Welcome to the fourth installment of The Features Series—a series that highlights the unique visual elements that make a Chicago bungalow a Chicago bungalow. This round, we’re looking at... windows!
Why Do Windows Matter?
If “eyes are the windows to the soul,” then it stands to reason that windows allow us a glimpse into the spirit of a home. For example, who among us has not taken an evening stroll and found themselves peeking into the lit-up interiors of their neighbors’ living rooms, deciding whether they should emulate Bob and Sue’s paint colors and gallery wall mastery? Exactly.
Beyond the many practical functions of windows—from natural lighting to cooling breezes to increased air quality—these transparent beauties also are one of the most defining stylistic features of a building.
Let’s go back to the eyes analogy: imagine moving your eyes from their current location to other locations on your face. Or, completely removing one or both of them. Or, making one gigantic eye instead of two smaller eyes. Yes, you will no doubt be alarmed, but more importantly, do you still look like… you? Would it be difficult to recognize yourself with such a deviation from what you’re accustomed to seeing?
Architectural styles depend heavily on fenestration, the arrangement of window and door openings on a building. When it comes to determining the style of a building, window shapes and placements are just as critical as the rooflines or massing of materials. When you monkey with those openings, it’s usually pretty obvious that something ain’t right.
Hanging in Groups (but not loitering)
So, what kinds of windows can we expect to see when we’re looking at our local bungalow block?
In our Features Series blog about bays, we look at the different styles of bungalow bays and give them names and context. Those bays often determine the kinds of window groupings you’ll see on a Chicago bungalow.
Across the board, Chicago bungalow windows are generous, have limestone sills, and are usually in clusters of two or more. Types of windows commonly found on Chicago bungalows are double-hung windows (windows that slide up and down), fixed windows (single panes that don’t open), and casement windows (windows that are hinged at the sides and open at the center).
With many flat-front bungalows, windows create a band across the entire length of the façade and share an outer frame—this is called a ribbon window. These can be broken down into two clusters as well.
If there is a projecting bay, the windows will wrap around to create a sunroom.
Many windows also have decorative wood muntins, especially the top sash of double hung windows. Muntins are vertical wood pieces that divide the glass into multiple panes. (Not to be confused with the structural vertical or horizontal mullions that divide the windows themselves.)
Bungalows often have “3 over 1” windows, which means the top sash is divided into three vertical panes and the bottom sash is just a single, large pane. These geometric patterns really add to the Arts and Crafts look of the façade!
Bungalows were built when the Arts and Crafts movement was still popular in Chicago. Starting in the 1890s, the principles of the British Arts and Crafts movement found an audience here, advocating for an artist/artisan revival as a way to fix some of the social ills that came with industrialism. As a result, numerous crafting societies, guilds and schools sprung up and were making stylings like the gorgeous leaded art glass windows we see in bungalows. (Today, the term stained glass is used interchangeably with art glass, but art glass is the wider category, and stained glass is a more specific type of art glass!)
While most windows were originally double-hung sashes (windows that slide up and down) with clear glass, you’ll also see some small, fixed (not able to be opened) art glass windows either next to the front door and/or on either side of the house, generally towards the front third of the home.
You've likely seen Chicago bungalows with stunning art glass windows that have shiny, metallic elements. Windows made during the mid- to late-1920s (when building was booming, and things got fancy before the big stock market crash in 1929) sometimes used a technique called angel gilding. Angel gilding was widely used by Chicago's art glass studios during this period through the early 30s to make a distinctive style of art glass for Chicago bungalows. In fact, Chicago is the only city that used angel gilding in residential windows!
These windows have a clear glass background with the designs laid out in opalescent glass and double-sided gold mirror. Because the pieces are gold on both sides, they catch and reflect the light whether the window is viewed from inside the house or from the street. Frank Lloyd Wright used double-sided angel gilded glass in many of his windows, including the now demolished Imperial Hotel in Toyko.
Original 1920s wood storm windows on the rear and front windows of a bungalow, painted to match the exterior casing. If installed with hangers, these storm windows can be pushed out from the bottom, awning style, for ventilation. Some storm windows have hardware attached to the frames to hold them open.
You’ve probably noticed them here and there—the giant, single-pane wood storm windows hooked into place on the front of a bungalow. These are wonderful because they don’t obscure the windows behind them, they protect the wood and glass, they reduce drafts (!), and they provide a degree of sound insulation as well. You can also paint these storms to match or complement the rest of the exterior trim, so they really pop!
While many have been removed over the years due to weathering or just a general dislike of removing heavy panes of wood and glass every spring, those that remain are a treat to witness.
Living Room & Dining Room Windows
In the context of Chicago’s narrow building lots, linking together the living room and dining rooms dramatically changed the interior space from what was typical during the Victorian era—cozy, dark rooms. The bungalow layout allows light to pour in from the front bay of the living room as well as from the adjacent dining room, which also has a band of large windows (usually in a group of three). This makes the communal areas in the home feel spacious and again brings some of the outside to the inside.
Attic & Dormer Windows
Chicago bungalows were originally built with unfinished attic spaces that were lit by gable end windows or front, back, or side dormers, and provided a space that a family could expand into when resources permitted. These wood-frame dormers vary in appearance and size, but all include either small casement windows (windows that swing out to the side from the center) or double-hung windows in groups of two or three.
Raised foundations are also part of the overall design of Chicago bungalows, and this feature allows room for light to flow into the basement. These basement windows are sometimes quite elaborate, especially on the front façades, and might have decorative limestone framing and detailing or an elliptical shape.
Many of these basement windows have been filled with glass block over the years for safety and maintenance reasons, but the positioning remains the same and they’re strutting their own look at this point.
In comparison to denser parts of the city, bungalow neighborhoods have always had a strong relationship between home and garden. This is in part due to having front and back yards to tend to, and mature trees anchoring the lots.
As if to literally transition the outdoors to the indoors, limestone brackets, installed directly into the wall when these homes were built, sit beneath the front windowsills to hold planter boxes. These window boxes were almost universal among Chicago bungalows, and the originals would have been made of stone. It’s rare to find one of those stone boxes today, thanks primarily to freeze-thaw cycles over the last century. But, many wood and concrete substitutes have been made to sit on the original brackets, often emulating the geometric designs found elsewhere on the bungalow. The tradition of filling them with a wide variety of colorful plantings through multiple seasons is alive and well, and competitions can get fierce (in the best way) among neighbors across the city!
While we are huge fans of original wood windows—usually constructed with old growth pine with jambs and casings made of oak or birch—and have advocated for repair over replacement with seminars and resources throughout the years, we understand that many original windows have been replaced for various reasons. That said, those replacement windows are almost always installed in the same places and configurations they were “born” with, and the overall design remains the same—it’s still “bungalow.” So, from a stylistic perspective, it’s more like wearing colored contacts vs. rearranging the eyes!
Thanks for taking a little time to learn more about this feature, which is so critical to our lovely homes and how we live in them. We’ll see you back here soon for our next Features Series blog!
Looking to hire someone to repair or restore your original windows? Here's a list of businesses!
Need examples and inspiration of bungalow owners successfully restoring their original windows? Check out the Window Restoration awardees of our Driehaus Bungalow Awards
Explore other window maintenance resources on our Windows page
Read our other blogs about windows
This is the fourth part of The Feature Series exploring the defining features of the Chicago bungalow and their variations.
If you have questions about your historic Chicago bungalow or vintage home, please contact us. We're here to help!