At home: windows, transition between indoors and outdoors
During the last years, many of us have retreated into our spaces and existed largely within the four walls of our homes. The sudden change in our daily routines has affected our relationships with our homes and objectssystems, architecture and decorative elements in them. No matter the style of architecture, the building that houses our house roots us in our family history and our collective past and impacts how we lead our lives inside and outside our homes.
As the nights get cooler and will soon turn windy, windows help us stay warm and toasty inside. They are also our openings to the outside world.
All houses have windows. Their patterns establish the facade of a home – the outward expression of a home’s architectural style. They are a basic architectural unit that adds character, provides insulation and is a source of natural light. In the very first houses, the window was initially a small opening without a cover or membrane. The Romans, around AD 100, were the first known to use a form of window glass. In colonial America, windows consisted of small slits covered with waxed paper or thin scraped membranes of animal horn thin enough to be translucent and set in a wooden frame.
Although flat glass was introduced around 1700, it would not become dominant until the 19th century. Prior to this, crown glass was used in windows, which involved a bubble of blown glass that was flattened, heated and then rotated to create a dome. It could then be cut into shapes or filled in as appropriate. The window frames were wooden and the windows were small to accommodate the size of glass available. It was a cheap and efficient way to make glass for windows.
In early America windows were usually casement windows – sashes that turned on hinges – and were often framed in wood or iron, with diamond-shaped or rectangular leaded panes. Windows were small and few in number, due to the cost of glass, which mainly had to be imported and used in northern climates, for better protection against harsh winter weather.
In the 17th century, a new development of the window arrived: the vertical sliding sash. Early versions were single-hung: the top sash was fixed and the bottom was movable via pins and holes in the frame. In the early 1800s, the American Regency period, known as the Georgian period in England, double hung windows became the dominant style and the casement window has fallen out of favor in this country. Old glass made during this era often had air bubbles and other distortions that can still be found today in many Georgetown period homes.
When it comes to upper-class homes, the rule has become “bigger is better”. As technology improved, windows could be larger and flatter. Windows were arranged according to social status—servants’ quarters had the smallest windows, and buildings intended to house the poor often had no windows. Then, in 1798, the so-called “window tax”, a nickname for U.S. direct tax, taxed dwellings valued over $100 and on 2 acres or less. He used the number of windows as a measure of property value, meaning the more windows a house had, the more occupants had to pay. As you walk through the neighborhoods of Georgetown, you can still spot bricked-up windows in some houses.
Glassmaking became more efficient during the Industrial Revolution in the mid to late 1800s, when an engineer named Henry Bessemer invented an early form of “float glass”, which involved pouring glass onto tin liquid. This process evolved into the cylindrical method of glass making, widely used to create sheet glass, rolled glass in flat sheets, rather than creating dome and crown glass windows. Also, at this time, major advances in rolled steel allowed the mass production of steel windows. These frames and sashes were fire resistant and became standard for commercial buildings, but wood windows continued to dominate single family residences.
Massive changes in building technology have dramatically shifted window limits in American homes. Glass and window frames were the very first household construction items to be assembled in a factory. Glass blocks and curtain walls were all popularized after World War II, and windows could become as tall as a wall or become a wall themselves.
In the middle of the 20th century, wood was the most affordable and readily available material for window frames, but wood frames windows fell out of fashion as many homeowners in the 1950s replaced the original windows in their turn-of-the-century homes with vinyl, both for its low cost and its promise of minimal maintenance.
Although, as in some modern art, much modern architecture has completely abandoned the frame, the window does not exist in isolation. It needs a special location inside a wall. It is the transition between the outer world and our inner world. Maybe after reading this you’ll take a moment to look at the windows in your home instead of just looking through them.
Michelle Galler is a real estate agent with Chatel Real Estate ([email protected]), representing buyers and sellers in Washington, DC and Rappahannock County, VA. She is also an antiques dealer and columnist.