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The Modern Estate
Talkin' 'Bout My Fenestration

Handcrafted wood windows can replicate the fine workmanship of the past—and even let you change your home’s window openings to accommodate handsome new designs | BY ELISSA DESCOTEAU

For 20 years, when I lived in New York City, the only relationship I had with my windows was the struggle involved in cleaning them on the 23rd floor. After I moved to Vermont and joined the team at Woodstone, a firm in Westminster specializing in handcrafted wood windows and doors, I acquired a new respect for the design and placement of windows in a building (fenestration). Surrounded by traditional New England woodworkers, I began to appreciate the work of the craftsmen who had built my home in 1854—to see the importance of its historical details, including its extraordinary woodwork and its handcrafted windows.

Now those beautiful old windows are deteriorating, so I am contemplating replacing them—and perhaps even my home’s entryway—with windows (and maybe a door) handcrafted in the 21st century.

Whether you’re building a new house or renovating an old one, consider the benefits of installing premium, handcrafted wood windows and doors. They are aesthetically pleasing and immensely practical. They look different from stock windows, and they are not restricted to certain prescribed openings or dimensions, thus giving the homeowner more design options and control of the architectural elements.

Suppose that you need to replace all of the deteriorating double-hung windows in a house as old as mine. Today’s artisans can replicate windows that will look precisely the way the old ones did … but they’ll be durable and undamaged, and they’ll perform better. Or, if you like, the craftspeople can change the style of the windows or add artistic touches—make the upper sash into a fixed window, or change the shape to bowed double-hung windows with bent glass, or make them into casement (in-swing or out-swing) windows fitted with antique or restoration glass. Of course, such changes can be made only if the house has not been awarded landmark status. There are many design possibilities—pivot windows, folding windows, awning windows (windows hinged at the top or the bottom that could swing in or out), combination units …

But don’t discount the traditional weight-and-chain single- and double-hung sashes: They’re some of the best-performing window designs available today. (Single-hung windows have one operable sash, typically the bottom one; double-hung windows can be opened from top or bottom.) This style of window, typically found in historic houses, requires very little maintenance.

Customized, handcrafted wood windows are available in a variety of woods (mahogany, cherry, teak, oak, etc.) and finish choices (natural, stained, painted, asymmetrical); the choice of wood and finish can have an impact on the durability, performance, and sometimes the warranty of the windows and doors. The hardware options, among them nickel, polished brass, oil-rubbed bronze, and stainless steel, offer distinctive accents.

Weather stripping is a hidden detail that adds to the windows’ ability to keep out rain, wind, etc. There are many different kinds—metal, vinyl, felt, and brush, for example.

Contemplate having a hidden roll-down screen that operates easily and doesn’t need to be removed in the winter.

Know your glass options: standard (annealed), restoration, low-emissivity (glass that reduces heat flow through the glass), laminated, true divided lite (in which each individual pane of glass is separate), simulated divided lite (one large pane of glass with an applied wooden grille bonded to the interior and/or exterior of the glass). If you have true divided lite windows and one pane breaks or cracks, you need to replace only the glass, not the entire sash; this is especially helpful when you require restoration or artistic glass as a replacement.

Before you order, check on the window’s structural requirements and ask about performance criteria such as energy efficiency, R value (insulating ability of the windows), shading coefficients (the closer the number is to 0, the better it will block heat gain through the glass), air infiltration, and light transmittal. Remember to ask about the warranty—not only on the glass, but also on the paint and woodwork.

Knowing all this will show you how very diverse your options are—and how the options you choose will affect not only the light and air your windows let in, but also how handsome they look.

Never underestimate the visual worth of discerning fenestration. Premium wood windows and doors wear well and add value to your home. Indeed, a century from now some homeowner may be hoping he or she can replicate the handcrafted windows you choose today. TME

Elissa Descoteau develops marketing ideas with humor and a communication style that engages clients in both the fashion and artisan fields. Her past work as marketing director of the Woodstone Company, a manufacturer of handcrafted wood windows and doors, led to a sincere appreciation of the beauty and durability of these materials, fashioned the traditional way.;

Hilton Vanderhorn
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