Choosing windows for a whole house at the same time is like choosing a wardrobe for an entire decade on a random day in March, except way more stressful because it’s not just for the day, year or decade—it’s FOR THE EVER. But when it turns out beautifully, you are so grateful that you went through the process. We worked with Milgard on the Portland project and I’m happy to say that I LOVE how the replacement windows turned out. I hadn’t done a window plan before and having my first go at it on a 5,000-square-foot house in another state provided many challenges. But per usual, my learning curve is your gain, and today I’m going to walk you through what I learned from the whole process and what I love about the Portland project windows and french doors. So if you know you have a renovation coming up, bookmark/Pin this post immediately (before you forget all about it and find yourself desperately needing it six months from now).
When choosing windows, you need to consider the same elements as you would any other design project: the style, finish, function, shape, and composition…it’s a lot and it’s extremely important. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say that windows and doors might be two of THE MOST important elements in a house. And for this house, they couldn’t look cheap. A small odd vinyl window can ruin a perfectly good room, but a large pretty window that is rightly appointed can literally make a room.
First, choose what style you want. The biggest choice, stylistically, is whether to have divided window panes (called grids) or do have it open and just glass (picture).
This house was built in the 1980s and then redone by us in 2018 but the style of it is meant to feel more classic and appropriate to the neighborhood which is estate-like with large properties, most over 80 years old. So while I love a single panel, windows with grids were more traditional until the 1950s and this is not a mid-century house. The mountain house, built in the ’60s, for instance, doesn’t have grids, but this one I felt needed it.
At the beginning of the project before I got involved, the house was going a more contemporary direction in style and the architect chose windows without grids, single lite French doors, mostly single hung or picture windows, with some transoms and she got rid of the bay window. I came in and, well, changed it all because I felt this house should be more classic and traditional with grids and architectural detailing that feel right in a classic home (a.k.a. no bay windows). Now, this can look GREAT but it absolutely changes the direction of the house so it’s just a personal preference. Here are a few more traditional style houses with contemporary single windows:
It can absolutely work but definitely changes the style of the house and makes it more contemporary. It’s certainly less busy and doesn’t block any view.
But we wanted the more traditional style of the grids. The question is how many and how big, what finish and what color? There are options and I’ll walk you through them from least busy to a lot of grids so you can see the difference.
First, let’s decode the way we talk about grids: when you hear something like 2×2 or 2×3 grids, the first number references the number of window panes horizontally, while the second number is the vertical panes. So, in the case below, these are 2×2 windows (on each individual window, there are two on top, and two along the side).
As you can see, the fewer the grids the more modern and contemporary it looks. Here’s how it would look on our house.
It looks good, certainly, but I feared it was still too contemporary and it would be more obvious that it was a new build (not that that’s the worst thing that has happened). Also, it’s hard to get a sense of scale here but most of the windows are HUGE so even dividing them into 2×2 would make the individual grids still really, really big.
Another option that we seriously considered was to have a lot of grids, more like a house built in the early 20th century or like ours, which I LOVE.
But all of these examples are all white and we wanted black for this house, because white house, black windows is a winning combo forever.
We feared 3×2 (or more) would be too busy in black.
I’ll be honest that we were racked with indecision about this one. But ultimately went simpler. I highly suggest working with an architect on this decision, even if it’s asking someone to consult on this with you. The architect was no longer on this project when we were re-finalizing the window plan so it was just up to me and I wasn’t up there to really experience the space.
So ultimately, I went with a 2×3 plan for most of the windows, only dividing the light in half vertically but giving it 6 panels.
It was PERFECT. I LOVE how they turned out.
As you can see, they are fairly large (and tall) so just dividing them into a 2×2 might not have been the right choice for this house.
Now, one option you have is to put the grid inside the window panes. The reason this got invented was to make cleaning easier, but it doesn’t have the same look.
It’s my opinion that if you are going to do this you, should just do a single panel. I understand this is a lifestyle choice as grids do require more cleaning and maintenance, but to me, those in-window grids feel like you couldn’t afford the real grids (whether that’s the real case or not). So if you can’t, then opt for the simpler option.
The easy answer in terms of best (or best looking) finish would be wood, of course, but the general consensus now regarding durability is that fiberglass is more durable and thus longer lasting. Now, it’s just a personal preference and a lifestyle choice. For this project, we chose the Milgard UltraTM Series which was fiberglass on the inside and exterior and allowed for the black exterior and interior color we wanted. It looks GREAT (not to mention the performance in a wet climate like Portland is a no-brainer). PS, the Milgard Essence Series is a wood interior with a fiberglass exterior, so, it also provides that exterior durability that is very attractive.
Milgard set us up with a sales pro to find out more about the fiberglass finish and its benefits as compared to some of the other options. Here’s the gist: Fiberglass itself is nine times stronger than vinyl and three times stronger than aluminum. It’s repairable, paintable and has great thermal performance (vinyl isn’t paintable, although I did paint my aluminum window frames at my Glendale house, shhh).
The black-on-black interior and exterior finishes we went with is a very popular request, Milgard told us, but they also have four interior and seven exterior options for the Ultra fiberglass series (making it the most convenient when matching special themes).
Baked on paint (on a material like fiberglass) will not paint or chip like it would on a traditional wood window over time, nor will it warp, peel, chip, crack, or pit over time, making it almost impenetrable to water and the elements which is exactly what we needed in a climate of where it rains an average of 44 inches in Portland every year.
Another point to call out about these is that the fiberglass frames are super thin, which gave them a bit of a modern edge within the more traditional grid pattern, so it’s a great happy medium.
The Ultra Series line comes with a full lifetime warranty including accidental glass breakage, which is actually kinda crazy. Your kid could accidentally roll a bowling ball into it like my little sister did when she was 3 and Milgard will replace it.
How are these windows going to open and close? Now, a lot of this can be driven from the architecture and Jenna (the project manager at the time) asked her architect friend who suggested that casement or double hung could work for us. But if you are new to this, here are your options with a little about what each actually means:
Ken (my brother and also partner on this project) kept insisting that the windows we went with had to be either double-hung or casement (not single hung), and once we decided to do the 2×3 grid pattern, it had to be casement because the double hung requires it to be cut in half horizontally (in order to open on top or on bottom). Casement became the easy answer (on top of double-hung not being an available operating style for the Ultra Series).
Here she is:
There are a few things you need to think about with casement windows on a second story: if you have kids, it may be a safety issue depending on the height of the sill, so ask a Milgard Certified Dealer about ordering the window with a WOCD safety lock.
They can open very wide which is pretty awesome and the screen would typically go on the inside (but we took them off to shoot and sell the house).
Mixing Window Styles
We mixed the casement windows with picture windows here where appropriate, like in the kitchen and office but you can mix double hung, single hung, casement, as long as its the same style and finish. I was intimated to do this too much and it’s certainly not necessary, but it’s perfectly fine to do!
All the same rules from windows apply to French doors. We chose the same style and finish for the French doors, and with six sets of French doors throughout the home, it looks pretty incredible.
Windows and doors make a house and this house needed so much beautiful light to make it feel happy, bright and high end.
So without further ado, please ogle all these beautiful windows and doors from Milgard. And yes, you are getting a sneak peek into the rest of the house as we haven’t revealed all these spaces yet.
Choosing the windows can feel stressful because you want to get it right. My best advice is to be inspired by the architecture of the home, most importantly pin and pin and pin exterior homes that you love and try to discern what it is that you loved about them. Often you’ll see the style, size, function that you are attracted to keep popping up over and over.
Do let me know if you have any questions. I learned A LOT during this process, made some mistakes, righted those mistakes, so I’m happy to pass that information along to anyone who needs it.
*This post is in partnership with Milgard but all words, designs and selections are our own. Thanks for supporting the brands we love that support the blog.
Hi Emily, this looks fantastic! Can’t wait to see the rest of the spaces. 🙂 Could you share what sheen/finish you recommend? I’m sure there was a standard for these, but I’m planning to paint mine in a more historic home, and am not sure about flat, satin, gloss, etc. Any insight you have would be much appreciated!
Stunningly beautiful windows and home. They have really elevated the whole building. Good choice.
And thanks for your detailed explanation. It has prompted me to get my Victorian sash windows (with rotting wood!) restored – and hopefully draft proofed.
Awesome post with lots of good information that is not specific just to your window company. I leaned the hard way that in a kitchen any operative windows over countertops should ALWAYS be casement for ease of use…took me ten years to throw in the towel and finally replace an expensive custom double-hung window over my sink that was nearly impossible to open and close.
What a stunning house, really dreamy. Bravo !
This is such a great post! These kinds of posts that explain the way you think through design aspects are SUPER helpful! Thanks!
+1 Really enjoy these types of posts. Thanks! Also your window choices were perfect. I love how they turned out.
This post is what I’ve been searching for. Our mid century home needs new windows in the next few years. They are currently vinyl but black which the black is a forever yes but the way they open and the over all look doesn’t add anything to the home. Minus the $$$$ it will cost to replace 40+ windows I now can’t wait.
Nice post. One thing that can be a necessary consideration, which you alluded to a bit is egress (exit dimension of windows in a bedroom). Many localities have egress code which requires windows of a certain opening dimension in bedrooms (for safety). Egress can affect the type of window opening you will select (double-hung vs casement).
We just replaced windows throughout our home and had to make certain windows casement to allow for egress.
Can you add exactly which simulated divided lite grid you used? Looks like the Ultra choices are 3/4” Vintage SDL, 1 1/8” Vintage SDL, 1 1/8” Craftsman SDL and 1 1/8” Legacy SDL.
Thank you, thank you!!
This is so helpful- I love posts like this.
Help! How do I find someone to order and replace my windows?
There are many places around here in Denver that advertise in the mail- but with things like free steak dinners. They also come door to door and seem pushy. Can I feel good about Big Box stores?
Thanks Emily, great info! Two window questions for you:
We have a colonial built in 2003 with two of those dated looking, arched windows above regular. What style would you recommend replacing those with? Also, we must have wide windows because they managed to fit 4X4 grids in them which looks busy to me. Would changing them to 3 look off if they are on the wide side?
Very informative post. Thank you! Can I ask what you might do with French doors if you need some privacy? I’m so not a fan of twin mini venetian blinds (shudder/shutter…sorry couldn’t resist). It just freaks me out that someone might try to peak in so the option of covering it somehow in a stylish way would be great. Thoughts?
Some interesting info: A mullion is a heavy vertical or horizontal member between adjoining window units. Muntins are the narrow strips of wood that divide the individual panes of glass in a traditional sash.
We are embarking on a big renovation and addition on the back of our house in the spring after the rain winds down here in Oakland. I’d like to put in windows that are more my taste and are better quality than what we have throughout the house. My question is can we get away with leaving the functional windows in the front of the house and have two mismatched styles of windows? The plan would be to then switch the older windows out in 3-5 years when we have the budget. I hate the idea of putting in new windows I don’t really love the look of, but am worried the house will look cuckoo in the interim 3-5 years.
It sounds like it would be front vs back side of the house? If so my inexpert opinion would be go for it—I imagine it would be hard to have an angle where you can see both styles simultaneously. And even if you do, I personally would rather have a mismatch for a few years while I save up to replace the old than buy ones I like less.
Can you share some info on energy efficiency? I’m assuming because the windows you chose have a slimmer profile they aren’t as energy efficient? But I really have no idea.
Amazing Emily. ? I reallly love the subtle flush wood panel system applied to the family(?) room ceiling. Is that an 8 foot ceiling? Or 9? Can’t wait to see the post about it!!
Where is the cream sectional w turned leg from in the family room image?
That’s the Maxwell sectional from Interior Define: https://www.interiordefine.com/maxwell-custom-sectional-sofa-with-right-chaise#NT-3335-307/Leg014-2
Emily – Thank you for this post! You asked for questions, so here goes . . . We have a midcentury, ranch style home. It’s full of single pane, aluminum horizontal sliders, including two sliders on bathroom windows with obscured glass. Also, we have five aluminum sliding glass doors. We’d like to keep the midcentury feel and even lean into if we can. Any ideas on what to replace those typically suburban aluminum sliders with? Also, the bathroom windows look “cheap” to me and they are on the front of the house, any ideas there? I imagine the sliding glass doors will stay as sliding rather than french doors? Also, what is your recommendation on getting estimates on a project like this, maybe doing it in stages and generally affording it. By my count we have 15 or more windows, some of them picture windows, so this is a big project for our little family.
Huette, I’m sure team EHD will have some ideas for you, but since I recently had to replace some but not all aluminum windows on a midcentury, let me offer that Milgard offers anodized aluminum sliders that are a good choice, an affordable match for original midcentury aluminum windows. Not an match exactly but they are close enough that it works visually, and having modern energy efficient sliders is a lovely upgrade.
These windows really are perfect and make the house SING! And I can’t say enough good things about Milgard. The quality, style and price just can’t be beat.
This post was fantastic. Can you do one on exterior doors too?!
I’m confused about the grids on the windows in this home. Where are the grids placed? On the inside of the window or outside? Are these single pane windows? Are the grids glued on? Or are all the panes separate??
This is really helpful. I have a comment and question re the grids. Grids inside the window aren’t primarily done for cleaning purposes, it is really more of a cost issue. Inside grid windows are less inexpensive to manufacture because it is two pieces of glass on top of the grids instead of anywhere from 4-9 individual panes of glass pieced together with the grids in between. So from a standpoint of cost containement (since windows are expensive), what if you have a traditional house that should have grids but can’t afford the outside grids? Do you still recommend going with no grids which modernizes the house or compromising and settling for the middle ground of inside grids that aren’t really historically accurate either?
I know it can look busy, but those houses with the MANY lights (in black frames) are so appealing to me. They look almost like wire mesh. I understand why you didn’t go in this direction, but if I were doing a house that could go with the multi multi panes I would do it.
HATE the internal grids. No matter how much they cost, they just look cheap to me.
Such an amazing article Emily, so much information, excellent.
I have been thinking about fixed pane with a louvred panel throughout my house. I am in Melbourne Australia.
Are louvred windows available in the US? And if so, have you seen them used at all?
Over here they tend to be popular in hotter and perhaps more humid climates.
Great post at the right time as we are designing a new build. Looks like Milgard is only in the Western half of the US. Any suggestions for a nationwide window company that does the fiberglass?
Great job on your choice of windows and doors. I love every single decision of what type of window to put where. Impeccable taste and style.
Oh! This is timely. I think we need to get a big box store like, Home Depot to sponsor a post for you on how we can achieve similar looks on a more affordable scale.
Funny coincidence, we are renovating and our windows just arrived and are getting installed today!!! It really it look more like a house once the windows arrive!!! Wish this post had been up just a few months ago!
Thanks so much for this informative post; so timely as I’m working on replacing windows on my 1919 Craftsman bungalow. Can you possibly share the thought process on deciding to with Ultra instead of Essence? (That is, how you chose to do fiberglass inside & out instead of fiberglass on the side exposed to weather & wood on the interior.) Thanks again. xo
I have original outswing casements on my PNW 1928 house. They are cute, but i curse them. One thing to consider is the feeling of security – i love to sleep with windows open in summer, but main floor casements feel weird to have open while you are asleep – from a personal security kind of feeling (and i am not someone who usually thinks that way). Secondly, you have to close your windows whenever it rains. On the upside, casements do catch the breeze on summer evenings.
Thank you so much Emily for your much needed insights! I am a budding designer from India, and I find them so useful, the blog! Really don’t know how you manage to do all these things together, but its something I aspire toward… Anyway just know your contributions are much appreciated. Keep killing it!
Hi, Emily. Thank you for this informative piece. I have two questions for you please:
Do your French doors open out or in?
How do you suggest working with windows that have the grids sandwiched in the glass? I have a door to the mudroom that I painted the loveliest shade of green, but those grids look like a giant disconnect. Am I limited to painting my door white for the sake of a cohesive look?
Absolutely love it! We are going through a tough time at my home because none of our windows were flashed properly when they were installed just 7 years ago! We have to replace all of them (31 windows)….sigh…..I love the black on black. Would you do the interior throughout the whole house the same? Just wondering if we should do some rooms with a different interior color.
Great useful information and I love the look of the black windows But… will they fade???
I live in a northern MN and about 15 years ago we built a log home and installed very expensive triple pain fiber glass windows manufactured in canada. The biggest mistake I made was paying the extra money to have them custom painted red. The windows were beautiful at first but the red faded and of course not uniformly. We have had them painted which is quite a task on fiberglass and they are faded ven faster so now we have pink windows, especially on the south and east sides of the home. So my question is, will black, being such a dark color,fade? I really prefer black over white but I am gun shy to do that on our new build from my past very costly mistake!!!!
i feel your pain… we’re building and i’ve just had to go through this entire process myself… and i didn’t make it easy: mixing timber windows & steel; casement, sash & picture, etc., etc… i’m hoping i don’t end up with a hot mess, but i kept the palette the same throughout (black) with a focus on elongated rectangular forms… wish me luck!
If you have a casement window, do you also use a window screen? If so, does the window screen go on the inside of the house (since it can’t go on the outside if you ever want to open the window)? How does that work? I’ve only ever lived in houses with VERY old windows- are storm windows obsolete now with new windows?
Hi Emily, thanks for this super helpful article. Now I’m driving around town looking at everyone’s window choices! Would you please consider doing a similar article for picking out moldings? I loved how you showed which ones you picked out for the Portland house but could use a tutorial to get a better idea of the process. Thanks!!