I once thought that I would only use "real" materials for the building of my house, but as I learned about new products on the market—and the realities of my budget—I quickly re-thought things. And, I'm glad I did. In the end, no one wants a new house to become a black hole of maintenance and repairs.
Neighbors across the valley have a really lovely mid-19th century farmhouse, but before it recently sold, I watched the previous owners spend a lot of time (and money) getting things into working order. For instance, the beautiful French doors on an addition to the back of the house are solid wood...and at a certain point had warped and swollen to the point that they wouldn't close completely. Nature can really take a toll on a house, and solid wood doors are not as impervious as you might think. They react to moisture, freezing and thawing—a pretty destructive combination for most natural materials. To get the French doors working again a carpenter had to remove them and plane the edges. And, I'm sure it won't be the last time that those solid wood doors have problems again.
I made a mental note, and when I started specifying materials for my house, I turned to some friends in the industry who know a lot more than I do. One is a former magazine editor who now works for a marketing and public relations firm representing Therma-Tru exterior doors. Their fiberglass doors amazed me. They won't have the weathering and maintenance issues of wood nor will they have the denting, rusting or scratching issues of similar metal doors. While they offer a number of interesting door styles, I decided on their very basic Smooth-Star line, which has the look of painted wood (you paint it the color of your choice). It fits perfectly with my updated farmhouse style, and it comes in two standard sizes. This last detail was especially important for me because I had made a decision to go with 8' doors throughout the house, except for the exterior doors opening to the back and side porch, which are the more typical 6'8" height. In the Smooth-Star line, I was able to get the front door in a very affordable 8' size that adds significantly to the lofty atmosphere of the living and dining room while going with the more standard size in the same style for the other two exterior entries. The doors have been in place for a year and look fantastic. The paint is holding beautifully, and they're incredibly energy efficient. They also have a nice weight to their swing when you're opening and closing them—the kind of subtle detail the is very important to me.