Long before the word “COVID” entered our collective vocabulary, the integration of indoor and outdoor spaces was a growing architectural trend. As early as 2015, AIA members were reporting increased interest in blended spaces. In 2018, Commercial Interior Design explored the importance of integrating interior and exterior spaces in hospitality projects. And in its 2019 Restaurant Industry 2030 report, the National Restaurant Association identified “Third-Space Restaurants” as one of the disruptors that could change the face of the industry over the next decade. Referencing German biergartens and Asian street-food markets, they predicted a need for restaurants to become spaces for socializing and community engagement.
The pace of this trend—particularly in dining and hospitality—was accelerated dramatically by the appearance of COVID-19. By September 2021, 72 percent of full-service restaurants surveyed by the National Restaurant Association reported offering outdoor dining by the use of a patio, deck, or sidewalk.
COVID-19 caused an explosion of demand for outdoor spaces, which necessitated the use of short-term emergency outdoor solutions. Now, as manufactures innovate, there are more options for design-forward solutions to create a more enjoyable restaurant and hospitality guest experience. Spending time outdoors impacts both physical and mental health, having been scientifically connected with everything from decreased depression and anxiety to improved concentration, memory, and attention.
From a business standpoint, adding flexible outdoor dining space increases the number of patrons that can be served without investing in a major building expansion.
Indoor/Outdoor Transition Challenges
The transition from indoor to outdoor spaces becomes a key element in the move from ad hoc outdoor seating to fully flexible dining establishments. Everything from flooring thresholds to furniture choices to climate control must be considered. Perhaps the biggest consideration is doors. When indoor/outdoor spaces began to take off, restaurant operators started by installing custom glass solutions and sectional doors that weren’t designed specifically for that purpose, and the limitations were obvious.
While glass sectional doors look beautiful from the outside, both the interior aesthetic and function of the space were compromised. Traditional sectional doors have a sizeable overhead footprint which can interfere with the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, lighting, and HVAC systems often located on the ceiling. The tracks, cables, and hinges required to operate the doors offered inside diners a less than inspiring view.
Horizontally opening accordion doors had their own set of challenges. Precious interior real estate was lost to accommodate the footprint of open sections. The tracks also caused a variety of issues, from potential trip and fall hazards to a place for unsightly and unsanitary accumulation of dirt and food debris.
The ideal door for these applications had a unique set of requirements:
- Minimal footprint to avoid disrupting existing systems or consuming valuable seating space.
- Aesthetically pleasing from all angles, in all states: outside, inside, closed, and open.
- Allow safe movement of customers as well as wait staff laden with trays.
- Easily opened and closed in the event of rapid weather changes.
- Quiet operation so as not to disturb patrons.
- Design options to accommodate a range of aesthetics, not just “industrial chic.”
A Groundbreaking Door Solution
The engineers at Clopay took on the challenge of designing an elegant solution specifically for merging indoor and outdoor spaces. The result is the VertiStack Clear Door, a groundbreaking glass door with unique stacking technology that provides the look and performance of a sectional door with the footprint of a rolling door.
Instead of cables, VertiStack Clear opens on an enclosed track that is hidden to ensure quiet operation as well as a modern, clean appearance. The intermediate hinges seen on most sectional doors have been removed, and built-in gaskets and a weatherproof vinyl seal that clips into the guide channel were added.
Motor operations means no manual intervention is needed to transition a space from indoor only to indoor/outdoor. For maximum versatility, the entire header can be recessed into the ceiling. The door itself can be sized to fit openings up to 14 feet wide and 14 feet tall, either full door or counter installations.
The door features a wide range of glass and acrylic options, including tempered, insulated, frosted, and Low-E options. It’s offered in a variety of anodized finishes, such as clear, black, bronze, and dark bronze in addition to a variety of painted finishes.
As a solution for seamlessly connecting indoor and outdoor dining spaces, VertiStack Clear is emblematic of the direction Clopay is taking in commercial product development. After decades of being known for premium garage doors, engineers are now looking at the challenges of specific applications and creating innovative, technically sophisticated commercial solutions with the kind of aesthetic appeal that speaks to hospitality spaces.