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New Windows, Old House

New Windows, Old House

charming windows and skylights

Need to replace the windows in your older house? Yes, you can make it work. New windows, old house, here we come. Get our tips here.

Getting your windows right is the difference between an adorable house and a “what were they thinking” house. Since windows are an architectural feature, they are a great way to add character to a house that doesn’t have much. But if your house is already a certain style, choose carefully or you could unintentionally ruin the look. New windows, old house? Sure thing! Here’s how.

A white renovated farmhouse kitchen with a farmhouse sink and a large window.
The home of Leslie Saeta is over 100 years old, and her sash windows help add to the vintage character of the home. Photograph by Bret Gum.

Determine Your House Style

Your home’s style should determine the look of your new windows. If your house is an existing historical style, choose something that looks similar to the originals. If you don’t know what the original windows looked like, do some research. Authenticity is important in choosing new windows to match vintage character. 

black modern windows with vintage charm
The modern windows in this house by Barrow Building Group have great modern black frames, yet add a hint of vintage charm to space because of the smaller pane size. Photograph by Minette Hand Photography.

Even if you want an updated look for your home, keeping the charm intact is really important. If your house is vintage and you want to go modern, choose a modern take on the original window style. 

Choosing windows isn’t the time to experiment with different styles unless your house doesn't have a real style to begin with. Look at local houses you like for ideas. Vintage house pattern books are also a great source of inspiration. Also, look online for ideas. New windows, old house love, right?

cottage style windows
This adorable farm cottage has cottage-style windows. It would be a lot less cute if it had fixed-glass picture windows instead. Photo from HGTV.

What If My House Isn’t a “Style”?

If your house doesn’t already have a specific style, you’ll have more options. Still, study your house and see what style it’s “trying” to be. For example, if you have a generic tract home from the mid-20th century, decide if you want it to look more like a ranch or a Cape Cod. This will also help you create a template for a curb-appeal update where you can fill in the details like the front door, house numbers, lighting and of course, new windows, old house. If you can pick a style and go with it, your result will be a lot more cohesive than if you throw a bunch of stuff at it and hope for the best.

mid century modern ranch exterior with new windows
There are some styles that work with large, blank windows. On this mid century house, picture windows without much detail work because of the sleek lines of the mid century modern design. Photograph courtesy of Atomic Ranch.

Beware the Blank Stare

We tend to see houses like faces. If the windows are too wide and horizontal, it can make the house look sleepy, and if they are fixed glass they can make the house look blank and vacant. You want your house to have personality and look alive.

With new windows, old house or new house, look at how the overall effect will have with the style of the house and the view from the street. A rendering of your house from the window maker or architect can help you visualize this.

blank stare windows without panes
Don’t let this happen to you! This is a house in my old neighborhood. The homeowner installed new windows that don’t work well. Notice the blank stare. The window sellers probably told the homeowners that fixed panes were cheaper. Photo from Google Earth.

New Windows, Old House

This is one of the more important pieces of advice I have about new windows, old house. Figure out what style you want and be very careful about entrusting this design decision to others. Your contractor will suggest one thing. The window company will suggest something else. Home Depot will suggest another option. 

All these people seem like they know more than you, and about certain properties of windows, they probably do. What they don’t consider, though, is design. You are responsible for that (or you can hire a designer). 

Reading nook by window with green walls in historic farmhouse
Green adorns the bedroom, emphasizing the historic doors as well as the window frame. This is a historic farmhouse that has double pane sash windows. Sash windows slide up and down, and were popular in the early 1900s. If you need new windows, old house aesthetics are still important. Image by Francis Dzikowski.

Even as a designer, I have deferred to people I thought were experts and lived to regret it. Ask them about the right-sized window to put in the existing opening or which windows have the best UV protection. Don’t ask them which windows will look best with your house.

new sunroom windows
This is the country house we’re renovating right now. We picked windows that were reclaimed from a tear-down house in the Nashville area. Photo by Holly Thompson.

Our Country House

We added a sunroom and needed windows to match the vintage character of the house. Since the original windows had been replaced with ordinary vinyl ones, I didn’t have any design inspiration to launch from. The house style is a cottage-like mishmash of other styles, so that gave us freedom to choose almost anything.

At the time, an old house was being torn down in Nashville and we were able to buy its windows. They have wood mullions and quite a bit of vintage character. On the not-so-great side, they are definitely more drafty than choosing new windows. 

Often, windows are to blame when you see a house that doesn’t look right. It’s really not that hard to choose windows to match a home’s vintage character, but you do have to choose carefully. Just make sure they fit the style of your house and you’ll be doing it right.

Holly Thompson bio
Photo by Angela Talley

Holly Thompson is the lead interior designer at Holly Thompson Homes in Franklin, TN. She loves making houses the best version of themselves. She is married to Dave, who is a contractor, realtor, and often works as her project manager. They own a fixer upper in the country, plus three kids and three cats. In her free time, Holly is working on her master’s degree in Interior Design and writes articles for American Farmhouse Style. In the rest of her free time, you’ll find her antiquing at estate sales, flea markets, and shops. All of those times involve coffee, to which Holly attributes her success in staying awake.

To see more of Holly's handiwork and sound advice, see How to Choose Floor Tile and How to Get Faux Marble Countertops. Of course, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest to get your daily dose of farmhouse inspiration!

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