Windows With a Sense of History

The Once and Future Double Hung Window

As springs creeps a little closer, my mind wanders over to the window looking for signs of change. Not much is happening outside so let’s consider the window itself, and especially the iconic double-hung variety — that is, a window with two sashes that can move past each other either up or down. It’s one of many window types to consider when you are designing or building a new house and remains a powerful symbol of home,  as shown in this New Yorker cover by artist










Gretchen Dow Simpson (courtesy The double hung window has a long






history, from Georgian London (this example dates from sometime after 1709 (photo courtesy Visitinghousesand and Colonial






America — remember the House of Seven Gables at Salem, Massachusetts with many sash windows added around 1725 (photo above by Daderot courtesy Wikipedia) — to the California mining country in the mid-19th century,














as shown here in a photograph by Roger Sturtevant taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1934 (photo courtesy the Library of Congress). This latter four-paned variety, like the one sketched by Gretchen Dow Simpson, became an important starting point for  well known Northern California architects like William Wurster and Joseph Esherick as they began to evolve a brand of regional modernism beginning in the 1930s. Here’s a modern house by








Joe Esherick from 1951 (photo courtesy  William Turnbull








returned to the double hung window in his Sea Ranch Cottages of the mid 1980s, as shown in our Plan 447-3, above. And architect Ross Anderson — who once

worked for Bill Turnbull — used double hung windows in our coastal Plan 433-1, shown here. Fewer panes opened up the window, helping to frame the vista as well as well as bring in more light. Though Modernism perfected the window

wall — thus moving away from the double-hung window — it remains a powerful element in residential architecture today, as shown in this recent design — a sort of updated house of seven gables — by Estes Twombly Architects.  The windows are by Marvin Windows and Doors (photo courtesy Marvin). The architects

turned them into a window wall by mounting them close together around a corner  of the kitchen. This design looks very simple, and yet it is hard to do because the design is all about proportion and balancing the act of seeing through the window and seeing the window itself. Alvar Aalto is reputed to have said: “When you are designing a window, imagine your girlfriend sitting inside looking out.” In other words a window is always a picture frame — so shape it and place it where it will make the looking good!

For more about windows and window walls Click Here.






2 responses to “Windows With a Sense of History

  1. Dan,

    Nice article on windows. As I sit in our living room, facing south I am looking at splendid snowy Vermont through six Ross Anderson designed windows: two with only one piece sashes, two with six piece sashes, one window with eight piece sashes and a single sash that does not open with six partitions. They all work nicely together. I usually do not notice the interesting mix.

    Thanks for your always welcome/interesting thoughts.


  2. Ross Anderson’s windows are wonderful — thanks for reminding me — his Plan 433-1 has many!

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