In the not too distant past, when home buyers wanted to open up their homes to the great outdoors, they opted for (yawn) traditional swinging patio doors or conventional two-panel sliding jobs. Times were simpler back then—and so were the doors.

These products worked well enough, and served as the usual method for creating an indoor/outdoor connection. But times have changed, and manufacturers are now coming up with much cooler ways to bring inside and outside together.

The game changed when door companies got hip to Australian and European hardware technology. This led to the production of folding patio doors that have been extremely popular with builders, architects, and consumers for the dramatic way they open up a space. Now manufacturers have improved the traditional sliding door with a new generation of products.

Medford, Wis.–based Weather Shield is one of a handful of companies that offer lift/slide pocket-door systems that allow homeowners to store all door panels to one side or inside an exterior wall cavity.

“The pocket-door system expands Weather Shield’s extensive patio-door line to give homeowners a new option for blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor living spaces,” says Jeff Williams, the company’s corporate manager of marketing and communications. “The choice of wood species, exterior colors, and decorative options create a stunning door that enhances a home’s interior and exterior design when it’s closed. When it’s open, it’s completely hidden, enabling unrestricted views and movement inside to out.”

Unlike traditional sliding doors, Weather Shield’s system uses an interlocking mechanism that couples panels together so the entire setup opens and closes on stainless steel rollers by pulling the lead panel.

NanaWall Systems, the Mill Valley, Calif., company that helped make folding accordion doors popular in this country, has taken things even further by introducing an ingenious single-track sliding door system whose clean, slim profile is sure to make architects happy. The wood-frame product uses individual panels that glide on a single track to create large openings.

“The VSW65 Single Track Slider is the result of three years of research by NanaWall and Solarlux engineers in the U.S. and Germany,” says Ebrahim Nana, president of NanaWall Systems. “Architects liked the concept in NanaWall’s earlier, smaller-sized slider system and asked us for larger-sized panels. We developed the VSW65 Single Track Slider to meet demand for architects’ design concepts for the luxury market.”

Architects appear to approve. “With the unique capabilities of the NanaWall, including zero-clearance thresholds, the opening glass walls are the solution for seamless integration of craftsmanship and lifestyle,” says Vail, Colo.–based architect Christy D’Agostino, who recently used the single-track slider in a Colorado mountain residence. “Throughout the day and night when the NanaWalls are open, family and friends gather inside or outside to hear the calming waters over the glacier granite rocks while taking in breath-taking panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains.”

It’s not enough that sliders are way cooler than they used to be and offer more configurations—including corner applications; they also can be produced in much bigger sizes, too.

Warroad, Minn.–based Marvin Windows and Doors recently introduced a 12-foot-tall, lift-and-slide door—its biggest ever—that can be stacked or recessed into a pocket.

But Oceanside, Calif.–based Weiland Sliding Doors and Windows saw Marvin’s 12-footer and raised it to 16 feet. And to top things off, the five-panel door system also can be recessed into an exterior wall for good measure.

“The 16-foot-tall system is a natural extension of the efforts the company has made to maintain a position as the leader in the high-end custom door and window market for the last 20 years,” the firm says in a statement announcing the door.

But why are manufacturers focusing on sliding doors and why now? John Kirchner, Marvin’s public relations manager, has an explanation: It’s an extension of the trend toward the melding of the inside and outside living spaces, he says.

The need this door is filling is very similar,” Kirchner explains. “The door basically allows the homeowner to open up an entire wall of their home to the outside. It’s more than just a door in the sense that we think about a typical patio door; it is as much of a glass wall that can be entirely opened.

“The other need this door is filling,” Kirchner continues, “is the need to be able to hide the doors in a pocket application or at a minimum stack the doors in a way that removes them from your view and maximizes the available opening to provide a smooth and unobstructed transition between inside and out.”