil-based paint can be touched in six to eight hours and is ready for a second coat after 24 hours. Latex paints dry quicker; they can be touched after approximately one hour and can be re-coated after four hours.

With stain, depending on the type chosen, drying times can range from six hours to 24 hours and longer. Stain colours are available in solid, semi-transparent and transparent finishes, but colour choices are often limited and depend on what is already on the door. It is possible to stain a door a darker colour, but it is not easy to lighten the colour without taking the surface down to its base.

Although veneer is another option that can be applied, it’s typically more expensive than replacing the door. That being said, modern veneer options are dazzling in their range of options and can make a ho-hum door resemble a palace. Veneers can also be cut on angles, giving the unexpected look of fancy inlay and marquetry. It’s a matter of what the condo board is willing to invest in. Veneers require very skilled and specially trained tradespeople. In 99% of cases, the choice is still between paint or stain.

On-trend colours for suite doors

Door colour emotes the mood for the building, from inviting or stately to trendy or traditional. The doors must also work well with the carpeting and wall covering so there are no conflicts.

For 2020, colour trends are two different extremes: darks and lights. Cooler and browner tones are also popular, making it tricky to update reddish stains from a decade ago. Although it’s challenging to move from a dark to light tone, it’s much easier to transform residents’ doors from light to dark.

Trending light, look for colours like fruitwoods and ash grey tones. Warm blonde and ashy colours are popular overall. For dark stains, the key is to go more neutral, less red. Cherry wood doors could be stained ebony and look very chic and up to date.

The board will typically work with a designer to narrow down the colour options to two alternatives and, sometimes, allow the owners to vote, along with the other elements of the refurbishment.

Keeping residents in the loop

Like any other refurbishment project, communicating with residents is key, and clarity ensures the project will go as smoothly as possible. Communicate with them about the time it will take, the process and all the steps.

Many of today’s paints are low odour and low VOC, but giving residents advance notice can allow them to make alternate arrangements if necessary. The negative pressure in many buildings often means that dust and fumes will be pulled into the unit. As for noise, door refinishing is a relatively quiet operation. In most cases, some light sanding will be done with a palm sander to prepare the surface.

When it comes to scheduling a refurbishment project, suite doors are typically one of the first elements to tackle. In an ideal situation, the doors, walls and carpet are all being re-done, so while carpet is removed, the doors can be painted or stained, with new carpet installed afterwards. If not, then a proper floor and door jamb or frame protection must be in place.

Following hardware removal, the current finish or paint should be sanded off the door. If stain is chosen, two coats should be applied. If paint is used instead, priming the door before paint application ensures a better finish is produced. Some advanced paints combine these two steps into one, which is more costly but saves time and labour.

Proper application requires that the door stays ajar for several hours to allow the edges to dry properly. Several reminders leading up to the refurbishment project are often necessary. With thorough communication and good choices, the project will result in a higher value and stay appealing for years to come.


Samantha Angel is creative director and CEO with Folio Interior Design Group Inc. Samantha is a graduate of OCAD (Material Art & Design Faculty) and a member of Interior Designers of Canada (IDC) and her more recent work experience in the condo industry from the construction side has provided her with a well-rounded approach in dealing with industry stakeholders.

Peter VanSickle acts as a design consultant with Folio Interior Design Group. While working on developmental projects throughout North America, Peter amassed vast experience in space planning and knowledge of construction materials, and acted as lead retail planner for well-known Canadian retailers. He is also real estate sales representative with Goldfish Real Estate Group. 

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