How to Choose Windows for Your Whole House (and What We Did for the Portland House)
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.