Barn doors are a versatile, functional add-on to any home, but think about this before you get one.

By Lauren Phillips
Updated May 31, 2019
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Anyone beginning (or just thinking about beginning) a major home renovation has probably seen more than a few inspiration shots of interior sliding barn doors. These sliding doors—the slightly more industrial cousins of the once-loved pocket door—are having a bit of a moment, a stretch of time in the spotlight that’s much deserved. Despite the rustic name, interior barn doors can fit into any style space while introducing a healthy dose of functionality, which can’t be said for all trends.

Still, as with all design trends, barn doors aren’t necessarily universally beloved.

“It’s a love or hate thing,” says David Shove-Brown, partner and co-founder of Washington, D.C.–based design firm //3877. Shove-Brown says the look can be polarizing, but it’s undeniably efficient. “They can really make a statement and serve a function at the same time,” he says.

The biggest draw of barn doors, beyond their visual appeal, may be their ability to maximize space. “You basically eliminate door-swing space, so you can clear up some of that floor space,” Shove-Brown says.

Without needing to account for the space a traditional door needs to swing open, people have a little more flexibility in small spaces, especially if they’re trying to squeeze a lot of furniture into the room. This works especially well in bathrooms, which are often on the smaller side.

Interior barn doors have their drawbacks, though.

“I think the biggest complaint that we always hear is the privacy factor,” Shove-Brown says.

Barn doors are elevated slightly, more so than conventional doors, which leaves space underneath for noise to travel through. The doors also don’t settle snugly into frames the way conventional doors do, allowing more space for noise to trickle into the next room. Beyond the noise factor, the locking mechanism often used with these doors is different, which may make them easier to open from the outside.

“Because it takes up so little space, it works well, but then you can unfortunately hear everything, and that’s the big complaint,” Shove-Brown says.

Another thing to consider is how much space the door needs in order to open. Shove-Brown says many people don’t necessarily think about this but, typically, it needs its width in clear space. This means light switches, plumbing, outlets, and other wall features (not to mention furniture or wall art) can’t hang in that space, so if wall space is at a premium, the space might not be right for a barn door.

Barn doors may not be ideal for a space that requires the privacy only a closed door can provide, especially in a crowded household, but they still work well in other instances—a closet, say, or a kitchen pantry. Small barn doors can maximize a small space. Larger ones or double barn doors can help divide an open floor plan, bring more flexibility to connected spaces, or help a separated room feel like part of the larger whole. Plus, Shove-Brown says, barn doors are in no way limited to a rustic or farmhouse-chic look. The doors may be named for barns, but they can be modern, industrial, glass, or even arts-and-crafts—almost any look is possible.

Shove-Brown says most home improvement professionals should be able to make quick work of installing a barn door. (Incorrect installation could lead to a number of issues, including a door that slides open or shut on an uneven railing.)

“It just requires a little bit of forethought, and a little bit of thinking about having all the information for the hardware and for the door, such that you really understand what you’re getting yourself into,” he says.