Living room with round top swinging French doors.
09 June 2020

Lighten Up: A Historic Home’s Window Transformation

New windows and doors and a minimalist design palette modernize a Connecticut home.

When designer Frances Wilson decided to embark on remodeling her circa 1920s home in Greenwich, Connecticut, she immediately understood that the renovation’s most significant aspect involved the windows. They were dated and single-hung, with poor insulation that left the interior drafty. They also did not blend into a neighborhood filled with Tudor-style homes.

The transition from a colonial-style home with yellow and white trim, walled-off rooms, and lots of wallpaper began with changing out and adding new Marvin windows, 35 in all. “We completed the project in three phases over five years,” Wilson says. “First, we did the windows; then we added dormers and swinging French doors. I wanted everything to look like it had been here before.”

Wilson worked with architect Nancy Lovas of Lovas Architects as well as Ackermann & Stabile Contracting. The goal was to create a design for contemporary living while retaining original features whenever possible. The design team opted for traditional materials such as cedar shingles, copper roofing, oak flooring, and stucco siding. Even the new detached two-car garage, with a covered walkway leading to a finished basement, appears as though it was part of the original structure.

“Nothing jumps out when you drive past the home,” Wilson says. “Everything matches. It’s really a celebration of historic architecture and modern lifestyle.”

Marvin windows were selected in order to maintain the historic feel while delivering much-needed functionality and energy efficiency. New double-hung windows were installed in the garage, along with dormers matching those in the third-floor master suite. French doors leading from the informal kitchen breakfast area to the backyard were another addition.

The original windows (shown above) featured a series of small panes, which made the home look “too busy” from the outside, felt Wilson. “And I wanted more light coming in, so I went with windows with two panes above and two below instead of a multitude of smaller ones,” she adds. “I wanted everything to look modern, with clean lines, yet still fit within the framework of when the house was built.”

Equally important was the desire to preserve the unique window moldings, saving the costly trouble of replacing them with a custom design. The solution was Marvin’s double-hung clad insert, which slides easily into place.

With the windows in, the home’s makeover continued. A principal challenge was opening up the first floor’s closed-off living spaces. Removing a coat closet and a wall helped connect the drawing, dining, and living rooms. “All those spaces are open to each other in a very creative way,” says Lovas of the transformation. “The area now has a singular design aesthetic.”

One of the most compelling alterations was to the kitchen’s breakfast nook—it was formerly topped by a glass ceiling, making it bright but overly stifling during summer. A traditional ceiling was installed instead, the kitchen space was bumped out, and French doors were added to provide a stunning view to the backyard. “I love sitting there and looking out to the garden,” Wilson says.

The interior palette underwent an equally dramatic metamorphosis to evoke a minimalist ambiance. The red oak floors were given a dark stain; concrete replaced Corian in the kitchen countertops; pickled peach cabinets were painted white; and industrial-style chandeliers replaced 1980s-style brass fixtures.

“Frances has a great design eye and was able to communicate what she wanted,” explains the architect. “She took it to the next level.”

Today, light pours in through new windows, illuminating previously dim, gloomy spaces. From the outside, one would barely guess how many changes the house underwent. “It still looks historic and appropriate for the neighborhood,” says Lovas.

This article originally appeared in New England Living Magazine.