Mid-Century Modern(ization)

Redefining modern for a family-friendly home

Behind The Wood Wall

11 Comments

There has always been a fair amount of interest in the wood wall that separates our living/dining room and our den, but I recently received an email from a reader that made me realize I have never gone into great detail on the inner workings of this wall on the blog.  My readers clearly have a lot of questions about this wall and I’d like to answer them comprehensively in a single post so that you may find all the goods in one place (rather than getting tid bits scattered here and there as I tend to do).  And so, I am hereby dedicating this post exclusively to the wood wall!  And because reader Jean had so many well articulated questions, I will use her latest query as a basis for discussion.

Jean: Hi Olivia … I’m fascinated by the storage wall between your living room and den… have you thought of dedicating a post to it? I would love to recreate something like that in our funky (not in a good way) mid-century modest. It was built with a kinda-sorta pass-through back-to-back cabinets between the living room and kitchen. Here are my burning questions about your storage wall: Am I right in thinking the panel wall in the living room backs up to the built-ins in your den?

You are correct, Jean.  The 16-paneled wall that you see in the photos from our living room is the same wall that you see in our den.  I think it’s walnut, but I’m not completely sure.  I had a master carpenter in once to make a minor repair to one of the doors and even he couldn’t identify it (wood color changes with age, and this wall is nearly 60 years old which makes it hard to pin point), but he suggested maybe mahogany or rosewood, too.  Both sides of the wall are shown in the photos below.

From the living room:

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From the den:

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Jean: Does the entire living room wall have storage space behind the panels? That is, do *all* of the living room-side panels slide aside (or up and down?), with storage behind them?

Actually, no.  Only four of the panels slide to access storage from the living room (the bottom four), but 12 panels slide up and/or down — and they do so independently.  I’ve marked the photo below with arrows indicating the way the panels can move.  The X’s at the top indicate a stationary panel.

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The four smaller rectangular panels at the top are stationary.  The second and third rows can slide down to the floor (the top row sliding in front of the middle row, and both finally resting in front of the bottom row) — thereby creating a low wall even in height with the counter top in the den — and essentially creating one great big room with a bar-height console in the middle.  Alternatively, you can raise the center row to the ceiling (and behind of the top row) to create a pass-through to the den.  The lower four panels could technically slide up to access the cabinetry on the den side, but we’ve never seen the need to do that.  It’s much easier to just walk around into the den to access things stored there.  There is no storage behind the upper 8 panels — if you opened them you would just see the back of all my husband’s sports memorabilia in the next room.

On the den side, the lower four cabinets open horizontally along a track.  All four doors are movable — the center two panels can each slide behind the adjacent outside panel or the outside panel can slide over the inner door it rests beside.  Note the panel in the very upper left corner — I noticed in this picture that it’s sagging a bit and you can see light from the other room eeking through — it must not be locked in place right.  Must fix that!

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Jean: How does that look up close, are the panels on a track at the floor and ceiling? If so, is the middle row of panels also on a track? The panels look flush to me (or maybe I mean all at the same depth), but I saw a track in one of your pictures.

I think the picture you’re referring to was of the Lazy Susan on the den side of the wall — more on that in a moment.  On the living room side the panels are on four vertical tracks.  There is no track in the floor.   Below is a photo showing the depth of the panels in relation to the track — see how each row overlaps the one below it? They are not the same depth — each sticks out about an inch further than the one below it.  All the panels are held in place by brass latches at the top corners of the panel that slide snugly into the vertical supports.

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Jean: The cabinet in the picture showed a lazy Susan, which is just about the best thing ever. Do all of the cabinets have built-in accessories, like the lazy Susan, the glass holder and the LP slats? (Utterly cool!) Or are those things just at the base, on the den side? Are the cabinets accessible from both sides? (Are you able to select an album and nab a drink from the living room side?)

The bottom four panels on the living room side can technically open to access the rear of the den cabinetry — which, yes, house a dry bar with a Lazy Susan and vinyl storage.  There was once a built in turn table too, I hear, but sadly it is long gone.  But like I said, it’s a pain in the butt to yank those lower panels up just to grab a glass — they’re heavy!  We walk around.

Here is a nice uncluttered view on the day we moved in.  The counter is a couple feet deep and below it is the only storage this wall offers — aside from the shelving, obviously.  Note that it also has a built-in florescent light that runs the length of the wall on this side.

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Below is a photo of the dry bar with the Lazy Susan as seen from the den — it’s in the cabinet closest to the window.  You can see that the panel seen from the living room is slightly raised and someone is standing over there. Our neighbors still have all the original glassware.  #envious

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When I ripped up the carpet I found half a dozen drink stirrers underneath!

This photo shows vinyl storage and space for a turn table and speakers — it’s in the cabinet farthest from the window. Again, you can see that the panel is raised in the back because light is shining through.  We took these pictures during our home inspection so we had everything thrown open. This particular cabinet has a plywood backing and so while the panel behind it does lift, you cannot reach inside to grab a record — I image this was to direct sound forward from the stereo?  Not sure.  The two cabinets in the center just have standard shelving.

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I always envisioned this wall being lowered to the floor for parties — In my mind, the bartender or host would stand in the den serving drinks across the “bar” to guests in the living room.  Or maybe it was just lowered to the floor for a more open flow and guests would help themselves.  Who knows!

Jean: Could you post some pictures showing the panels open? Close up pictures would be wonderful! I’m sorry to be such a pest, but I love this concept and I’m excited to learn more! I tried Googling, but after an hour or two I gave up in frustration there are lots of sites with storage-in-walls ideas, but nothing quite so fab as your wall.

I’ve tried to Google this wall type to no avail as well, so I feel your pain!  I actually have no photos of our wall with the panels open because we’ve never fully opened it.  I very nearly opened them solely to take pictures for this post, but I was scared.  You see, our neighbors have the same feature wall in their home, but it has several broken panels and they’re struggling to find someone who can repair it.  Their house lies just behind ours and was on the market at the same time — in fact, we almost put in an offer!  This photo below is of their wall when the house was listed for sale — see how the panels are all resting at various heights?  Apparently they are still stuck like that.  That’s the den you can see beyond the open panels.  I think the horizontal stripes are shelves mounted to the other side of the wall — just like the ones we have in our den.

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Sweet couch though, right?  But hopefully, you can see why I’m a bit reluctant to open it at all anymore — what if we can’t get them latched again?

The only other place I’ve seen a wall like this is in a couple other homes in our neighborhood–all the homes were built by builder/developer Gordon Sugar who once lived two doors down from us.  He’s now deceased. 

This house down the road has a similar wall with what appears to be only 8 moving panels — they are larger.  It’s been painted white and it looks like they keep a couple panels partially open to the den to display knick knacks.

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See the light shining behind the vases at the top right of the wall?  That’s the same corner that’s open in the previous photo.  Our good friends across the street has a feature wall like ours once too, but it was removed by the previous owners when then converted the den to a fourth bedroom.

Anyway, I hope this helps clear the mystery surrounding the wood wall!  And, Jean, I hope you are inspired to do something fantastic with your own storage wall.  If anyone else has questions — about the wall or about something else — I’d love to hear from you!

EDIT:  In the comments it was asked that I post a close up photo of the latches used to secure the panels in place.  I finally remembered to take a picture at about 10pm last night so please excuse the lighting–I swear the wood doesn’t look that parched in the daylight!  I think the black strip that you see is a piece of the banding from the pulley system.IMG_6458

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Author: Olivia @ Mid-Century Modern(ization)

I am a wife, mother, and writer. I am also a crafting, furniture-refinishing, home-designing nut.

11 thoughts on “Behind The Wood Wall

  1. Wow, thanks for all the details. That wall is incredible!

  2. Wow, indeed! Thanks so much, Olivia, this is a stellar reply… but seeing all of my questions italicized like that makes me think “pest” was putting it mildly. ;-)
    It’s interesting that you had the same problems searching for web sources. One issue is the generic nature of the search terms I came up with to describe it: built-in, wall storage, pass-through, sliding panels… all of these terms could describe just about anything! I tried Google’s image search, which works wonderfully with graphics and things like dinnerware, but unless someone’s uploaded the exact angle and perspective as your picture, it’s not an effective search. (Brings back images of brown cabinets, not helpful!)
    That sofa is awe-inspiring- I might have bought the house just to get the sofa! The white-painted version of your wall is painful for me to look at- I’ve been scraping paint off paneling for months. (Not judging! I’m the doofus who painted the paneling 15 years ago, before I’d developed an appreciation for MCM style.)
    Shockingly, your post has brought up some additional questions! I need to check a book in my vintage stash before I ask, just wanted to thank you for your time and energy in posting this. Great stuff.

  3. Oh, before I forget- please tell your husband I appreciate his Orioles tchotchkes! I’m a rabid SF Giants fan, and Jon Miller is my absolute favorite broadcaster– I’m sure Orioles fans miss him.

  4. I finally came up with the magic key words for a Google image search:
    pass-through built-in panels sliding wall
    Good news and bad news- images from your blog are among the first results, but your images are the only perfect matches!
    I consulted a few of my favorite MCM home improvement books: “The Complete Book of Home Improvement” (1970) and “Contemporary Furniture Making for Everyone” (1965)- lots of information about built-ins, but nothing like yours. I searched high and low for my 1950s Sunset book about home storage… but, sadly, “It’s around here somewhere!” is a recurring theme in our house. I even looked through Dorothy Rodgers’ book “The House in My Head,” because I remembered she’d built a pass-through storage wall from her pantry to her dining area. (She certainly did, but it’s not a nice as yours!)
    Pest-y question of the day: could you get a close-up image of the brass latches and tracks on the living-room side? When you mentioned the heaviness of the panels- I’m now wondering how they stay in place when you move them from one position to the other. If they can get stuck, and are difficult to repair, I wonder if the hardware system used could or should even be replicated? So, a close-up would be ideal!
    On the study side, I see some lengths of standards flanked by wood trim above the counter. (A very nice finishing touch, actually!) These appear to have the usual metal brackets (shelf supports), the kind you can move up or down to customize your shelves. We’ve got a ton of these in our closets, and in a built-in bookcase in our living room. They’re simple, elegant, and they’re very easy to find:
    http://www.rockler.com/brass-shelf-standards-select-length
    If the living room side system is based on something like these standards, it could be replicated! (Hopefully without the “hard to repair” and “getting stuck” part.)
    I do have a thought about the wood: it could be Philippine mahogany, AKA luan. Our built-ins and paneling are all made of luan, and your panels look very similar. I know it was very big on the West Coast (where I am)– Eichler homes have luan paneling. Perhaps your carpenter didn’t recognize it because it wasn’t as widely used on the East Coast?
    Again, many thanks for your detailed post- you went above and beyond the call of blogger duty!

  5. I also thought it might be worthwhile posting on the Retro Renovation Facebook page, or emailing Pam directly. The site has such a huge following, hopefully someone out there in MCM-land will chime in with information.

  6. Hi Jean, I’m sorry — I just saw these follow up comments. I’d love to take a close up picture of the hardware for you — just give me a couple days, ok? I’ll post it in the body of the original post as an edit. To answer your question, the standards are only on the den side for the shelving and have nothing to do with the sliding of the panels. To the best of my memory, the latches are most like these Deluxe Baby Latches (http://www.poojaoverseas.com/brass-latches-pooja-products-jamnagar.html). Not every panel has a latch (I think only those in the 3rd row up) the rest seem to balance themselves by a hidden cantilever system. I wish I could be more help, but it’s impossible to see/understand the inner workings of the wall without taking it apart — and as of yet, I’ve had no need to do that. Knock on wood!

  7. When your kid gets older he’s going to have a blast hiding in there.

  8. Thanks for posting that last picture, Olivia! Your wall is so intriguing. It looks a lot more complex than I imagined- and I think we know now why these walls didn’t become standard issue for MCM homes! So, if I have the right idea, the sliding panels are set up almost like casement windows? The lock in that image reminds me of a security bolt on a door- the kind you always hear are ineffective. I love the versatility and “cool” factor of your wall- it’s a shame it’s such a mysterious build! I do think it might be something the Retro Renovation site (or the Facebook page) might help with- there are so many people chiming in there, it could be that someone would recognize this system.

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