The enduring delight of the secret door

The beautiful curiosity of the jib – or secret – door

May 1, 2024

Doors these days come in all shapes and sizes. From pocket to slide, from barn to french. But in the great period houses, there has always been one kind of door that has delighted and surprised every age of viewer. The secret door.

Known as a jib door, these are doors hidden within the fabric of the wall to conceal the opening and maintain the aesthetic of the room. Often without any ironmongery and with hidden hinges, the jib door can be covered in wall paper, panelling or simply painted to sink into its background with only the informed knowing of its existence until opened.

This secret door became a design trick especially popular in the Georgian period where proportion and symmetry were so highly prized. It was also a period of exceptional cabinetry and furniture-making and so the skill required to pull off this magic door trick was in abundance. To our regret, the great skill of master cabinet making is a dying art but one we at Artichoke remain both passionate about and committed to.

In fact, educating, training and then nurturing the next generations of master crafts people is something we take seriously – with our own school of furniture, annual New Makers Conference and Bruce’s role with the Building Crafts College.

A partially open wooden door leading into a room with patterned wallpaper, dark flooring, a mirror, and a lamp, framed by elegant wooden wall panels.

Plate 1: Jib door in European walnut panelled hall 

An invisible door

When setting out panelling to fit within the existing proportions of a room, it can often interrupt the flow to insert a door and architraves.  While doors are a delight for designers of architectural joinery, at times an architraved opening can upset the equilibrium of the interior.  Jib doors are discrete and occasionally a good option for a specialist joinery designer and maker like Artichoke.

Elegant bedroom featuring a large mirrored wardrobe, dark wood flooring, a wooden dresser, and walls decorated with a delicate floral motif. a chandelier adds a touch of luxury.

Plate 2: Bespoke joinery offers a secret door through to ensuite bathroom from bedroom

In this North London project, we inserted a jib door into a wallpapered wall. The dark line around the door is a hardwood bead which acts as a frame to encapsulate the de Gournay wall paper and stop it fraying.

In grander houses, there are often rooms with a hierarchy of doors set within their walls. Some are deliberately larger than others to denote it being a portal to another important room (such as between a drawing room and a dining room).  It’s a form of classical nudge theory, with the grander doors having details to denote their significance.  Supporting these larger feature doors are the necessary secondary doors which might lead to an important part of the home but demand a more subtle treatment.  This is a moment worth considering a jib door.

An elegant wooden cabinet with one door slightly ajar, revealing empty shelves inside. the warm brown tones of the wood are highlighted by soft lighting.

Plate 3: Jib door in panelled study open ajar 

The history

So, jib doors can be useful to hide entrances, disguise storage and maintain symmetry but they can also be purely for fun.   Our clients love the fact that its secret.  There’s nothing better than a surprise feature which is not  necessarily noticed at first. This adds depth and texture, elevating a scheme beyond the ordinary.  These features, beautifully made, are what we love.

View through an open door into an elegant living room with wooden paneling, complemented by traditional decor including a patterned rug and plush furniture.

Plate 4: Panelled study of European walnut with French polish finish with bespoke desk

For future generations

While the clever thing about jib doors is their discretion, they bring so much more than just hiding a storage space or correcting an asymmetrical elevation.  They bring is a sense of fun, character, and novelty for our clients to enjoy today but also for future generations.