Window Wall Design: 3 Ways To Customize Your Window Wall

Window Wall Design: 3 Ways To Customize Your Window Wall

May 14, 2019

Beyond fixed and operable windows, and their sizes and shapes, here are three key opportunities for customizing your window wall.

When considering windows for a new home, or changes on an existing home, almost everyone agrees that bigger is better. We want windows that give us the best view, the most light and the greatest connection to our surrounding landscape. When we choose to let others look inside our homes, we want windows that frame picturesque settings of cheerful parties, family dinners, stylish decor and festive holidays.

Window Wall AB217
Photo copyright © Anice Hoachlander | Hoachlander Davis Photography

Experienced builders and designers no longer are surprised to hear homeowners request an entire wall of windows. Not only can they meet these requests, but many have the expertise, tools and partnerships with window manufacturers to exceed their clients' expectations.

Creating window walls as large as possible means combining multiple sizes and types of windows together. To avoid having your home look like you grabbed what you could find at a thrift shop, work with an architect or builder to prepare a cohesive design with a unified appearance personalized for your home, and supported with proper installation and reliable performance.

Window Walls AC902
Photo copyright © Raul Garcia

Within a window wall, or whenever two or more windows are joined, builders and designers call this “mulling.” Often, you'll see a fixed window – meaning a window that doesn't open – mulled together with operable windows. The fixed window's dimensions can provide an exceptionally large, uninterrupted view. More decorative designs and complex geometries also lend themselves to fixed units. Hard-to-reach corner windows or clerestory windows – those nearest the ceiling – also may be designated as fixed windows.

Window Walls AC602
Photo copyright © Karl Neumann

With the exception of extremely oversized windows, nearly any fixed window also could be engineered as operable. High-up and less accessible windows can be wired for automated operation, opening and closing at the touch of a button. Radius (curved), circular and even octagonal shapes can be made to open and to allow the fresh air inside.

Window Walls AH127
Photo copyright © Eric Rorer Photography

Generally, when we think of operable windows, we think of casements that crank out, push out or swing in, awnings that open on the bottom, or of single- or double-hung units with a top and bottom sash that open. Thinking bigger, imagine the grandeur of having three or more double-hung units mulled together and topped with automatic crank-out awning windows; or, of two towering triple-hung windows flanking a giant fixed unit.

Window Walls AH362
Photo copyright © Fyfe Photography

Envision the pass-through potential of quad sliding window with a massive side-by-side four sash horizontal opening; or of a center-opening folding window that clears 52 feet.

For a choice of operable functionality, tilt-turn windows blend American flush-to-frame design sensibility with European-style hardware allowing you to open the window either swing outside or to tilt inside.

Window Walls AF530
Photos courtesy of CMGT Construction

For those seeking a contemporary look, you'll want to minimize the window framing. The big window walls' glass, or rather its transparency to the view beyond it, should be your primary focus. Direct set windows are one of the best choices for achieving a very narrow profile for the most expansive configurations.

Window Walls AH439
Photo copyright © Fyfe Photography

Matching profiles across mulled window wall connections can be a challenge, especially when you prefer a slender, modern look. Choosing a single manufacturer to provide all of your windows and doors helps ensure that all of your selections pair well together. Just as you work with building and design professionals who listen to your wants, needs and unique ideas, you should feel confident that your window partner has the ingenuity and craftsmanship to provide products to your precise specifications.

Beyond fixed and operable windows, and their sizes and shapes, here are three key opportunities for customizing your window wall:

1. Glass Type, Divided Lites and Glazing Beads

Window Walls AA523
Photo copyright © Marco Zecchin/Image Center

Understanding glass options can be one of the most overwhelming aspects of window selection. Not only can you choose tint, colors, patterns and opacity, you can work with your architect to define the right performance for your climate and conditions. This can range from achieving strict energy efficiency standards to withstanding high winds to minimizing maintenance to reducing outside noise. More often, it means fine-tuning the windows on your home to keep you comfortable indoors regardless of what the weather is doing outside.

For historic homes, traditional designs and special applications, you'll want to familiarize yourself with curved glass, radius windows and divided lites. True divided lites visually and physically separate the windows into smaller sections. Each division contains a different piece of glass (lite) framed by bars that hold it in place. Performance divide lites mimic the look of true divided lites using high-performance glass and a more economical approach. The bars of performance divided lites are adhered to the interior and exterior of an insulated glass unit.

To help hold the glass unit into the sash, glazing beads are applied to the sash interior of most windows. A beveled, ovolo or square profile is one of many details that distinguishes the interior appearance.

2. Hardware and Screens

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Photo copyright © Fyfe Photography

Much more than nails and screws, when you're talking about window hardware, you're usually looking at handles and locks on operable windows. Your hardware options will depend on the type of window and how it opens and closes. For example, there are crank-out handles, locking handles, sash lift handles, rail locks, flush finger pulls, tilt-turn, inswing handles and much more.

Most window manufacturers will present you with a choice of hardware styles, finish and colors. Bright, satin or antique brass; matte black; satin or antique nickel; rustic umber; and oil-rubbed finishes are popular offerings. You most likely will want a uniform appearance throughout your window wall, and you also may want to differentiate the hardware to suit each room's d├ęcor.

Custodial locks, window opening control devices and automated operation may also be helpful for windows that aren't often opened, shouldn't be opened by children or are difficult to reach to open. When windows are open, screens may be a wise addition in certain locations where insects can intrude.

3. Framing Materials and Finishes

Window Walls AD100
Photos courtesy Ralph C. Fey, AIA Architects | © Juan Vidal Photography

As with other customizable features, you most likely will want to choose a uniform framing material to create your window wall. Wood adds warmth to an interior and can be stained or painted to complement the surrounding floor and finishes.

While some homeowners like the all-wood look inside and out, many prefer the lower maintenance and increased durability of extruded aluminum cladding on the exterior. A broad spectrum of finishes and colors are available to customize the wood interior and aluminum-clad exterior, matching classic or contemporary decorating palettes.

Window Walls AB206
Photo copyright © Anice Hoachlander | Hoachlander Davis Photography

To give you the greatest creative freedom in designing your window wall, be certain to consider all of your options. Understanding what's possible will help you expand both your vision and your view.


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