old windows


anyone who has been following along for a while knows that our new house needs a fair bit of work. we’re barreling through a lot of our interior projects; we moved in the middle of may and have already cleaned out the past owners’ possessionsreplaced most of our mouldings, painted about 50% of the inside of the house (ceilings, walls, closets, doors, trim and all), swapped out a number of light fixtures, decorated the nursery, rebuilt the bookcase builtin separating our living and dining rooms, replaced all the hardware on the kitchen cabinets and, somehow, i could go on.

cosmetically, the house is looking not too bad these days. partly, i’ve done a lot in a very short amount of time and, partly, the bones are really good, deep down, under all the scuffs and smudges. and, while it’s pretty amazing what a deep clean, a few gallons of paint (er, at last count i’ve got eight empty gallon cans downstairs) and new light fixtures can do to refresh a space, these things do nothing to address:

  • our 30-year-old roof with a concerning bow
  • our non-existent eavestroughs
  • our calcified hot water tank
  • our electric furnace ($$$)
  • our old wood windows (range from 1913, nbd, to 1994)

so, while some people might walk through the front door and take in the freshly painted walls and beautiful oak floors and think, this is your fixer upper?, there are actually a lot of big ticket items that our house needs in the very near future that are not the most visible things. and, while we budgeted to do them when we offered on the house, it still hurts to be handing envelopes of cash over to contractors every other week. i couldn’t help but wonder if there was anything we could strike off our must-do list while not compromising the standard of care we want to afford the house.

i struck upon our wood windows, most of which were last replaced between 1988 and 1994. they’re older, but they’re operable and, living in a temperate climate, insulation is not as much of an issue as it is back in ontario. not replacing them would eliminate a lot of hassle for us (i could definitely see archie making a break for it once the windows were removed) and save us a good chunk of money (about $10–$15k for both windows and labour). even though we plan to be in this house for a good long time, i’m always trying to be conscientious about over-investing, that is having our purchase price + our renovations add up to more than the house could demand if we were to put it up for sale tomorrow. and tacking all these things (the roof, the furnace, etc.) onto our purchase price would cut things pretty fine here, i think. taking the windows off the list gives us a little more breathing room.


surprisingly, pierre agreed to keep many of our old windows! when it comes to the big items — roof, furnace, plumbing, electrical, windows — he is firmly in the “new is better” camp, which i can’t argue with; old electrical is not charming. but windows are a bit of a grey area; if they are still doing their job, old windows can definitely be charming and saving money is charming, too. there is only one (the picture window in the living room) that we’ve decided to replace for sure. the sill is cracking and peeling from water, so we don’t just want to slap new trim up around that window without fixing whatever is going on underneath first. these particular windows are also fixed — they don’t open — and we’d like to replace them with ones that do, since we don’t have air conditioning and don’t plan to put it in.


with this being decided, we brought our carpenters back to redo the casings around six of our windows. as when we replaced our baseboards and door casings, we used the original window trim in the piano room to plan our changes. down came the pitiful trim around the bedroom windows (two in our room, one in frankie’s), the dining room window and the two stained glass windows on either side of the fireplace in the living room.

i then set about sprucing up the windows themselves. all the old nail holes got filled with dap and wiped down, a coat of oil-based primer and two coats of semi-gloss paint on the stiles, grilles and sashes. not only are wood windows so much more charming than vinyl ones, but i love that they can be fully painted to match the rest of our trim.


once the windows were white and all the casings painted, too, the 1990s bronze/beige hardware on the three bedroom windows really stuck out. i really wanted black hardware, but couldn’t find black sash locks/keepers/cranks at any home improvement store or anywhere online (at least ones didn’t that require me to chisel out areas of our window frames to make them fit). so i spray painted the ones we had, which looked great, but rendered them inoperable (the extra layers of paint made the lock and keeper not fit together quite right). so i settled for white sash locks and keepers, which were available at lowe’s. i then spray painted the screens black. since we’re not touching those constantly the screens are holding up really well. once the casings were on, i was able to order window shades — praise the lord. we’ve been sleeping without blinds of any kind (and paper taped to frankie’s window) for weeks now. they’ll take about two more weeks to arrive and i can’t wait.


the window cranks and actual operators are still a combination of bronze/white, but it’s a little more complicated to swap those out. i may use a metal primer on the bronze bit you can see; something to circle back to, maybe.


moving into the dining room, we have one large window that looks into our side yard (or grotto) and it’s a favourite of archie’s. in our first week here he fell off the undersized sill and hurt his back leg, so i promised him a nice deep sill for all his bird watching needs. echoing what we did with the baseboards (big and beefy in the living and dining room, slightly smaller in the bedrooms), we went with the deep sills on the living and dining room windows and just a simple parting strip, rather than a full sill, in the bedrooms.


this window still needs all the things done to it — it needs to be dapped, primed, painted, the grilles need to be painted and the hardware needs to be replaced and then it needs to be measured for a shade, but you get the idea. also, i am very sorry for the terrible photos. taking a photo of a window straight-on is pretty impossible, especially when you haven’t had a cloudy day since june. painting a window in direct sunlight is also a little impossible, too — picture me sweating, squinting and wearing sunglasses, permanent bruises on my shins where i lean against my little ladder. but worth it, guys! so much money saved! so charming.


finally, in the living room, we had the casings around the two stained glass windows adjacent to the fireplace replaced. we went with an exact match for the casing around the stained glass window in the piano room for these. i have no photos of our house that pre-date us buying it in march, but i have no doubt that this is what the original casings would have looked like and it makes me so happy to rejuvenate the house with original-looking features. i’m not sourcing 100-year-old wood (the new casings were actually built with mdf and pine) or anything, but i’m very happy with how things are moving along here, restoration wise.

these casings are so detailed that i decided to do a little bead of tricorn black right up against the window, which i’ll repeat on all the stained glass windows (we have five more besides these two). i think it helps distinguish the window from the casing and is also a good echo of the spray painted screens in the bedrooms (and bathroom, kitchen, etc. when i get there).

also, small sneak peek at our built in bookshelves above! once i’m finished with the windows priming and painting and staining the bookshelves is our next project. i’ve already painted the baseboards that wrap the built in, seeing as i have the semi-gloss paint out daily, but i’m really excited to see this major piece come together. things are going to start moving at a much slower pace around here as i head back to work two days a week in a few short weeks (something i’m super excited about!), meaning the two days a week that frankie is with her babysitter will no longer be house project time for me, but proper work time. my wrists are excited and so is my brain.

6 thoughts on “old windows

  1. Wow you guys really have some gem of old windows for certain! I hope that in the home I go to one day, I will see such beauty too. I like how you replaced things or fixed some stuff up too. My parents have really old windows that they never fixed up and you can’t even open some of them. They moved in there back in 1973 and the house is from 1922, and they really need to work on it but they just don’t. . .I hear almost every time i am there, “I really need to hire someone to paint our home inside.” and other things. . .but they never do. I have even offered help, but alas…
    Really love the casings too by the way!

    1. I think it’s our knee-jerk reaction to rip out the old, especially when it’s something like windows, where new is definitely touted as better (thermal efficiency, etc.), but not everything needs to be replaced just because it’s old! i think if ours were painted shut like your parents’ we definitely would be replacing them, but all of them opened and closed just fine so i’m glad we decided to keep them. and, ahh, not everyone prioritizes working on their home… i’m sure they’re finding meaningful ways to spend their time and money even if it’s not painting or fixing broken windows.

what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s