Old Houses and Old Windows
I never thought much about window styles until we started restoring our remuddled Victorian home and I had to find replacement parts for various items. I could no longer run to Home Depot to pick up a door sweep for the front door, I had to special order one because it was 42 inches wide.
Apparently, our style of door (8 ft tall, 42 inches wide) is called a coffin door because that was the door used to take the coffins in and out of houses during times of death and loss.
Character – it’s stuff like that that gives a house character. Keep reminding yourself of that if you have been crazy enough to take on a restoration project.
In the space of the last five years, I have learned a lot of terms that will be helpful to those looking for historically correct fittings, trying to date their home, or even those who are just interested in vintage architecture.
Most of what will be discussed here are the American window styles from 1800-2000.
The Quatrefoil window is shaped like a four-leaf clover. It is seen often in gothic-style homes, as well as mission style. Gothic architecture was inspired by the religious intensity of the day and the architects sought to design homes that would remind the owners of their aspirations to live a godly life. The quatrefoil window could be plain glass or stained and situated nearly anywhere the owners decided to put it.
A Dormer window is a window that is set vertically on a horizontal roof and has its own roof. A dormer is most often seen in the New England Cape
Cod styles of the late 1700s and the Colonial Revival Styles of the early 1900s. The dormer is a way to bring light into a room that has a sloping ceiling and makes it habitable.
A Fanlight window is a fan-shaped window, most often situated in a door, over a door, or over another window, although that is not always true. The fanlight window was not only decorative it served the purpose of allowing light into a hallway. Early in the 18th century, the fanlight was placed in the door but as the century progressed it became more popular to shorten the door and put the fanlight over the door as a transom. The fanlight is very popular in Colonial Revival styles, as well as Georgian, and Federal styles of homes.
A Bay window is a curved window that extends out from the face of the building.
An Oriel window is a type of bay window that projects from the face of the building and is supported by corbels. It is always situated on an upper story, which is what distinguishes it from a bay. A bay window can be found at any level. It is very popular in Gothic Architecture.
A Palladian Window is always divided into three parts. The middle part is larger than the sides and may or may not be arched. The Palladian was at the height of its popularity in the United States during the mid-1700s and began to decline in favor shortly before the end of the century.
Sidelights are narrow windows that run vertically on either side of the door to add light to dark hallways. They were often stained glass.
A Jalousie window is a window that opens by a series of louvers that could be opened with a crank and was popular in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Octagon windows were popular in Victorian times. These are eight-sided windows that are used for exterior decoration and to add light to small spaces, stair landings, for example.
An Eyebrow window is a narrow, arched Victorian-style window that is located in the roof-line of the home. It is best explained as being something like a long-arched dormer.
Restoration of Windows
If you are in a situation where you are restoring a home try to keep as much of the original as you possibly can. Wood-framed windows, especially those made in the last century, are strong, durable, and very energy efficient compared to what is available today.
Old glass is wavy and distorts what you see through it. This is a plus as most people who love old houses find this glass very desirable. If you have to replace broken glass you can get “old” glass from several manufacturers that are making it specifically for old house aficionados. Another possibility is to replace your windows with architectural salvage.
The different window styles are truly the character of the house they were used on. Recognizing different styles and how they were used will help to date a house properly and make restoration much easier.