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Transom Windows And Where To Use Them

by - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Earlier this summer, I stayed in a beautiful home which had many outstanding architectural features. The ones which stood out to me were the transom windows, like this one featured in the little nook in the upstairs hallway.

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Single Hung Transom

What Is A Transom Window?

A transom is a structural term that refers to a horizontal beam above a window or door that separates it from a window above it.

Transom windows are small windows which can be hung over windows, doors, or open passageways. Transom windows (also known as transom lights) can be operable and open to provided added ventilation, or are fixed, non-openable and purely decorative.

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Transoms are a unique way of defining and providing subtle separation between spaces. They can be used in exterior applications or on the interior.

Why Use a Transom Window?

Over the last few years, it seems homeowners have been focused on adding texture and traditional character into their new homes. Shiplap walls, planks, board and batten, beadboard, picture moulding... walls have been getting all the attention! I feel like it's only a matter of time before we start looking elsewhere and find new ways to add interest to our homes. Transoms are a great way to do that.

You can use transom windows to enhance a home's architectural style. In a traditional home with moldings and substantial door casings, a transom window can accentuate the grand and stately feel.

Functionally, transom windows can also bring in additional natural light. Operable transom windows have the added benefit of allowing air to flow between rooms, or bring air from the outside in. 

Lastly, transom windows add character and a nostalgic feeling. It's a detail you often see in older or historic homes. While you can use a transom window in a modern home, make sure that the style of the window itself fits with with the home.

Transom windows do have unique appeal and can add unexpected character to a space. I always thought we should put a transom in our front hallway, above the doorway leading into our kitchen. It would draw your eye in and create an attractive entrance.

Where can you use a transom window in your home? Here's 5 Different Ways to Use A Transom Window:

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Source: Susan Susanka's Home By Design

1. Above an interior open doorway or cased opening

Set over an open doorway, also known as a cased opening, a transom can add definition and detail. The transom draws your eye upward and gives your eyes a restful place to land. The added height can make a doorway seem more grand which makes it ideal for prominent passages such as the one above in the main entryway.

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2. As part of a window wall

When paired with more windows and used on an interior wall, transoms effectively separate two spaces but keep the feeling open and airy and let the light flow. To keep the look from feeling overly chaotic, paint the window trim and mullions in a colour similar to your walls to make them almost disappear. For a more modern and high contrast look, you could render this window wall in powder coated steel.

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3. In a bathroom

Transom windows are also functional. You'll often see them used in bathrooms to bring in more light or, if they're openable, for ventilation. A transom window in a bathroom is a great solution if you have no natural light in your bathroom but want to bring in light from an adjoining hallway, while maintaining privacy.

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Some transoms are purely decorative. I'm not usually a fan of stained glass but in this bathroom, the transom is a gorgeous addition. It adds colour, texture, and brings definition to the two rooms. The stained glass also suits the architectural style of this home. With wood floors and a clean-lined vanity, the bathroom transom window enhances the Arts and Crafts feel of this space.

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4. Above an exterior doorway

Fanlights, or fan-shaped transoms, are a beautiful way to add character to an exterior doorway. This exterior transom window has definite curb appeal. The arched window, window trim, and brickwork all work together to create a pleasing vignette. I'd certainly stop and take notice if I was walking by! 

You'll notice that this particular exterior transom window has a beaded detail. This intricate design complements the sophisticated panelled door. Keep the style of your transom window in line with other decorative elements.

From the inside of the home, this transom also serves to bring in natural light. You can also use this fanlight to see what the weather outside is like, without opening the door!

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5. In a sunroom

En masse, transoms add drama. This room was already gorgeous but the multiple transom windows bring extra flair and character. Notice that the curved pattern on the transoms contrast well with the more angular lines of the furnishings and lower windows. This creates a complementary yet harmonious display.

Where To Buy Transom Windows

Now that you've decided you'd like to add a transom window to your home, where can you buy one? Here are a few different sources to try:
  • your local architectural salvage store. Places like this will carry vintage building materials and antiques. This would be a great source to find an age-appropriate transom window for an older home
  • lumberyards and big box hardware stores
  • windows and doors companies
  • auction sites like eBay or 1stDibs
  • Etsy. It's a great source to get custom stained glass transom windows made by artisans
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For a more budget friendly solution, you can build a DIY version of a transom window as shown above. No matter how or where you install your transom window, it will add charm and character to your space.

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