I was going to do a different post today, but then I felt I didn’t have enough information. So, fortunately, the blogging god came to my rescue. This afternoon I received an email from Serena about her horrid windows:
Your blog is a frequent resource for my design challenges as we gut renovate our 1850s house. I haven’t seen you address what to do when your windows “literally” sit on the floor.
My husband and I managed to lift the second-floor windows off the ground by 8 inches, but we can’t do much more without messing up the historical facade of our house. There is a huge amount of wall space between the top of our window and the ceiling. Any thoughts or design ideas would be appreciated to fix our horrid windows!
Hope you are well and all the best,
Serena then sent me a pic of her horrid windows. And well, frankly, I’m pretty horrified.
I mean, who builds a home with the windows so obviously misplaced on the wall? I’m assuming they were drunk. They had to be. Typically, for a six over six with an 8-foot ceiling, the sill is about 27″ above the floor.
Serena said the windows were actually ON the floor, and they lifted them eight inches. I think she means the actual window from the looks of the framing.
Could the windows have been made taller?
I don’t know, but it sounds like it wasn’t feasible. Suppose the house is brick or stone, fuhhhget about it. I mean, ANYTHING is possible, but the expense would be astronomical. If the home is clapboard or shingle, it would be easier. However, it looks like they are at the point now when undoing what’s been done would also be quite expensive.
However, if it IS doable, a good fix for these horrid windows might be the possibility of doing a transom window. At least they wouldn’t have to order an entirely new, very large, totally custom window or windows which would cost a fortune.
But, are transom windows historically accurate for an 1850 farmhouse?
Good question. Off the top of my head, I would say no, unless this home is in the south. Otherwise, 1850 was the tail end of the Greek Revival period into the early Victorian period. However, I don’t think it would be terrible to put in transoms.
However, is there a solution for these horrid windows that should have been about 15″ higher up on the wall?
And that means a solution that doesn’t involve the home’s exterior or the expense of adding an actual transom window.
Serena kindly sent me two ideas that would’ve worked if the horrid windows were merely a little low.
But, the windows aren’t a little low.
They are way lower than they should be. And, I think they still look strange, even though I love the mouldings Serena drew.
So, what’s left if we can’t move the windows, add to them, or add additional moulding to beef them up?
When all else fails, and you have a horrible interior design issue, there’s always smoke and mirrors.
Oh, come on, Laurel, what are you talking about?
I’m talking about illusion. Yes, just like a magician creates an alternative reality.
You know, like sawing a woman in half.
Would you like to know how they do it?
Here ya go. (If you don’t want to know how they do it, then don’t watch the video!)
Pretty cool, huh?
Yes, Laurel, but what are you going to do? Saw the window in half?
Ummm, no silly, but I will do a trick that will create the illusion that the window is at the appropriate height.
Here is what I propose to take care of the horrid windows. And, there are a few options, as well.
But first, please take a moment to think about what you would do and see if you had the same idea(s) as me. Or, maybe you have an even better idea.
Let’s begin by looking at the horrid windows if there were two side by side.
I left off all mouldings, including the baseboard. The measurements are approximate, and for our purposes, that is fine.
For this image, I added the crown moulding and baseboard trim. In addition, there is a faux transom added above the window.
Above I showed that you could do the back of the transom with sheetrock, or perhaps with mirror and muntins to match the windows.
So, if you do the mirrored transom, you could just put up curtains and hang them under the crown moulding.
Will the mirror look funny above the window?
I don’t know. I’ve never done it, and if it were for a client, I probably wouldn’t take the chance.
However, my better ideas are coming up for the horrid windows.
Serena could add an inside mount Roman Shade if she does the transom.
Please check out this post that’s all about Roman Shades.
Or, she could do an outside mount shade if she leaves the windows as is. The trick is that the Shade MUST have a blackout lining.
Lots of designers do Roman shades with blackout lining routinely. One reason is that light filtering through fabric changes the color(s).
Lovely interior design by Sheila Bridges, who, as far as I know, usually does blackout lining for her Roman Shades.
And, here in Sheila Bridges’ lovely kitchen is another Roman Shade with blackout lining. Remember Sheila’s wonderful Harlem Toile fabric?
She could also add curtains. They don’t have to be this heavy, and they don’t have to be the same fabric. In fact, Serena could do woven wood shades.
However, I’m actually preferring the solution on the right with the outside mount.
I think Serena could do this treatment with or without creating the faux transom.
The reason for doing it is in case she changes her mind one day about what window treatment to do.
One important note: If doing the outside Roman Shade with curtains, the curtain brackets will need to be a little deeper than usual. Five inches should be fine. Please check out this post, all about drapery hardware.
Above, from Sheila Bridges portfolio, a long Roman shade layered underneath draperies.
Who knows? Maybe Sheila used this same trick to camouflage the height of the windows in this gorgeous apartment on Gramercy Park in New York City. Please check it out here; the details are beautiful!
Another favorite post with lots of cool ideas for difficult windows is here. Plus a lot of other horrid windows and unsuccessful solutions, as well.
But, for the ULTIMATE WINDOW TREATMENT GUIDE, please go here.
In any case, I think this trick turned these horrid windows into stunning “floor-to-ceiling” windows. Therefore, instead of being an eyesore, the windows will become an asset.
PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES and especially the Serena & Lily 20% off custom upholstery sale and new women’s clothing if you’re into that.
Yes, you definitely do not want to cut into the entablature or mess around with the pilasters with a 1853 Greek Revival! I have also seen such windows replaced with smaller and higher ones, and they never look right.
Most houses pre-1930 or so were designed from the outside-in, and they often sacrificed interior design for exterior design balance, even for vernacular homes. Low second floor windows are common in all kinds of 19th century houses. It would have been nice to see an exterior photo to illustrate how it looks from the outside. Also, bedrooms then were functional and not show spaces, so interior design was less important in those spaces than the exterior and the front rooms.
Most larger houses at that time were built and designed by master carpenters/builders based on pattern design books, and rules of proportion. Architecture as a profession was in its infancy–in fact the first professional school of architecture in the world was started in 1865 at MIT! That doesn’t mean that homes built by carpenters were poorly designed; like all buildings, some are better than others.
I think Laurel has provided some lovely options to make the windows look better on the inside, and if you installed double-hung windows with full screens, They can function well too by opening the bottom AND the top by just a small amount–that way the bottom pulls in cool air and the top will vent hot air.
Most people never use the top part of a double-hung because the triple-track storm windows can’t do that, and they just don’t think to lower the top in addition to or instead of raising the bottom. A dowel rod inserted into the top sash can prevent raising the bottom sash too high while keeping fire safety, and you can install a decorative interior gated barrier or barricade the lower sash with furniture in children’s rooms for safety sake.
The headline is very misleading–neither the contractor nor the original carpenter are drunk
Very architects are trained in classical design and it would be nearly impossible to get the proportions and detailing right, and would be very expensive to do so.
As always your posts are the best solutions for everyone, really great, love all the content of your blog❤❤❤❤❤❤
Say, Julie, what you posted about windows, closet-less rooms, and taxes in NOLA has me wondering…do you all have laundry room sinks there? In the Deep South here in the heart of football country (AL), we have NO laundry sinks! I can’t imagine why this is, although now that I think about it, our house was going to be taxed higher if we had a double sink in our master bath. Talk about regional differences…give me a laundry sink!
May we readers interpret the title as saying the original architect/builder of the 1850’s house was drunk? Surely you aren’t referring to the current contractor, who is working around the constraints of a historical facade.
Likely the only way to maintain the exterior details in this case would be to install shorter windows and shift them up (which these may be – the follower mentioned:
“My husband and I managed to lift the second-floor windows off the ground by 8 inches, but we can’t do much more without messing up the historical facade of our house”).
I had similar thoughts to Jim. Windows are at a certain height on the walls for safety reasons.
I love your solution regardless. Its so creative, elegant and simple.
Thanks for the smile with the magic video. My husband was a professional magician for a while and I always loved trying to figure out the illusions without his help. It gave me fun memories of that time.
Putting myself in place of your inquiring reader, upon digesting your alternative (camouflage) window treatment idea, I would heave a deep sigh of relief that you, Laurel Bern, had presented me with a simple, doable (possibly diy) solution to what I had seen as an enormous burden requiring a costly sophisticated approach. Relieved by your inexpensive idea, I’d be whistling a happy tune right now and appreciating the sprinkling of affordability you often attach to your substantial professional expertise. 🙂
I have to tell you one of the houses we built years ago I stopped by at lunch to check progress and they had put the walls together on the floor and then lifted them into place. The wall was upside down. Opposite of these drunken windows in your post. They were about 36” off the floor leaving a less than desirable amount of space above the windows.
Crazy things can happen in a short amount of time during construction. 🙃
In stupid New Orleans, this is common. I don’t know if doors were taxed or something, but a lot of balconies have windows that rest on the floor, and that is how you go outside. I wish I was making this up because we do all seem drunk all the time. Sigh. I’m saying taxes because it’s also the reason we have no closets. They were counted as “rooms”. Most people just live with it. Curtains make it harder to use the door/window. But I’m loving this post and thinking about the Roman shade idea. Never thought to do anything about it til this post. Thanks!
Laurel, your titanic comment made me laugh out loud. There were a couple of reader comments about making the contractor fix it, and I have to assume they didn’t really read your post at all. But I totally loved your comment!
Hi Robin, I think your assessment regarding some not really reading the post is correct.
What a wonderful door/window height proportion solution, Laurel.
Another brilliant idea! Thank you Laurel. Your blog is the absolute best.
A few years ago, I renovated an 1860s historic house in Albany, Oregon. The second-floor windows were actually framed at floor level and that was an original detail. The house had to go through historic review and that confirmed their placement. So it was possibly a conscious design choice rather than a “drunken mistake.”
I’m sticking with drunk. The reason is: Whether it was a lucid choice or not, the proportions are off. And, as Jim pointed out, there are safety issues that need to be remedied.
Your solution is the one I guessed! I feel like I passed a test, haha.
Hi Laurel, Great post which gave me a good idea for a bedroom in my house… I have 3 windows on one wall and on a perpendicular wall, another window which is quite a bit lower than the others. it has always bugged me. I’m going to look into the blackout roman shades all hung at the same height. Thanks!
Laurel, loved this post. Sooo – this problem of windows being “mis-installed” also happens in new builds. It happened to our house. The front facing windows in our upstairs bedrooms were lower than the windows on their side walls. Why? The architect/builder was worried about how the outside of the house would look. Having never built a home before, this was one of the problems that went unrealized UNTIL I wanted custom window coverings. (Having been house poor the first couple of years I made due with roller shades – so ugly but provided privacy). AND This is where a good interior designer earns her fees. She immediately pointed out the problem – and recommended your solution. Everything is balanced and it makes our 8ft ceilings look higher. You would never guess the windows are different heights. I loved reading this post! Thank you.
Hmm. Through the door ajar, I see another window set up the same way.
Laurel kindly provides the perfect cosmetic fix, of course. No one would be the wiser.
And Parnassus raises a very valid point in his comment; *If* those windows are on the second floor, and there is not a balcony beyond them, and they are not then glazed on the bottom half with tempered safety glass, I don’t see how they pass building inspection/code. In my area, they would not. I wish Serena luck in this aspect!
Such an informative post, and many insightful comments. When I moved to the deep South, the tiny piece of trim with angled edges on the bottom of impossibly low windows always bothered me. I had lived my whole life prior to moving in the Midwest, where stained wood trim completely casing the windows is the norm ( or was). I did grow to love the low windows on the first floor when my boys were little….they could pull themselves up to the sill, and peer out at the world without my help. I did worry about the low windows ( 14″ off the floor) on the second floor though, so my husband sunk screws in the window frames to prevent them from opening too far. I know it was a fire hazard, but we would have smashed the windows in case of fire, and I actually chopped a hole in my son’s door when he was 8 months old when the knob broke and I couldn’t get in after his nap! (And my husband still loves me 😊)
Currently I live in a house that’s one level, 100 years old, and low ceilings. I’m going to try the idea of the Roman shade to get some height in the rooms.
Thanks for so many great ideas! I do hope Serena will send some “after” pictures when the house is done!
PS: The prior child who lived in our boys’ nursery loved Peter Pan, and often dressed in full costume. Once when he was young, his mother walked by the bedroom. He had removed the window screen, and was standing on the sill, with only his forehead pressed against the raised window frame. ” Drury, WHAT are you doing??!!” “I’m thinking happy thoughts, Mommy!” ” Get. Down. Now.” ( Thus the screws to prevent opening too far!!!)
Brilliant ideas, Laurel!
I might go with natural woven shades with blackout lining and place 2 skirted tables in front of those windows to hide the lower half of the window.
bookshelves on either side of the window that also go along the top of the window…
Faux transom was my first thought. Great ideas, as always, Laurel.
Love your blog! Your advice and knowledge are always spot on. Best of all, love your wonderful sense humor!
Just what I needed to read this morning! I have a similar problem upstairs in my gambrel roofed 1915 farmhouse. Your solution with the shade and curtains is perfect for me. Thank you!!!
Hello Laurel, The kitchen by Sheila Bridges is indeed wonderful, but doesn’t that fixture remind you of the tannis-root pendant from Rosemary’s Baby? About the windows, your solutions are brilliant, but since these are on the second floor my main concern would be the safety issue. Perhaps some kind of bars, or fixed lower sashes, or high-security storm windows, or built-in window seats could work. I have often seen first floor windows like that, which were French windows that led out to some kind or porch or balcony. Sometimes the porch was later removed, leaving odd windows at floor level that led nowhere. I have seen split shutters that were kept closed over the bottom part of such windows, but these were still first-floor windows.
Excellent point, Jim. And you’re right. There needs to be a window guard or balcony of some sort.
My daughter just bought and moved into a house built in 1866. I think they had the same drunk contractor.
The original windows are floor to ceiling, but the additional windows upstairs are all random. One jammed in a corner, one in the middle of the wall, three different sizes. It’s crazy.
We just hung everything at the same height and tried to make them appear the same width. It’s a challenge.
Fran’s comment is 100% correct. IF the windows are the approximations of what the house would have originally had (size, style), they should also be placed correctly. Many 1850’s homes had low – even right to floor windows – ON THE GROUND FLOOR, but there are strong regional differences. The second or third story is another matter completely. If the placement of the window is inconsistent with how it should be : stop now. Do not try to cover this up. Since the room appears nearly gutted I assume that there is also work happening on the exterior of the house.
Good morning Laurel,
First, it was great to read that Serena is preserving the historic facade of the house. That’s key, and wonderful that you shared that fact right at the beginning.
I love your solution with outside mount Roman shades and curtains installed high on the wall. It looks simply stunning!
Thank you, Laurel. I knew you’d come up with an interesting idea, and I loved reading the comments and ideas.
To answer some of the questions here, the house was built in 1853 by a carpenter, and the windows had not been changed when we purchased the house. All of the second floor windows sit on the floor (the first floor windows are fine). Low second floor windows seem to be common in our little town, but ours is an exaggerated version of the problem.
The house is listed as a Greek Revival (historical district). It has Doric pilasters and an entablature consisting of both a cornice and architrave. If we lift the windows any further, it will start to cut into the entablature and we’d have to redo the pilasters. That would be too big of a project involving an architect. We opted to preserve the historical façade of the house.
Your window solution is awesome. I’m curious, are they adding 4 inches of depth to the wall or is the framing just temporary. It looks like the old moldings are on the window but new sashes. a deeper wall will require new windows sills, etc. What about the door frame – right up against the wall? Will that work?
Given that the house is from the 1850’s, they could have been placed intentionally. I cannot remember exactly where, but we toured an old home down south a few years ago. It had windows down to the floor. Our tour guide mentioned them, and said that when the house was built, people were taxed on how many doors were in the home. So, they built the windows so that you could remove the glass (I think she said by pushing it up inside the wall above, which also would explain why the windows didn’t go higher).
I love your recommended solution for outside mount Roman shades and drapes! That recommendation would likely be the most affordable and practical solution. Way to go Laurel and way to go Serena for asking Laurel for help!
Windows installed at this height are not in compliance with the International Building Code. Report the contractor to the local building official and your state’s Home Builder Licensure Board. Most states have a recovery fund. If you file legal action against the contractor, the recovery fund should pay for damages (if he is licensed).
Ugh. I had the same issue in our bedroom which has 11 ft ceilings. I did outside mounted blackout shades with drapery panels and the problem went away. Plus it looks fabulous, and you’d never know there’s a massive expanse of Sheetrock above the window casings. Definitely agree, make sure shades have blackout lining and drapery brackets are deep enough to project beyond the shades for ease of operation. Stylish and relatively inexpensive solution to a very annoying problem!
All my windows are stupid like this, bc our equally stupid builder ditched the transoms and didn’t adjust the window height.
A carpenter told me to treat the windows as a door when applying mouldings, which is exactly what you’ve shown here…great renderings!
These are the exact options Ive been considering, along with faking the height with woven shades… About a year ago i sent a photo and you very kindly helped me confirm the roman shade curtain option to fake the height. Simpler than mouldings and no one would have seen them anyway. It looks so much better!
So much to learn here in Laurel land!
Fran Harrison, that was my very first thought – what does this look on the outside? Would be interesting to see the exterior view.
Laurel, I am a big fan! My Early Sunday mornings are usually spent reading your bog and saving pics! Love your to the point advice and great eye! This is all followed my by daily gratitude list, which you are included! 💋💋💋
Daren in DC
OMG, brilliant! What a great solution. Laurel, you are so good!
Hi Laurel, One major consideration: this is an 1850 house – how do the windows look from the exterior? Are they on the first or second floor? Original windows / placement, or the result of an earlier renovation? Any decisions to alter the windows should be made with consideration of the whole structure, not piecemeal room-by-room. Living on the south coast of Maine, I’ve seen too many historic homes wrecked by “gut renovations” driven by ignorance and HGTV overdose.
Nothing is changing on the exterior. Perhaps I was unclear. In addition, I don’t know what the house looked like a year ago or 50 years ago, or 172 years ago.
Fantastic! Love your clever solutions!
One of my great aunts lived in a late 1800s house which had very low windows like Serena’s in the second floor bedrooms. Mother windows in my aunt’s house were original, so I guess it was a deliberate design choice made by the builder. My aunt’s house was not an actual farm house, but located in a very small rural town.
I presumed that the reason for this was to improve the air circulation in the hot summers. While that doesn’t make a lot of sense, after all hot air rises. The nights I spent sleeping there as a guest, the room did indeed cool off quickly.
That doesn’t help Serena and her decorating problem, but it may help to know that it might not have been an mistake.
Just wondering if the contractor was confronted with this horror!…..make them fix it would be my suggestion.
You may want to look for another contractor.
My husband is a contractor, and he has had to fix others work, done wrong.
Another point, are they even to code?
According to my estimation, the contractor most likely died before the Titanic sunk. So, I don’t think he’ll be doing much fixing.
I think the idea of installing a shade & drapes up high is a perfect solution. I would do that on a standard window height. Anything to make it feel higher.
As always, wonderful advice Laurel.
This was a fantastic post Laurel. Your solutions here are so creative and spot on…the best one could hope for! As a renovator myself, I consistently face challenges I wish weren’t there so I understand! Thinking outside the box to visually camouflage is often the only way! Keep these posts coming!
My MIL had a condo in Gulf Breeze Florida, and the prior owner used mirrored transoms. They were fabulous! We honestly didn’t realize they were mirrors until we did the final closing walk thru. Magic!
A FWIW footnote : I put semi-circular mirrors with wagon-wheel ribs as fake transoms above several of the many doorways in my 100 year old Cambridge Mass condo, and the illusion works. My guess is that the fakery would show if there were a real window beneath and anyone looked at them for more than a few seconds while passing by. But an easy and inexpensive trick for interiors openings!
personally, my favorite is Serena’s second sketch: a larger molding on the ceiling, a large molding above the window just as she drew it, and a pretty painted frieze. The idea of the blind that hides part of the wall makes me think of those buttons sewn on a garment, without a buttonhole, and which are therefore only trim and are useless.
If Serena is planning on hanging pictures in this room, she also might find a cute little painting to hang in the center of the crown molding. But a simple plaster frieze, painted the same color as the molding, could be nice I think.
No offense Laurel, because I love your blog, your ideas in general, and especially your funny writing.
Kind regards, Doris
The reason I don’t think it’s the best solution is that there is still a window that’s placed way lower than the door in a room with an eight-foot ceiling. If it was a matter of say, 10″ or less, then yes, that would be a great solution. But, I feel quite strongly that the disparity in heights is too great. No one will realize that the window treatment is covering up part of the wall. I apologize if I wasn’t clear. But, that is the illusion. The shade in every case (except the inside mount alone) will look like it’s covering up part of the window, when in actuality it is only covering up one-three inches of the actual glass.
This is an absolutely brilliant post, and the title is the best. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most clever. I love the way your articles make us think just a little bit more!
As always, well done. 🙂