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  • Danielle Armbruster

Windows into the Past

Old homes will always have their quirks and their problems--but thats often where we find some of their charm. Like many restoration projects, this house wanted to test us right from the very beginning. We had huge decisions to make very quickly after buying it, but we are pretty sure we have made all the right choices so far.

The first time we walked through the house, all of the windows were covered with thick, heavy curtains that blocked all of the natural light from entering the grand rooms. Once those curtains were pulled back a bit, the sunlight flooded into the front of the house illuminating all of the stunning wood work and details and bringing so much life into the space. The windows really are the features of those front rooms and we knew we had to figure out what to do to bring them back from the brink of destruction.

Something interesting I discovered in my research is that the design of the windows on the original part of the house might be pretty unique. When it comes to historic double-hung sash windows—windows with two separate sections of panes called sashes that can move independently of one another within a frame to be opened or closed—there was a bit of a design standard that can actually be used to pretty accurately date the ages of these historic homes.

In the 1820’s and 1830’s, many southern homes contained windows that were comprised of many small, often uneven and handmade panes that were configured in 3x3 grids. This window style is sometimes called 9 over 9 because of the two separate sashes of 9 panes each. By the 1840’s (the era in which our home was built), new architectural trends started to show up in windows across the south driven mainly by advancements in glass-making. From about 1840 until about 1870, it became more common to see 6 over 6 windows with fewer but larger panes of glass. This led to 6 over 9 pane windows being used on the first floors of homes when the builder wanted a grander look with floor-length windows on the front.

When you look at the original section of our house, the front windows are not 9 over 9 or 6 over 6. They aren’t even 6 over 9 pane windows. They are 8 over 8 panes on the second floor and 8 over 12 panes on the first floor.

Yes. Our windows are huge.

We believe that the windows in the dining room and formal living room on the first floor (the 8 over 12 pane windows) used to not only open with a lifted pane, but that the woodwork under the window would have swung open to create a walkout to the front porch. It is our goal to have all of these elements fully operational once again. Before we can even get there, painstakingly cutting through decades of paint and reconstructing the weight system, we need to repair and replace the panes of glass that have broken over time. These windows are 180 years old at this point. The fact that only a few panes need to be replaced is honestly a bit of a miracle. That is what is happening this week. The broken panes will be individually removed from the windows and replaced with new glass that will be glazed in using the same historic processes that the window was created with.

Moving past the front sections of the house into the additions, there are even more windows that needed even more attention. These windows, not being original to the house, have been added on throughout the decades that this house has been growing and changing. Many of them had fallen into complete disarray. There was wood trim that had rotted completely through causing wind, rain, and birds to freely enter the back rooms of the house. Water had been running inside the upper windows and causing who knows what kind of damage to the areas beneath them. One window even had a colony of mushrooms growing in the trim and breaking through part of the wall.

These windows were not salvageable.

The decision to replace 19 windows on this house was not a decision we made lightly. At no point in this restoration did we want to have to replace anything that was original to the home and able to be saved. When it came to the addition windows though, they were not original to the home, nor were they able to be saved. We got a few quotes and decided on a crew from Window World.

One of the things that we liked about the windows from Window World, was that the dimensions of the “panes” could be matched closely to the dimensions of the original windows to tie everything together and honor the age of the house. These windows also have a three-dimensional grid so that the style reflects the historic style of the wood and pane windows that the house was built with.

Most of the windows were pretty standard, easy projects for this crew. Just pop out the old window, pop in the new window, and seal it up. There were a few trickier spots, however. One of those tricky spots was in the den off of the formal living room. This room had what we initially thought was a big picture window that didn’t open. Upon a second look at it, we noticed something odd. This wasn’t a window at all. It was a sliding glass door that had been bolted in place to not slide anymore. A door that was two feet off the ground and went to nowhere at all. Obviously this one required a little more thought and some creative design ideas tossed around a bit. We settled on a custom panel of three windows. This solution definitely elevated the space and lends itself so much better to the design of the house. You can see this before and after in the photos below.

Now that the windows are done and the house is sufficiently weather-proof once again, its time for work to begin on the inside. We have so many rooms to refinish, paint, and bring back to life. Make sure you follow along with the whole process over on our Instagram and Facebook pages where we post updates in real-time and ask for your opinions and input on the projects we have planned!

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