Windows make design history Home: You can spruce up your house with classic architectural elements from almost any period.

November 03, 1996|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

You may not live in a vintage home with an architectural pedigree, but you can give your house a history lesson with some newfangled, old-fashioned windows.

Window manufacturers have been working feverishly in recent years to cash in on a national obsession for nostalgia. Pick almost any architectural era from the past, and you can probably find a window to match.

Gothic, Tudor, Arts and Crafts, Prairie Style, Victorian, Italianate, Georgian, Colonial -- they're all out there. Like movies based on novels, they are more likely to be close approximations or loose interpretations than line-for-line reproductions.

That's still good news for people who live in antique houses and who seek to restore them with close-to-original elements. But it's even better news for those of us living in run-of-the-mill ranches, cookie-cutter Cape Cods and featureless, assembly-line tract homes.

Plain and simple, it means we can put in the kind of classic architectural elements the builder left out -- without having them custom-made. Many manufacturers -- Weathershield, Pella, Marvin, Andersen, Caradco and others -- are making windows based on historical designs in stock sizes. You can buy them off-the-rack or out of a catalog. And, if your house already has stock windows, you may well be able to replace them with a minimum of structural work.

Or, no structural work at all. Some national window manufacturers are now offering removable grilles or mullions in historic styles that have been specifically designed to fit their windows. Weathershield, for example, has just started marketing snap-in grilles in seven styles, including takes on Gothic, English, Prairie Style and Shaker-esque.

Some manufacturers offer snap- in grilles that fit only their windows.

Choose the correct mullions for the desired look. Evenly spaced rectangles or squares (known as "divided lights") are often associated with Colonial-style windows, diamonds with Tudor style, and arcs with Gothic. Small squares bordering large rectangles can signal Arts and Crafts style.

Make sure the scale, shape and mullion design of a historically based window complements a house, generic though it may be, rather than contrasts with it. Some historical styles are simply too grandiose for modest homes.

But even here you have some flexibility. After all, not every window in the house must match (though, again, compatibility is important, especially street-side). You could, for example, turn an old porch into a English-style solarium with divided-light French doors and windows, even if the rest of your house has double-hung windows. Or, you could just replace all the windows on the front of the house with historical versions, leaving the other windows intact.

For even more design flexibility, consider topping square and rectangular windows with half-round or elliptical transoms.

Always consult an architect or an interior designer for advice on choosing a window style appropriate for your house style (or lack thereof).

Buying the wrong windows can be an expensive mistake, as well as a fashion gaffe. Good-quality windows, regardless of shape, style and finish, are big-ticket items. History, ancient, modern or somewhere in between, doesn't come cheap. Prices for even modest-sized windows start in the hundreds and can escalate into the thousands. Naturally, installation is extra.

Regardless of style, well-constructed windows with insulated glass and superior weather-stripping are worth the price.

Indeed, compared to extensive remodeling or moving, adding a vintage-style window or two can be an affordable and satisfying way of bringing history home.

Pub Date: 11/03/96

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