Old House Design: Flag Window

By: Mark Clement , Contributing Writer
In: Uncategorized

Question: An 1890s era home (OK, mansion) in my town has a unique window cut into the roof. It’s slender all of 8 inches wide and 30 inches tall it looks like. It’s too small to see much out of, never mind let much light in, and it’s questionable if it has a purpose other than architectural detail. Photo is attached.

A flag window.

A flag window.

Answer: I’m always careful of seemingly meaningless details in a home from this age. There always seemed to be purpose underlying the grandeur in what appears to be a Gilded Age home where ornamental detail was paramount.

The detail in question–while opulently appointed as it appears the entire home is–has a simple function, which, is not light.

This is what I’ve heard called a “flag window” and something unlikely to adorn a modern home. Despite the complexity of the metal and wood trim on this window, it’s purpose was to allow the homeowner (in a home like this a servant probably did the actual work) to display a flag.

The design trick here is that the window and its filigree served as a backdrop to a waiving flag giving it presence and mass without detracting from it as a slightly reflective monolith of glass might. And when a flag is not present, it serves to break up the roof plane without overpowering the drama of what appears to be a 12-in-18 pitch and the other castle-esque dormers.