The fallacy of "beautiful" windows.

palimpsestNovember 29, 2012

I think that there is a fallacy, kind of like the Emperor's New Clothes, related to windows (in particular) in current building practice.

There are whole books about how, culturally, particularly in the 20th century (and beyond, I suppose) we have lost the ability to "see" what is a good proportion, what is good balance, what is essentially good, functional design that also provides natural visual harmony.

The theories tend to illustrate how a regular person could get a piece of property, and pretty much build a house that was practical, well proportioned and nice to look at, fairly instinctually given the evidence of vernacular architecture (17th, 18th, and early 19th century America).

This disappeared in a large way, in that architects and builders now fail to provide it, and the buyer fails to recognize it.

With windows in particular it goes something like this:

I just put in these beautiful, new windows, but:

There is no room between the window and the corner for a window treatment.
There is no room on/around the series of French doors for window treatments.
If I put up window treatments it covers up my "beautiful new trim"


There is a set of windows starting 12 feet off the ground and I need a window treatment that "compensates" for the blank space in between those windows and the windows at regular height; that I can open and close when standing on the floor because of glare or an unexpected view of the hall bathroom from the sidewalk, etc.; I need a window treatment that doesn't interfere with the HVAC under the window.

And the advice usually starts "Wow, what a BEAUTIFUL window!" and then gives Nine Steps about how to solve the various problems this beautiful window presents.

I guess the other fallacy that I think of is that window treatments are essentially "bad" because they prevent the room from being "light and airy" and they block that "beautiful view".

I think I am being generous if I estimate that approximately 10% of windows frame a view that is worth looking at the majority of the time. Most people have a view that provides occasional awesome sunsets and views of trees and plants for a few months of the year. The rest of the time it is a view of a couple grey trees and brown grass, their neighbor's swing set, etc.

One of my client's views six months out of the year is her neigbor's shrubs wrapped in burlap, and the green vinyl cover on their pool. For three months she has great plants and shrubs that block most of it, but she lives there for twelve. Her kitchen window (uphill)looks into the bedroom (downhill) of the house across the wide street. He doesn't believe in window treatments and he believes in huge TVs, so she can watch football or porn while she does her dishes, almost every weekend.

Windows provide light, a view and to a lesser extent with modern HVAC, ventilation, and by definition, light, the view and ventilation all need to be modulated.

So the time to think about windows is when you are DESIGNING OR BUILDING the house, not after.

My windows (c. 1840) DO have beautiful trim. Half of the also have built-in shutters. All of them have room provided in the trim for window treatments. The large downstairs windows have a flat piece of trim closer to the window, with the highly ornamental trim mounted outside of that. Drapes can be installed on these windows without covering all the ornamental trim. If your window needs treatments, don't waste your money on elaborate millwork that either gets in the way or needs to be covered.

I don't think there is a window in all 10,000 square feet of the building that does not have some thought put into the fact that it may need to be covered at some point.

If the window looks too close to the inside corner on the drawing, it IS. Change it. If the French Doors look like they will bind on the window treatment when you open them, they will.

Talk to the HVAC person before it goes in where it presents problems with the windows.

However, there is another fallacy that every single window treatment that is not a blind or shutter has to touch the floor. Not so.

If you love that window 15 feet off the ground, think about what problems it will cause functionally and esthetically BEFORE you put it in. Generally these windows are more trouble than they are worth.

If the room Needs windows like this to look Correct, maybe there is something the matter with the room. In most typically sized houses, someone has decided it was a "feature" to put in these double height rooms and a lot of people went along for the ride, but most of the time these rooms are badly proportioned and a fair amount of time is spent in this very forum trying to make these rooms look right.

If they were right, they would look right and we wouldn't be compensating for all their faults. My advice is to think if such a room really adds to the house. Generally they do not seem to.

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Every exterior wall in my house is mostly windows looking out on various native and landscape plants. Very informally planted, as nature might do. No window coverings on any of them except a 15' expanse of windows in the 2nd story master bath that I finally covered with plantation shutters which can be closed for bathing privacy at night. All my windows are Douglas fir wrapped in cvg fir, all natural wood.

I love and appreciate all the seasons of nature and find even what you think are bleak looking trees and plants to be filled with beauty, even sans leaves. I love the textures and hues of winter bark, the dried grasses and weeds that provide sustenance for the birds, the pesky blackberries overtaking everything, but holding onto a few red leave with unripened fruit hanging from the tips of the branches. I love the appearance of the gorgeous colors of late winter swelling of stems and buds. I love watching the breezes and higher winds, the sideways rain a good portion of the year here in the PNW. The magic of looking out on snow falling at night, like I'm living in my own private snow globe. The winter brings a whole new crew of birds to watch, the squirrels and foxes are gorgeous in winter.

Every single person who walks into my home remarks, "Oh, what beautiful windows." And they meet almost all of your criteria for what is wrong with supposedly beautiful windows.

These now have plantation shutters, but they are representative of the windows in my home. Beautiful to me.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 11:04PM
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I work in HVAC, and I couldn't agree more.

Part of the reason for this is that before central air, homes were designed to ventilate.
A well sited and designed home would be sited to have solar gain in winter, shaded windows in summer shaded by trees, windows and doors located to ventilate, enough window area to create a cross-breeze, a shaded or screened porch, and eaves. Window treatments were part of reducing solar gain in the summer, and keeping out drafts in the winter. They made the home more comfortable.

A Craftsman bungalow is the perfect example of all of this.

The size and placement of the window was related to it's function, which had very little to do with a view. It was part of your lighting and heating and cooling system.

Now this relationship between fenestration and your home being comfortable in winter and summer is gone. We do it mechanically with your heating and cooling system. But the fact remains that all the things we used to do worked, and still have a lot to offer. In particular if you are interested in saving energy.

People build homes today with huge west facing window walls (!the sunset!) and skylights, and have huge AC bills and wonder why? Where I live, new homes are built in former corn fields....there are not any 40 foot tall shade trees, and won't be for a very long time.

Most new home plans I see though, actually have too little window area to my eye. Proportionally the window area is a much smaller part of the overall wall area. Especially in bedrooms and bathrooms. A lot of new builds have no windows at all on 1 or even 2 sides. So there is no possibility of having a comfortable home with the windows open, because you can't get a cross breeze.

And if you want to know why the hvac vents are always by the is because that is where they work best to make the room the most comfortable.
Just as having that warm radiator under the window did. Hot air rises up, cold air coming off the window falls, that creates a nice warm convection in your room.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 11:11PM
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Fori is not pleased

But Olychick, your windows aren't the problem windows P is describing! They don't need window treatments so they don't need to be "fixed"--they seem to be well thought-out and do exactly what they're supposed to be doing. They're anything but windows just because!

My inlaws, for example, live in a McMansionish home, a craftsman wannabe. (The size was a good choice--they often have over dozen grandkids staying over at once.) It's got silly superhigh ceilings, and some tiny windows placed perfectly to get a brutal morning glare 15 feet up. The whole place is ridiculous in a climate that rarely has a summer day under 95 inlaws have been creative in dealing with the window issues--they've had to construct absurdly tall drapes on some, build a giant folding screen to seasonally block the sun outside of a wall of really tall French doors, etc.

The windows are impressive, but are they thought out well? Well, no.

Julie, I'm glad you mentioned the convection thing! I just assumed the HVAC ran around the outside of my house because it was easier to install, and it coincidentally landed under my windows. Interesting!

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 11:39PM
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Olychick I think your windows fall into the 10% of windows that Pal referred to as "having a view worthy of looking at the majority of time".

I remember the first time you posted your "bathroom in the trees". I thought it was breathtaking.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 12:06AM
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Well, thank you both. I wasn't looking for compliments, but saw windows like mine falling out of the aesthetic Pal described (or into it, I guess) and felt I had to defend nature as viewed through windows with no room for draperies. I calmed down.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 12:51AM
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Oly your set of windows, or the wall of glass executed with thought is not what comes to my mind when thinking about these issues.

Lets think about this potential set of problems in the context of the kitchen forum "Oh what a beautiful sink! Too bad it doesn't have a drain. Mine had the same problem, but I still love it! Here is how I compensate for my sink being without a drain: first..." etc.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 6:36AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

I agree, Pal, esp since I'm one of those who love window treatments and very often, rooms without them always feel cold to me.

But another issue I see is window placement with regards to the exterior. So many builders seem to ignore what window placement does to the facade. Even if they get the front facade right, so often the side and rear facades look as if they were placed at random....maybe it makes sense on the inside, but the vast majority of people see your home from the outside.

I knew I wanted window treatments so I even had the framers install wood blocks between the studs so we'd have something solid to put the curtain rods into....

This post was edited by AnnieDeighnaugh on Fri, Nov 30, 12 at 10:16

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 7:48AM
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Often times I think new homes are built with how dramatic the outside of the house will look. Then, it is a nightmare to try to figure out window treatments to control light or make sense when designing the window treatments

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 8:37AM
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Case in point. Remember these beauties from the listing photos of the house we bought this summer? The room was completely out of balance, the neighbor could look into half the upstairs from their second floor and the room was like an oven during summer mornings. But the owner got his window wall!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 8:56AM
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I've ranted on this before, but why miss a chance to get on my soapbox!

Reconciling a pleasing exterior with a functional and pleasing interior is not easy. It's one of the things you need an architect to do. People have a knee jerk reaction that more and bigger windows is always better. They mix styles and create hodge podges, They go grandiose when nothing else about the property supports it. They assualt their left and right neighbor's senses with jarring compositions. This is one of the abominations of recent history, you would never see it in a 1900s or even a 1950 house.

As I've oft mentioned, we have almost no WT. Since I didn't make the views myself, but only shepherd them, I will consider it an exemption from bragging that we do have beautiful views, every single day, from pretty much every single window. But, even then.

1. I had to have something in my office because I could not read GW posts in the glare at 3pm
2. Our (first floor!) MBR and MBA should really have something. Our property is gated and no neighbors can see, but workmen and gardeners might pass by. DH and I are home most days of the week, and it can be ... inhibiting. It also wakes me up in the morning, but I consider that a healthy thing. If I really need my sleep I wear eye shades.
But, the MBR windows (pre existing) are odd. They meet in the corners, like Pal mentions. I think WT might emphasize their weirdness.
3. The one place in my house where you see another house is from one angle the breakfast room banquette. You didn't used to, until we lost a huge tree in Sandy. We are trying to figure out what we want to do there. My short term solution is not to sit where I see it! I will be soliciting GW advice (oh no not her again!)
4. My octagon LR is all windows. The PO had no WT. In the past year the sun has bleached a patch of a cashmere throw in there, and lightened the windowseat pilows. I hate to do it but I think I need something. I guess I have to ask you guys about that too!

In fairness, if people can justify it, one reason not to do WT is the expense. Even simple custom WT are pricey, and if you let yourself go it can get stratospheric. I've bitterly complained here already about my elaborate gilt hand carved wooden curtain rods I let myself get talked into years ago, for 10k, which the new owners probably had the good taste to send to the dumpster.

By contrast, I think inexpensive WT tend to look inexpensive.

WT shopping is a little daunting, given the huge array choices, the cost, and the trendiness.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 9:21AM
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My example of poor window placement. It's large, but poorly made and faces west in South Texas so I'm blinded in the afternoon until the sun goes below my neighbor's roofline. My view is a fence, without which I'd see the goings-on in my neighbor's back yard.
BUT, you must have a window over a sink! My two fixes were to put up window boxes on the fence and hang a treatment to cut the worst of the piercing sunlight.

I don't have many cross breeze opportunities in this house, something I had thought would be standard in the south. I can open the sliders on one side of the kitchen along with the door to the garage opposite to get a breeze in there. My messy garage is on display, though. However, my 1940s house in KCMO had a very nice window/door placement to take advantage of breezes.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 9:28AM
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I live on the second floor of a duplex built in 1900. Standard working class home at the time. Urban neighborhood, so there are houses close to it.

I pretty much agree with everything Pal said. There aren't any window problems in this house of the kind mentioned in the OP.

The trim throughout the house is fairly plain, although the living and dining rooms got upgraded at some point with nicer trim and hardwood floors, as opposed to the 1x4s used for trim elsewhere and the wide pine floors throughout the rest of the house.

The window trim was meant to have curtain rods on it--you can see where the screw holes were. There's only a few inches from the top of the window trim to the bottom of the crown molding--it would look odd to squish a curtain rod in that space. To say nothing of the difficulties of installing curtain rods on old plaster walls.

Every room except the bathroom has at least two windows. The kitchen and dining room sit side-by-side across the width of the house--if there is a breeze, you will feel it in those rooms. Ventilation is not a issue. The builders wherever possible put windows on different walls in the rooms, to increase the chances of getting a cool summer breeze.

Every room gets daylight all day long and direct sunlight at some point in the day. There's no real "view" to see here, but the house is on the side of a hill. In the evening, the kitchen windows are flooded with sunlight, and you have a lovely view of the sunset. There's no window over the kitchen sink; instead there are two full-size windows that look down over Main Street a block away. But there's no worry about fresh air in the kitchen.

The bedrooms need something on the windows for privacy, otherwise the neighbors could see right in. The living room windows are shaded by trees and the porch. And being on the second floor helps, too--passersby really can't look in. The tenants on the ground floor tend to keep their mini-blinds down all the time, which would drive me nuts. I need the daylight.

I have to admit that when I see a house where all the windows are on the front and back, and the sides are perfectly blank, it gives me the creeps a little. It's like the house is blind on those sides or something. It just doesn't look right.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 9:58AM
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trailrunnerbiker made something sweet from something sour ! I love the view and the colors of the WT with your plants is charming.

oly///like being in a tree house !! Love it.

We are lucky to have 1890 windows with lovely views all year. With original wavy glass and Scottish lace curtains I am very happy with the result.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 10:05AM
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Mtn really hit on the head. We planned this house to have no window treatments. We are in the woods; it's a quarter mile from street to house, etc. Great, until the painters showed up to do touch ups without calling first--just as I was streaking across the family room to get to the kitchen to make coffee. 6:00 a.m., for Heaven's sakes. DH decided immediately that we were to get window treatments, "and I mean now!" Lo and behold, the master bedroom window trim is too close to corners of room for the rods I want. I tend to be very interior oriented, my architect and builder very exterior oriented. A battle ensued. I relied on him for expertise in Texas Hill Country German farmhouse vernacular, but I forced some deviation because I knew the havoc certain window placement would wreak on furniture placement. Anyhoo, this house is case study in mtn's assessment. Fortunately, only the mbr ended up with the corner issue! With eight sets of French doors, it could have been worse.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 10:16AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Re corner windows, they make nice rods now for allowing the windows to be treated as one.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 10:24AM
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"I've ranted on this before, but why miss a chance to get on my soapbox!
Reconciling a pleasing exterior with a functional and pleasing interior is not easy. It's one of the things you need an architect to do. People have a knee jerk reaction that more and bigger windows is always better. They mix styles and create hodge podges, They go grandiose when nothing else about the property supports it. They assualt their left and right neighbor's senses with jarring compositions. This is one of the abominations of recent history, you would never see it in a 1900s or even a 1950 house."

I got this far and had to stop reading the responses. It suddenly SO reminded me of something...amusing. Or let's say, sort of amusing. (After which, I have to get back to pal's comments; there is just so much I could say.)

Years ago, we were house hunting. I love old houses, and it would take quite a lot for me to consider a newer house. We were looking in the Sourland Mountain area, the Amwells, and other places where much of the housing stock was old, or at least older. Our budget guided us to generally smaller houses.

We were standing with our agent outside a smallish wood-sided farmhouse on a quiet road and on a very pretty piece of property. The house was 19th century, possibly with older parts although I don't remember its details. The point is, it was a fairly modest house.

We rejected it; I don't recall why. I do know that, in the current parlance of the whole silly HGTV House Hunters thing, the place dearly needed "updating." (I can envision it on an episode, with one half of the couple complaining about the lack of granite countertops and its "outdated" appliances, and the other commenting on the need to "open up the space"!) Perhaps the conformation or no. of the rooms was wrong; perhaps it did indeed need more work than we could afford. But whatever.

Anyway, the seller's agent arrived when we were outside, waiting for her. Now remember, this had been a farmhouse, 19th century style, and a modest one at that. Just a plain, sturdy, nicely proportioned farmhouse. The agent strides up to us and, before any of us says a single word about the place, starts loudly complaining about how b-o-o-o-o-oring the house looks and how b-o-o-o-ored she is of all these dreary houses. It needed -- and here she points to the area between two second-floor BR windows, above the front door -- a big palladian window!

Of course! (Smacks forehead) Why on earth didn't we think of that? No palladian window -- THAT'S what was wrong with the house!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 10:40AM
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Fori is not pleased

My unpretentious 50s house has windows where they should be. Nothing cutting edge, almost nothing unexpected or hard to dress if needed. But then there's this one which needs something a certain time of year when the afternoon sun makes the furniture smoulder--

The POs put in the blinds. I think they probably put them in after they had some trees in the yard topped--they predate the subdivision and the original owner had had the trees in mind when she specced out the house. She had owned the farm that became the subdivision and had some sentimental attachment to the old windbreak.

So if you base your windows off trees, make sure the trees will outlive you. Or that you don't have hurricanes. :P

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 11:02AM
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I agree there has over the last few decades been a desire to have a new house appear much more "grand" than it truly is. Double-height 1990s entries with the ubiquitous Palladian window, or the 2000s tweak of a turreted entry of some kind with a row of small windows up top. But that's just the front of the house. I think the bigger problem is the rest of the house.

I blame it in part on our insistence on ever-larger bathrooms and closets. Of course that could be a chicken/egg thing. I don't know whether the builders started it, or whether buyers started insisting on it. I suspect a combination thereof. But in any event, it has led to homes having a lot of interior spaces that don't lend themselves to windows. Really, a lot of interior layouts designed to "work" for those dwelling inside, but the fenestration becomes an afterthought on the exterior. So we end up with sides and backs of houses like Annie posted above, or fronts of houses meant to be "historically referenced" but which once inside, you learn that two of the large windows in the front of the house are in the laundry room and the master closet.

Of course there are other factors at work: advent of CH&A, negating the need for operable, breeze-catching windows, cheap builders, energy-regulated glazing restrictions, small lot sizes that force awkward layout/design for larger square-footage homes, etc. All in all, it's just been pretty sad.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 11:05AM
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A "window" can only be a beautiful window if it is easy to live with. Pal's examples cause problems for the residents.

It's that the architect/builder is looking at the window merely as part of a wall that needs to be built, with an opening that in many cases is of a size controlled by the building code (glazing as a % of wall area), filled by glazing units bought in bulk in standard sizes, and not taking the extra step to make the room easy to decorate by allowing room for the common window treatments.

It's like the fancy McMansion rooms with all the bump-outs, bump-ins and nooks. It's one heck of a wall and a "design statement", but nothing but a series of "difficult corners" for the people trying to place furniture in there.

We are designing a house and have to take into account the various views to allow or not allow, the building code limits on glazing amount, fire exit possibilities, etc. It's not easy. And we aren't into the feasibility of decorating them yet.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 11:07AM
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I agree, jakabedy, and I was just about to post that I agree with Annie. How many times have you all driven past a development or group of newer houses, all with their sides or backs to the road? Have you EVER seen well-placed windows? Have the sides and backs of those houses EVER looked good? Somebody (Annie, perhaps?) commented on the lack of proportion between windows vs. overall facade. You see that so clearly with these houses.

I also agree with mtnr about the need for window treatments to protect furnishings. Sometimes you need them even if the view is great. Our sunroom gets a lot of light; it faces south and has skylights that let in southern and western light as well as two sets of casement windows on either side of the French doors to the outside. The view is of the garden, trees and shrubs, a field across the narrow road seen through the screen of trees and shrubs, sometimes the horses in it, a red-sided barn. It's all very pretty. Regardless, there are no window treatments yet, and this leads to so many irritating situations. The room is great for plants (I have a variety of orchids in bloom or in bud today). but not so good for anything else. I can't move the carpet or the tansu, so I'm sure those are sun-fading. We recently put a Nakashima chair in the room and, every morning, I move it from one spot to another and then back again, trying to keep it out of direct sun. It's ridiculous. We need window treatments, and soon. (I have to move the chair right this very second, back to the spot it can now remain in until tomorrow morning.)

What pal said, too: "There is no room between the window and the corner for a window treatment. [....]


There is a set of windows starting 12 feet off the ground and I need a window treatment [....]that I can open and close when standing on the floor because of glare or an unexpected view of the hall bathroom from the sidewalk, etc.;"

You betcha. This house's POs and POs before them did several stupid things we have to deal with: (a) a set of windows, the trim on one side of which bumps up directly against the whatever-you-call it at ceiling height that hides plumbing; result is there's no space on that side for curtian rods or even a finial, (b) the guest BR window trim that bumps up directly (again!) against the slanted ceiling; likely result is we can have shades or blinds, but not curtains, even if we wanted them, (c) a window over a stairwell that lets far too much light into a room at some times but not others; how do we open or close whatever we install?

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 11:35AM
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Oly, your initial reaction to my post points up something interesting about this phenomenon. When I pointed out the various shortcomings of windows that need a window treatment (in particular), you read the description, and saw commonalities between these windows and yours. But despite the evidence that your own windows have some of these characteristics but they aren't shortcomings in your case--you ignored the evidence.

This is the counterpoint to what often happens, the evidence that a particular window is not going to work very well in your house gets ignored because it X Y or Z type of window is Always a Beautiful Window.

This is kind of in the same vein as "frameless mirrors always look cheap and unfinished" and "'Bandaid' is Never a good color, for anything ever". These kind of all or nothing ideas make me want to do a house filled with frameless mirrors and painted All Bandaid All-The-Time, and make it work.

Its the disconnect between the idea and the reality and ignoring Evidence of what makes something work or not that I am talking about.

Deee. If your house was on a remote part of Long Island, and hadn't been tricked out by the previous owners with contradictory traditional details, those windows might be awesome.

Likewise I like corner windows, walls of glaas and walls of french doors and even the window 14 feet off the floor, if they are in the right context and if the necessary adjustments have been made to make them work.

The house I bought has a wall of French doors with transoms that touch the ceiling; it has a ribbon of clerestory windows in each front room on the first floor, that touch the ceiling and have sills about 66" off the floor; it has a pentagonal wall of glass with French doors in the middle of it.

All of these present problems, but all of these are reasons I bought the house. There will be ways to treat all of these windows as necessary, (and they all need window treatments), the key is recognition of the shortcomings from the outset and planning for the solution from the beginning.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 11:37AM
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"a) a set of windows, the trim on one side of which bumps up directly against the whatever-you-call it at ceiling height that hides plumbing; result is there's no space on that side for curtian rods or even a finial,"

I meant to say there's no room for curtains or even a finial.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 11:45AM
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This thread is really ringing a tone with me. I've been looking at home plans recently (for what is now a dream of what I hope to be able to do by the time I retire).

I'm looking at various styles but a lot of bungalows, farmhouse, traditional plans. I noticed that so many of them look charming from the front but, as others here have noted, weird and sparse side and rear windows.

My inspiration is a much-loved lake house my family owned when I was growing up. This was a very modest home. Plumbing was added sometime after it was built. When my parents bought it in the early 50s, they dug out a dirt cellar so they could install heating and hot water.

The first floor had lovely tall windows on the front and sides. I would guess the ceilings were around 10 feet. There were french doors going out the back of the living room to a porch that spanned the back of the house. Another set of french doors led into the dining room from the porch. So you could basically come in the front door, turn right to go through the living room to the porch, walk across the porch to the french doors into the dining room, which led into the kitchen at the front of the house and on the other side of the front door, opposite the living room (so you could do a big circle of the ground floor).

The upstairs ceilings were lower but the windows were the same size as first floor so they were almost floor to ceiling windows on all four sides of the house.

That would be my ideal if I ever get to build my retirement home (which will be on a small urban lot).

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 2:06PM
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Someone mentioned that a person should look at the exterior of your house when placing windows. I had that come up in building a cabin at our resort years ago. I chose to center the window in the room inside...would have looked very bad centered with the building outside. So there are circumstances where you place windows to look correct on the inside rather than the outside.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 2:14PM
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Hoo, boy, Pal, you have hit a sensitive subject for me, too!

I once worked on a new house with a design/build company run by a friend of the couple for whom the house was being built. Neither the designer nor the contractor knew the meaning of the word "fenestration." I found that out during our first meeting over the plans. I said, "I don't quite understand the fenestration on this end wall," and the builder said, "I don't think they want to fenestrate that wall."

The front facade was not too awful bad, except for the incomprehensible array of intersecting roof lines (care to start a thread about that?), and the fact that the windows at the far ends of the facade were about two feet too close to the corner, which made the whole thing look insubstantial, as if it were built with popsicle sticks.

But the sides? Clearly, they hired a nearsighted seagull to drop images of randomly chosen windows onto the elevation drawings. Why? Because the interior plan was so poorly thought out that the rooms and their baths and closets bore no reasonable relationship to the flow or function of the second floor.

The back, of course, was a giant two-story bank lobby with a huge fieldstone fireplace, and four sets of sliders, each with what was intended to be a Palladian window above it, but the only relationship they had to a real Palladio design was a half-round bit at the top. And, of course, false muntins, so that the whole wall looked gridded with adhesive tape.

It was the first job I ever fired myself from. It was that, or arson.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 3:48PM
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A classical architect, a vernacular building and most modernists will take into consideration both the inside placement and the exterior fa�ade.

Classical architecture is often not symmetrical, just very well balanced. The windows in my Greek Revival building are neither centered on the fa�ade, nor symmetrical, because that would put some windows too close to the ends of the rooms on toward the fireplace walls and toward the walls where they are free standing vs. attached to the neighboring house.

Neither are the windows exactly centered inside.

Likewise. my new house, a modernist, presents almost perfectly symmetrical front and back facades (there are no side facades; it's attached.

But the interior is almost perfectly symmetrical as well, except for one feature: the bedrooms each have a wall of closets on one side.

This throws the window into a completely asymmetrical location within each bedroom, but it is an intelligent asymmetry. Because there is much more space on one side of the window than the other, there are actually several logical places to position a bed or beds.

Contrast this to my sister's new town house built along classical lines. The front is completely symmetrical as to window placement, with the front door substituting for one window. Each room has a window or pair of windows centered within it as well.

This throws off the back fa�ade as mentioned above. But it also does something else.

The living room has no wall for a sofa unless the back of it impinges on a window. Each bedroom has exactly one spot for a bed, or else it would be in front of the window, and the sills are at 24". Really the Master has no wall for a bed, because a queen barely fits between the two windows, and the nightstands and lamps, by default, are in front of the windows.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 4:25PM
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It would be great if we could all build our own homes and choose where the windows go but in the real world most of us buy our homes already built and just have to deal with it. I have a 1915 house that has three windows in the living room one window starts out at one corner about two inchs from the sidewall and theres about 4 inchs between the three windows then the last window is about a foot from the other side wall but there is a built in starting on that side wall that makes it about a inch from the sidewall. The window faces a stunning year round view but the road angles just right in front of our house so that someone in a tall truck can look right up into our bedroom door threw that livingroom window. Its only a issue at night so blinds work really well. The windows looked harsh without treatments and my only option after years of asking anyone who came here thier advise was to put up multiple window tiebacks about the window and hang a long window scarf across all three windows. I don,t have window treaments in the kitchen washroom or bathrooms but in this case the window just seemed naked without one. My mainbathroom is another story we have a large window in thier that I love for the natural light but it faces the driveway. I solved that with spray on frost that has to be redone yearly. It lets the light in but doesn,t let someone in the driveway see you sitting directly across from it on the toilet. This window has bathroom towers inches from the frame that prevent curtains from being used unless they were kept closed.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 7:51PM
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Luckily, though, most older houses have treatment friendly windows. I would say the real problem with windows, and proportions generally--mushroomed within the last 25-30 years.

Some of the problems we have in older houses seems to be related to all the rules that have cropped up regarding current window treatment fashions.

Sill length curtains, and window treatments that partially cover the window even when open are currently TABOO: all drapery needs to touch the floor, all treatments have to expose every square millimeter of glass when opened. For decades, it was okay to use short drapes over radiators and cover a little bit of glass. To do so Now, is apparently tasteless and darkens the room by half.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 8:06PM
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I said, "I don't quite understand the fenestration on this end wall," and the builder said, "I don't think they want to fenestrate that wall."


    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 8:14PM
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Have to agree about older homes and current fashions window- wise. I can't imagine anything other than length of window curtains for most of the windows in this old farmhouse. The windows on the second floor are closer to the floor than to the ceiling and narrow. Ceiling height and/ or floor length curtains would just look silly.

Regarding windows in general: the house design mags I've seen for the past 10 + years have showcased huge windows with arches and such that look totally out of proportion to the house. My thought about these has always been "just because it can be done doesn't mean it should be."

I think some folks saw the two story great room with (typically) a wall of windows as being grand. Much grander than they thought they could ever afford. Sold!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 9:25PM
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Our house was built in the early 1800's - more federal style thank Greek. Our roof overhang (18"+) shades all the windows on the 2nd floor in the summer - no direct sunlight. Natures way to cool the bedrooms. In the winter the sun is lower in the sky and can come into the room to warm it. I spent hours and hours picking out the kitchen addition windows to live harmoniously and proportionally with the rest of the house. I cringe when I see a house with "bad" windows.

Interesting that our 2nd floor windows are about a foot lower in the wall than the 1st floor windows compared to the floor. Outside you don't notice it.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 11:20PM
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The windows in my Greek Revival are set at different relationships to the floor, are slightly narrower, and are all 6 over 6, but with smaller panes as one ascends, and the top floor is 3/3 in the scale of a single sash of 6/6.

It provides a taper and various other visual aspects which improve the fa�ade of a tall narrow building. This is almost Never executed in a modern version of this style.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 11:49PM
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I don't care for the developments with no windows on the sides of the houses, might as well live in an interior unit of a condo. We wanted cross breezes and light all around, so built a home without an attached garage and have many windows on all 4 sides. We don't have window treatments except in the bedrooms, I love my nekkid windows and don't really care if others think it odd, light is the driver for us. However, you can't see our home from the one lane, rutted dirt road, and we have a heavily treed area in the back and a lake out front, so just neighbors on the side, only one of which is here year round.

Interesting perspectives from all.


    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 9:20AM
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Consistent, symmetrical, functional, and esthetically pleasing fenestration contributes more to the beauty and livability of a house than almost any other aspect. Weird sizing, placement and combinations of windows is one of my pet peeves. Nothing says "upscale trailer park" like those cheap little windows above the toilet in the bathroom of an otherwise nicer house.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 9:30AM
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I think the Victorians excelled at exuberant, asymmetrical, weird window placement. But the entire fa�ade was usually pretty over the top.

One of the problems of side elevation windows and/or lack of them is housing development lot lines. The vast majority of "off the rack" house designs are geared toward zero or near zero lot line.

My sister's new purchase has a set of large double windows in her dining room (necessary because the room occupies the midsection of the house and would otherwise be windowless, and a corresponding set in the upper stair hall, which is almost a room.

The problem is that the neighboring, mirror-image, house that is about 10-12 feet away, has the identical windows, so you peer right into each other's dining rooms, and right into each other's bedroom/bath circulation areas. These windows automatically require a double window treatment: one that lets a lot of light in during the day, when you can't see in, so much, and softens the view of vinyl siding and another window, and another one that provides privacy at night. I've had the situation where I needed to do THREE, because the light from next door or the street was so bright it lit up the interior. (Sheer, privacy, and complete blackout) one treatment won't do, because it creates a negative situation when not needed. Who wants to put a blackout shade down at mid day just because some screening privacy is needed. Likewise, a sheer or matchstick shade might as well be transparent to your neighbors at night. I have seen much more than I have wanted to see of people who think their window treatments don't let you see IN, simply because they can't see OUT.

So builders either leave out windows on the sides or come up with an arrangement that puts them in weird locations so they are offset from their neighbors, at least.

The real issue is when this house is built on a regular lot or in a rural area, and the side facades are treated as if there is a neighbor just feet away. There should be opportunities for modification, and they are not missed.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 11:05AM
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Ah, architecture.
A sadly undervalued discipline these days.

Here's a quote from "A Concise History of American Architecture," an interesting book by Leland Roth (1979-80):

"Shaping the environment for utilitarian or symbolic ends is architecture in its broadest sense. To build well involves a synthesis of optimum function, sound construction, and sensory stimulation, a formula first elaborated by the Roman architect Vitruvius."

In my view, the common thread that connects all these unsatisfying houses is a failure to resolve the intersecting and overlapping requirements of a house and the life within it into a coherent whole.

It's made more difficult by the problem of designing with the available modules to keep costs rational, which means even multiples of 4' X 8' sheets and 2x4 framing, neither of which result in pleasing proportions.

Then there's the problem of all the overlapping, unregulated trades that go into making a house, or a development of houses, with fast profit as the overriding decision points.

There are zillions of great tradespeople and craftsmen, but we don't do anything to insure that only qualified reliable people are allowed to do the work that affects our lives every day more than anything else.

End of rant.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 1:04PM
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Pal, your last post brings up a good point, especially when combined with your post about current trends in window treatments.

When you combine "glass cannot be covered at all" with "huge windows 10 feet from neighbor's huge windows," clearly something will have to give.

I've lived in several older (1880-1920) houses in cities, where the house next door is 10-15 feet away and your windows look directly into your neighbors' windows. But the expectation at the time those houses were built was that there would be more than one "window treatment." A roller shade for privacy and blackout. Sheers for daytime privacy. And probably drapes for decoration/added warmth in winter. And you learn to just not stare out your windows when the view is your neighbor's kitchen or living room. Trust me, you do not want to see your neighbor strolling into his kitchen at 6 am clad only in boxer shorts. Not before your first cup of coffee. Yes, little cafe curtains went up really fast. And the neighbor was soon seen sporting a new bathrobe.

In my current 1900 house on a small lot, you can clearly see on the window trim where cafe length curtains were hung, on the kitchen windows and several other windows as well. And this house was probably originally owned by frugal New Englanders, who would have valued all the daylight they could get, so as not to have to turn on the gas lights and spend money.

One apartment I had was in an 1820's house that had been divided up in to 5 units. My living room was the original living room. There were two windows where just the window sashes were 86" tall. The molding on them went down to the baseboard and up to the crown molding. The molding was elaborate and many layered. I put up simple panels on tension rods inside the window, and just let the molding frame both the window and the window treatment.

Yes, the panels blocked a bit of sunlight. But there were four 72" tall windows in the bay window on the adjacent wall so the room was pretty bright all day long.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 1:08PM
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Our last house was a '59 Cape Cod. It had a big picture window in the living room. Not any great view, and everyone could see what we were doing. (And sometimes would comment on it later!) It also had those windows that are not in proportion and up high (good for bringing in light and saving floor space, but ugly to me). No trim!

When we looked for this house . . .I looked at windows. If it had ugly ones, it was out. The one we picked ('27) may not be for most people. It has only 2 windows in the living room, and the placement is such that there is almost complete privacy. Off to the side is a sun room, so more light comes in there, as well as view of trees. Light also comes in from the front door, which is a spiderweb design (quirky to me, but I like it). All of the windows have trim. They are in proportion to me. I can easily put up window treatments-- or not. The PO had dark silk curtains and sheers. I took down the curtains, and then the sheers, so I can enjoy the trim. I am going to make valances just to add pattern (LR has w to w carpeting, which is not my favorite look but functionally has turned out to make the most sense).

I think (?) your underlying sentiment, Pal, is that if we have to work too hard to make something work it is poor design, or at least that is what has happened to me. I always think of a model person-- even w/poor deco skills the pretty, good bones house looks at least OK.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 1:32PM
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Anele, to your point about houses with good bones, I think of the catalogs that sell okay, not-too-bad, ordinary furniture, and place it in an architecturally fabulous space beautifully arranged and decorated.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 3:38PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Room with a view:

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 6:41PM
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