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Transom windows: A nod to the past or a nifty solution?

If we asked you to doodle a picture of a castle or old cottage, chances are, it would have windows and doors with curved tops. Perhaps, these would also have elaborate muntin patterns (sunburst, diamond, or other geometric elements). Transom windows, commonly used for creating an arched look, have survived centuries of home decor trends, proving to be an artsy and elegant feature that complements various architectural styles. Similar to arched windows, they can serve for accentuating vertical lines or dimensions and for adding natural light and visual interest. Just like their old-time counterparts, transom windows can create a feeling of historical integrity and authenticity for traditional houses. However, they are more versatile than round-top windows and come in rectangular shapes as well, looking perfectly at home in modern and newly built dwellings.

Transom windows: A nod to the past or a nifty solution?

What is a transom window in today’s context?

Historically, transom windows were set above doors to add light to narrow or tight spaces (hallways, kitchens, pantries, garages) and improve ventilation. They were also placed atop windows to enhance views or create bigger picture windows before the technology for making large sheets of glass became common. Some houses used to couple transom windows with all the doors to rooms of the main hall for shared light and ventilation purposes. That’s why back in the day, most transoms were designed as operating windows – before air conditioning, their mission was to promote cross-ventilation. 

They were bottom-hinged or side-hinged and operated by a long rod to pull the latch open. Some were top-hinged to be pushed open by hand. Today, the benefits of transom windows include automating the ones that operate, so manual control doesn’t involve any inconvenient climbing. However, most modern transoms are fixed and used as decorative elements or to add light by connecting the adjoining interior spaces. With prevalent air conditioning, we don’t have to rely on them for increased airflow.  

Interior and exterior transom windows in modern architectural design

Nowadays, transom windows can still be a smart way to infuse light and air into tiny and awkward spaces that can’t fit a full-size window in. They can work wonders to bring a small underlit room or hall to life when placed high up the wall, leaving more space for cabinetry, built-ins, storage solutions, or equipment.

Adding an elegant, classy, or nostalgic feel to a home, making a design statement, and visually connecting the interiors are the most popular uses of transom windows in modern design. 

As they can be custom-made to fit any spaces and stylistic preferences, the exterior and interior transom windows can take any size and shape when used in replacement and renovation projects. Some of the classic staples are:

  • Half circle (fanlight)
  • Quarter-circle
  • Arch top
  • Eyebrow-shaped top
  • Rectangular 

But with a stunning variety of frame profiles, materials, glass treatments, colors, and grid designs, your transom windows certainly don’t have to look like the ones that date back centuries – unless that’s what you have your heart set on.

Interior transom windows: The stylish elements to tie the spaces together

While exterior windows with curved tops and muntin designs may be the most charming thing you’ve ever seen on a facade, transom windows are making a big comeback as interior design features. They mostly take rectangular or fancier, eclectic shapes above interior doors and serve to visually coordinate or balance doors and openings. The common areas to install interior transom windows are:

  • Mudrooms and foyers 
  • Hallways and staircases
  • Dining rooms and dens
  • Kitchens and laundry rooms 
  • Pantries and bathrooms
  • Walk-in closets

Doors and openings can have a single transom or a set of transoms grouped together. The framing materials and colors can work to coordinate the window or door and the transom unit to other design features and finishes, furniture, flooring, or woodwork. Creating style and flow while balancing the design elements – the trickiest part of interior design – can be significantly facilitated with the use of transoms. 

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Aesthetic and practical benefits of transom windows

Whether used throughout the house or just to turn a standard door or wall into an eye-catching one, transom windows can literally take your home design to the next level by adding height, light, or enhancing views and high ceilings. They can make a statement entry feature, especially in combination with sidelites, or fancy-up porches and sunrooms. 

For a more refined look, consider decorative grids that can be customized to create unique patterns. Such patterns may coordinate or vary between transom windows in different areas, and they add to the costs of your transom window installation but create effects that really stand out. Whether you are updating a traditional home and wish to enhance its historic charm, or you are after an extravagant, artistic look, muntins and decorative grids will maximize that wow factor. 

Transom window costs: Money well spent

Given the variety of shapes, materials, configurations, and glass treatments or decorative add-ons, transom windows costs are difficult to average. But here’s the good news: transom window prices are more affordable than those of full-pane windows. Besides, when the room size or privacy is an issue, or you need plenty of wall space for furniture placement, transom windows can do what regular ones can’t. So they are a smart addition or alternative to more costly remodels.

Non-operable vinyl or aluminum frames manufactured to fit standard door widths start at just around $100. Costs for wood frames, operable units, custom sizes and designs, extra weatherproofing features, and installation will vary greatly, resulting in the window price ranging from $350 to $700. Transoms that are a part of a door system or a door+sidelights+transom configuration are more expensive options but feature better weather insulation properties because they come as a single sealed unit.

It's best to talk to a window contractor to explore different styles and discuss the transom window replacement costs based on your home's individual needs and architecture. The same goes for the structural specifics of the walls and living spaces that you want to transform by adding transom windows. Depending on what you aim to achieve in terms of design and overall performance, standard options from the window manufacturer may fit, making your renovation or window replacement project more budget-friendly. Custom styles will be more expensive if you fancy ornate designs for tons of architectural charm or want to let your imagination run wild, soaring above these windows and doors.

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