Design Considerations

It might seem simple: Bigger windows mean better views. In fact, poorly planned windows can provide views you don't want (like the driveway or the cellar bulkhead) while missing the good stuff (like the crown of that flowering dogwood). They can also cause privacy issues for the house's very visible inhabitants. By carefully mapping out window height, size, and placement, it's possible to play down a bad view and accentuate the better vistas—from both sides of the glass.

Todd Tsiang, a design consultant who is helping George Mabry with the aesthetic choices for his house, says he always starts by thinking about how rooms will be used, then imagining the various viewpoints from inside. For example, if the other side of a backyard is dominated by a tall apartment building, one might want windows that are lower—say, at floor level—so the view is focused down on the landscaped back patio, not on the looming building across the way. (Building codes typically specify that any window that starts within 18 inches of the floor must be tempered safety glass.) Likewise, a window over the driveway or air-conditioning compressor might be better up higher, to take in the treetops as opposed to the car tires or the machinery.

Sometimes, however, privacy trumps view. The front of the TOH TV project house is quite close to a busy sidewalk, and some of the most private rooms of the home—like the master bath—face that way. To bring in light while preserving George's modesty, architect Will Ruhl designed a series of (A) clerestory windows, which sit high on the room's wall, above the sight line of the passing crowd.

In other rooms, privacy is gained through the use of (B) patterned glass—like the bumpy pattern chosen for the lights around the front door entry. The glass allows sunlight in without exposing the entry foyer to the eyes of outsiders. Seen at night from the outside, with the lights turned on inside, the solid door will appear to float dramatically in a wall of light. Where the industrial look of patterned glass isn't appropriate, the best solution is good shades, such as the shoji screens and roll-up shades that Tsiang chose to obscure the view and soften the light in various rooms.

Airflow becomes an important issue on those perfect 72-degree days when air-conditioning is unnecessary. Not all of the windows in the Cambridge house open, but in each room there are some on at least two walls that do, creating a cross breeze. In the kitchen and living room, as well as in some of the upper-story bedrooms, those windows are (C) casements. In other parts of the second floor, shorter (D) awning windows allow George to open them any time, even on a rainy night, for a breath of fresh air.
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