In recent months, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about windows.
So, after all of this time, I think it’s a great idea to talk about the best windows. Not to scare you, (too much) however, if you want to be sure to muck up your home, getting your windows wrong is an easy and super-expensive way to do it.
The most prevalent question is about the “new” and trendy black frames. Yes or no? That’s a very good question and we will be addressing it, as well.
We will not be getting into more technical things like energy efficiency and noise blocking. By the way, I have a friend who has the latter type in the city and they really work!
One reason I most likely haven’t spoken about windows so much is because it’s not something I’ve ever specified. However, windows are my favorite architectural feature. My dream is to have a house something like this one. But, really, a third of it would be fine.
But wait. Actually, my inner secretary just walked in to inform me that I have specified windows before. Well, it was a long time ago.
I know that I’ve told this one before, but since I don’t remember when or where, here it is again.
It was Thanksgiving weekend 1993. And, I was visiting my folks in Wisconsin when my step-dad, Mark asked me if I could help him with the design of a new building that he was going to have built for his business. It was going into a brand new industrial park in a neighboring town. Oh, and of course, he would pay me. :]
Well, I imagine that I smiled sweetly. And, said something like, “oh, gosh, I’d love to help you, Mark, but I’m an interior designer.” But, seeing that he was looking anxious, I told him that I’d have a look.
He whipped out the plans immediately and tried to lay them flat on the table.
Oh, you already know the deal. Otherwise, there would be no story.
Yes, utter shite.
Whoever had just phoned in the same old boring commercial dwelling; squat, bare-bones; just a plain, ugly building with a few random windows.
I looked up and said. “What do you think?” He said that he was pretty underwhelmed. I said that I was very underwhelmed.
Then, I thought back to all of the work I had done in design school and remembered that much of it was architectural in nature. Anything would be better than this! So, I told Mark that I’d give it a go and completely redesigned the entire facade as well as the interior!
Sadly, I don’t have any photos, because the windows are pretty cool. That is, until today!
Gosh, I couldn’t even remember the town. And my mom sold Mark’s business circa 2006, five years after he died. But, somehow I managed to find the town and from there, I had a hunch as to the name of the street.
And, what I did was get on Google Maps and I started virtually driving down the street. Raise your hand if you’ve ever done that. It’s a helluva lot of fun. You just take your arrow and drive down the street with your computer mouse.
However, what’s really funny is I went a few virtual blocks and thought, no, it’s in the other direction! It must’ve been Mark. So, I turned the “car” around and virtually drove down about a half mile and OMG!!! there it was on the left!
The windows to the right of the door with the awning are all square with nine panes.
Each of those is a separate office space for the principals of the company. Mark had the corner office.
I thought the windows were the same on the front of the building, but at least the first one is. But, apparently, the middle one is a double. The one on the left had to be the same as the one on the right, but it looks like it got changed at some point.
The building needed to be made out of this cinder block that was molded to resemble limestone.
The small windows on the side were for the call station. Every operator would have their own window to look out of.
In the clerestory, I designed a reveal to mimic the shape of the windows, but placed between two windows.
The original building ended there. But, they needed more space, so they added on later.
Afterward, I was told that the developers of the park liked the building so much that they encouraged new builders to use it as a prototype.
And yes, my step-dad paid a fair amount more than he had originally planned, but he said that it was worth it because he enjoyed being there so much. At that point, I had only gone to design school and had worked for others for only a few years.
It just goes to show that if you think you can’t do something, think again.
That’s been a lesson driven home to me over and over throughout my life.
Okay. Time to move on. There’s a lot to cover with windows. And, of course, I’m not going to be able to go into everything, but hope to get to the bulk of your questions.
Let’s begin with what not to do with our windows. And, believe me. There’s a lot not to do. But, this one is precious.
The other day, I received an email from Gail who frequently leaves the most lovely comments. She lives on Vancouver Island, BC. Here’s what she shared:
I just had to send you pictures of this. We have a painful new trend in our neighborhood. Early 20th century homes are coming down and in their place, they are putting up these modern boxes.
please do not pin unless to a blooper board
Some builders have decided to try to make the boxes match the early 20th century homes by applying fake composite panel siding made to look like uneven, crooked shingles.
Why crooked you ask?
I have no freaking idea! My early 20th century home has shingles and they’re perfectly straight. Oh and we might as well paint them brilliant yellow while we’re at it. Check out the weird windows down the side. This one sold for over a million bucks!!
please do not pin
I swear. I just sat here staring at this abomination for at least ten minutes, just shaking my head in disbelief. Please, tell me are there any two windows that are identical? It took me a while, but I finally figured out that those bizarre little windows directly underneath the eaves are meant as a means of emergency egress for the rats dwelling in the attic. You know, in case of a fire or something. Right?
Oh, so bad. So bad.
In addition, a larger window NEVER goes over a smaller window; not to mention that these are not the right kind of windows.
The Color. The FAKE CROOKED SHINGLES!!!
And wait. Not that I wish to see more of them. haha. But, why on earth do they just stop two thirds of the way? Did they run out of them? Maybe the company went out of business? Let’s pray together.
Pity. Maybe some irate neighbor came in the middle of the night and stole them?
I could go on, (and on…) but I won’t. It boggles the mind. Oh man. I do hope those wires are only like that temporarily. Or maybe that’s what’s keeping this place from blowing away?
Yes, please! Make it blow away. Do they have hurricanes in Vancouver?
Thank you Gail. You definitely have my sympathy. She also sent me a photo of her home’s facade and it’s wonderful. Of course, it looks nothing like this.
I was going to make a graphic of all of the parts of a window, but I thought rather than bust my hump with that, I am directing you back to Mcmansion Hell as she made an excellent graphic. And, she shares many more abominations featuring how not to do your residential windows.
Laurel, please, oh please address the black windows. Yes? No? I’ll hate myself in 10-15 years if we do it? We’ll be the laughing stock of the neighborhood? Or, maybe that’s all wrong and it’s timeless?
Okay. Fine. Let’s do that.
The answer is yes and no.
Sorry, you knew it wouldn’t be cut and dry. That’s because there are so many variables. Don’t I always say that?
Look, black window frames are not anything new. They’ve been around for centuries.
What’s new is combining black window frames with a “modern” (sorta) “farmhouse” (sorta) with a dark gray or black metal roof.
Yes, you already know. It’s a trend. And, yes, it’s most likely going to look dated.
If, you have to ask, that means that it’s probably not classic.
However, there are some situations where black frames are not only okay, they’re desirable.
Plus, there are some compelling reasons for doing black frames.
- They look better from the inside when looking out the window.
- And, they don’t ever get dirty, really.
- They never need painting, unless they are black painted wood. But I prefer iron muntins and frames.
However, it is never a mistake to paint everything white. Or paint the window frames (if wood) another color other than black or white.
In addition, there are some situations where white frames would be all wrong.
Let’s begin with some black window frames that IMO are not working and why.
Pretty self-explanatory. Those black “holes” are not very inviting, are they? And why the black columns and lintel? That’s weird. One look that I don’t mind is to have only the front door with the black frame and everything else is white.
The architecture isn’t bad, but those black frames and mullions are way too heavy looking, IMO. This, look, I fear will be dated before long.
O’more Showhouse– black window frames. These look great with the dark siding and rusticity of the stone.
This is the thing with black window frames.
They are almost always appropriate for an urban or rustic setting.
In addition, there are painted wood frames and these cool black iron frames. The latter, I love. In fact, I had a client who renovated a contemporary home and put them in. They are wonderful.
Cool townhouse in Tribeca, NYC with iron black window frames
And, Bobby McAlpine has been doing black window frames his entire career which is well over 30 years now. They are perfect for his style which is usually a blend of rusticity and a sophisticated urban, earthy flavor.
This is the building across the street from me. I just took these images. I’ve always loved these black-framed casement windows. They’re not ideal for the air-conditioners but otherwise, are lovely.
Interesting brick patterns here too!
Above and below, one of the most popular homes in San Francisco, photographed on instagram.
Too, too charming! I can’t tell for sure if these window frames are black or gray, blue. But, whatever, I think that this looks just right.
So, if you do black frames, please make them thin.
The black frames look appropriate, as well, on this modern Tudor-style house.
My friend and colleague Maria Killam wrote a very good blog post about black frames. She brings up some very valid points, as well.
Albeit, there’s no landscaping. And, what? Is that the electrical meter in the front of the house? While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this house, I feel that this look is going to look dated in a decade or so.
The Fox Group – Another beautiful website filled with gorgeous homes and ideas.
I think that this updated farmhouse style is far more classical. The only thing I would change are the window panes in the dormers. Ideally, they should match closely to the windows below. And it seems that they could’ve done a third row. Otherwise, the scale and position of the windows is excellent. And, I love the copper gutters and drain pipes.
By the way, I understand that the front door color is Benjamin Moore Iron Mountain, a charcoal gray with a cool tone.
This is another by the Fox Group and I think that these are the best windows and, actually everything is perfect.
Gil Schafer never makes an error. Perfect times three!!! Seriously; I’m not greedy. I’ll just take that middle section.
You know, when you see it done right, it makes so much sense. And then I see the train wrecks in this post; well, I’m still scratching my head.
But, again, white windows and white on white is never wrong.
New Orleans – gorgeous white on white windows – via Katy Considers – Julia Reed House
That’ll do! Love this house so much!
Please click on the following links for more inspiration about home exteriors and windows.
And, this post about front doors has some gorgeous windows too!
And funny, I wrote it over two years ago and touched on the black frames. My advice was the same. Tread lightly.
Well, it’s going on midnight. Hope that you enjoyed this post about the best windows. (and some that aren’t so great)
Of course, I’ve barely scratched the surface. So, let’s use the comments to discuss.