WHEN WAS THE LASTTIME YOU TOOK a hard look at an interior door in the average home? You may not recall, which wouldn't be surprising. Many interior doors are, at best, mediocre and, at worst, quite unattractive and inappropriate for the house they're in, which is a shame because interior doors offer yet another opportunity for builders to customize and add excitement to their houses.

Design Potential One reason interior doors tend to be uninspiring is that most builders focus on cost, manufacturers say. “We find that door and trim decisions aren't made until the end of the project,” says Chuck Tamblyn, director of marketing for Denver-based TruStile Doors. “By that time, the budget is almost gone, so the door and trim get skimped on.”

The “value” product builders frequently use for interior doors—even in production homes costing $500,000—is a 30-inch, pre-hung, six-panel, hollow-core unit costing about $60. Such a door will operate just fine, most manufacturers say, but a basic hollow-core door doesn't add much visual appeal and provides few to none of the sound-blocking benefits of a solid-core door.

Ken Koenig, sales and marketing manager for Signamark, in Tacoma, Wash., gives another reason interior doors are generally an afterthought. He says builders are unaware of the design potential the doors offer. “Builders put money in the kitchen countertops and the whirlpool tub,” Koenig says. “They don't know about enhancing a house with nice doors.”

But builders aren't the only ones to blame; until now, door makers haven't given builders much to get excited about. Most doors in the introductory price range have been bland, while good-looking units have been expensive, with no middle ground in between. In addition, Tamblyn says, there hasn't been a manufacturer that aggressively markets the idea that door decisions can affect the overall perception of a house.

Bridging The Gap That was then. In recent years, door manufacturers have slowly bridged the gap between style and cost, so builders can now upgrade their houses with decent-looking interior doors for about $120 to $200 per door.

Signamark recently introduced a line of solid-core interior doors with glass panels. The doors are made from engineered lumber covered with select-grade veneers in a stained red oak or pine finish. The doors are also available primed and ready for painting.

For customization that won't break the bank, JELD-WEN, based in Klamath Falls, Ore., offers the Router Carved line of interior doors. Chris King, marketing manager for interior doors at the company, says the line offers “a great way for builders, homeowners, and companies to personalize their own spaces.” Made from medium-density fiber-board (MDF), the doors have a polystyrene core and finger-jointed pine stiles. Home buyers can submit designs for the manufacturer to carve directly into the panels.

TruStile recently debuted a line of architecturally correct wood doors that are available in 12 wood species. In addition, the company offers paint-grade MDF doors with a variety of design options.

McCleary, Wash.–based Simpson Door Co. offers a line of doors that features a magnetic chalkboard panel in Douglas fir, western hemlock, American red oak, maple, and cherry.

If wood and MDF units stretch the budget too thin, builders still have options. For example, some builders use less-expensive, hollow-core doors in the upstairs rooms and save MDF or wood for the main level.

In some cases, Koenig says, a trade-off isn't even necessary. “We believe that most homeowners would buy the nicer door if given the opportunity to see it.” For that reason, Signamark has a 20-foot showcase trailer that travels to the top builders. “Once they see the possibilities and our product offering, they end up putting it in their models.”

For more product information, visit ebuild, Hanley Wood's interactive product catalog, at www.builderonline.com or www.ebuild.com.