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Windows that reflect on architecture

By Allen Norwood
Correspondent

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  • The looking glass

    • Windows are more efficient than ever, thanks to insulated glass and other improvements, but the extra weight and thickness means the wood strips, or muntins, between the panes have to be larger. The grille isn’t as delicate as it would be in a Colonial-era window.

    • Window makers also produce what they call simulated divided-light windows. Each sash has double-pane glass. There’s a grille on the outside and a matching grille on the inside, both permanently mounted. In some models, a piece is mounted between the two panes to make it look as if the muntin goes all the way through. “That’s the window we typically use,” said Jim Phelps, one of Charlotte’s top luxury-home designers.

    • At the very upper end, a true-divided light window, made up of several panes of glass, might be painted wood. A simulated divided light window might be painted or stained on the inside and clad with aluminum on the outside. More affordable windows are typically vinyl, with the grille between the two panes.



Windows are perhaps the most important architectural elements on any home. All of us can see that, and we react to it, even if we can’t find the words to explain exactly why a window of a particular style, size or shape complements the house.

We certainly can see when a window looks glaringly out of place. Ouch!

Window makers work hard to create collections of windows that are appropriate for homes of different periods or themes: formal Georgian, Prairie, Arts and Crafts or contemporary. Collections have to be large enough to let you choose not only the window of appropriate size and shape, but also related items such as transoms, arches and doors. Components ought to blend. (When they don’t – again – ouch!)

It’s similar to the process paint companies use to pull together colors that are historically accurate or that capture a mood or place. You can use colors from the palette in lots of different ways to add your personal touch, but you’ll know that the colors will work well together and complement your home.

“Absolutely, absolutely,” said Jay Libby, manager of marketing services for Andersen Windows. “... That’s a good description.”

Defining styles

Andersen, the country’s largest window maker, earlier this year introduced its Home Style Library. It created descriptions and illustrations of different building styles and appropriate windows. Styles include Tudor, Spanish Colonial, Queen Anne, American farmhouse, Georgian, Craftsman, Prairie and ranch.

You can peruse the library at Andersen’s website (www.andersenwindows.com) and see which style matches your home.

The company surveyed the country’s houses to figure out what styles and themes are most common, Libby said. Then it cataloged the windows that defined each style.

Colonial homes in the Northeast feature tall, double-hung windows with vertical panes. Windows in newer ranch homes are more horizontal. Distinctive grids in Prairie-style homes define that look.

Details make the look

Window details matter. Colors, trim molding profiles and – especially – grille patterns all determine the final look.

Jim Phelps, one of Charlotte’s top luxury-home designers, is a strong proponent of “true divided light.” That means that each pane – or light – is actually a separate piece, puttied into its own frame.

“I love that look,” he said. “It gives these older homes their charm.”

In some historic areas, rules say that windows must be true divided light.

Homeowner associations often dictate certain acceptable grille patterns, according to Jen Cesmat, who helps homeowners select windows from Marvin and other manufacturers at Hoke Lumber in Davidson.

Popular grille patterns include the familiar 9-over-9, she said, or perhaps three panes in the upper sash and a single pane in the lower.

Contemporary homes might have windows with no grilles. The naked window look isn’t for everybody, though.

In one Lake Norman neighborhood, Cesmat said, the association required grilles. A homeowner installed them – and then, months later, removed the detachable grilles.

Rules hang over windows

Today’s building codes limit some of the choices you can make when selecting windows. The code dictates how high windows can be off the floor, or how much open area is required for escape in case of a fire.

Hugely, though, window choices are based on price.

Phelps said the rule of thumb is that windows should cost 8 to 10 percent of the value of the house. Windows for a $300,000 house, in other words, would be $30,000 or less.

Perfect placement

On most homes, the front is the most formal facade. Windows are more likely to be centered or arranged in balanced geometrical patterns.

On the other three sides of the house, inside appearance and function play a larger role.

When you see a house with a window that seems out of scale, it can be easy to imagine why the owner made that choice. He might have decided, “Hey, if I make this dormer window lots bigger – I’ll have lots more light in the bedroom.” Then his choice dwarfs other windows.

Phelps said he runs into that when designing homes on the lake, where owners want to make the most of the views they paid so much for. Instead of stacking lots of windows with small panes, he might look for ways to incorporate large single panes and blend traditional with contemporary.

“It’s a team effort,” he said, “among the builder, designer, architect and window maker.”

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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