second story bay window brings light and life
Photo Keller & Keller
Although a challenge to install, this second story bay turned the dark bedroom behind the paired windows, into a brighter, lighter space and added visual interest to an austere, flat wall.
A bay window protruding from a house is a sweet revolt against flat, stark walls, an exuberant endorsement of old-fashioned pleasure over modern minimalism. In its cozy, three-sided embrace, we can enjoy the majesty — and ignore the wrath — of howling winds and driving rain. In an older house, where a picture window might be a desecration, a bay is often the only appropriate way to enlarge the window. Although a bay window adds just a half-dozen square feet to the room's footprint, sunlight spraying through it can make the space seem a third again as large. Gaining those gentle blessings requires violent remodeling. To create space for a new bay at an 1880 carriage house in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Tom Silva jabs and slashes his reciprocating saw into the shingled east wall. Standing on a metal platform 15 feet in the air, following a pencil line that defines the window's rough opening, he roars through a hodge-podge of the dimension lumber added when this post-and-beam stable was converted to a residence. "This wall has been Mickey Moused around over the years," he grumbles, but the blade, oblivious to any structural vagaries, plows on. This second-story job is a particular challenge, but for Tom's client it's essential. Homeowner Michael Burns, a former actor given to theatrical expression, says his master bedroom was "terribly long, low and dark." He believes the bay will be "absolutely transforming," enlarging the vista of the east lawn and its surrounding ring of spruce and pine.

Tom is up to the task, having installed more than 60 bay windows in the last 32 years. Fifteen minutes after he begins sawing, a 7 1/2-by-5 1/2-foot hole yawns, flooding Burns's bedroom with light. Along the bottom of this opening, Tom erects a short stud wall, which will support a window seat. Across the top of the hole, Tom and his brother Dick wedge a new header made of three 2x8s and two pieces of half-inch plywood. In this case, the header doesn't support the wall above; the gable-end studs Tom cut carried no significant load. It's the header's job to resist the outward pull of a window thrust a foot and a half from the wall. Laden with one or two lounging humans and a half-dozen potted plants, a bay without such reinforcement "can really make an old wall bulge," Dick says.
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