Undoing Replacement Windows (and going back to steel)

A nice article about a couple of New York homeowners undoing a prior owner’s work.

Their new 1920s Tudor needed some work and “…it had some unfortunate updates… the windows were high-tech modern replacements.”

The "Before"

Their real estate agent probably didn’t see them as a drawback. But by reinstalling vintage steel windows, they regained a great deal of their home’s character.

I’m only left wondering how they were able to get permits for a project like this; namely, replacing dual-glazed with single glazed panes.

Also, while I’m not personally familiar with them (working as I do, in Los Angeles), do the homeowners use interior storms with their new vintage windows?

Going Back to Original Windows

A couple decides to ditch their home’s modern-day replacement windows and reinstall vintage steel casements.

By Demetra Aposporos | Photos by Todd Seekircher

A Tudor house in New York makes a dramatic case for the importance of original windows.

Frank Vaccari was raised in a Tudor house and always loved the style. His wife, Donna, thought Tudors were endearing and had longed to live in one. So when the house-hunting couple stumbled upon a 1920s Tudor for sale in Westchester County, New York, about seven years ago, they jumped on it. “It was in a nice Tudor community,” says Frank, “but it had some unfortunate updates. There was a ragged asphalt roof that needed to be torn off, and the windows were high-tech modern replacements.” Several windows also leaked when it rained.

Despite their concerns about these changes to the home’s original appearance, the couple couldn’t pass up the Charles Lewis Bowman-designed house. “We had a vision,” explains Frank. That vision came into clearer focus when, soon after their purchase, they visited a home show on Pier 51 in New York City, where they met John Seekircher of Seekircher Steel Window Repair. Seekircher’s display of vintage Hope’s steel casement windows with leaded-glass inserts made the couple stop and think. “There was another Bowman Tudor with its original windows right next to us,” explains Frank. “We knew that’s what our house should look like, and we wanted to bring back its original appearance.”

They brought Seekircher in to evaluate their windows to see if swapping them out for something more akin to the originals was viable. Seekircher told them that reinstalling vintage steel casements was indeed possible, and would make a huge difference in their home’s appearance—but that it would be a big project that would also involve repairing plaster and stucco, and painting the house inside and out. Because they’d only recently moved in, the Vaccaris decided to wait. They could only handle one big project at a time—and restoring the slate roof had to take precedence. Instead, Frank took some time to study up on his options.

Decisions, Decisions

“I did a lot of research on windows, and even got some quotes from modern manufacturers,” Frank says. “They were all trying to sell me on a replica window, but those didn’t have true divided lights—so they took on a whole different look from the outside.” He looked into modern-day Hope’s steel windows, but thought their double-paned glass wasn’t quite the right fit for his house. Frank even tracked down a Manhattan-based restorer who regularly outfits town houses to Landmarks Preservation Commission standards to seek his advice. “Do the vintage Hope’s; don’t even think about it,” he said. “They’re the real deal—the original stuff that was in the house.” Six years after Frank first contacted Seekircher, he called him back, ready to commit to the vintage Hope’s.

The "After" with steel windows reinstalled

“More and more, people have seen enough of this new stuff that they know it’s not going to last,” says Seekircher. “They’ve seen failures, or they realize they’re aren’t saving as much energy as claimed.”

The Vaccaris had some new decisions to make. While they were already hooked on true divided lights (instead of the plain single-pane glass also possible with vintage Hope’s), they needed to find the right pattern for their leaded-glass inserts. Seekircher explained that either three or four rectangular lights across each casement would be appropriate for their style and size of house. They settled on three lights across, which meant that—depending upon the height of the window—there would be anywhere from six to nine courses on each casement.

Next, Seekircher walked through the house with the Vaccaris, pointing out window openings that had been enlarged when the replacements were installed. “They had a room with a great big replacement window in it that looked out onto the air conditioning units in their backyard,” Seekircher says. “I told them if we went with a smaller window, like what would have been there originally, they would have a better view.” The Vaccaris took his advice and opted to reduce seven windows back to their original sizes.

Customized Fit

Once Seekircher had determined the number and size of windows the Vaccaris needed, he headed back to his shop to find the right ones in his 30-year inventory of vintage windows. Next, his brother Bill—who has his own company, Artistic Glasswork—fabricated all of the leaded-glass inserts by hand using new, clear 1⁄8″ single-pane glass, a process that took about a month. (It’s also possible to use modern restoration glass, but costs rise significantly.) Then Seekircher’s team set the leaded-glass inserts in the window frames, putty-glazed them, and gave them two coats of finish paint. (The vintage frames had previously been stripped and primed.)

Start to finish, the Vaccaris had to wait about two months for the delivery of their customized 90-year-old casements, which were then installed by a contractor. Seekircher compares the vintage steel frames to old-growth sash, saying, “Steel from the early 1900s is phenomenal; it holds up forever.” He also thinks the longevity of vintage windows makes them a perfect fit for today’s eco-conscious homeowners.

Now that the house’s casement windows are back in their proper places, the Vaccaris are thrilled with the results. “Some people thought I was crazy to invest that kind of money in a house at this stage of my life, but my wife and I are very comfortable in our home, and we want to enjoy it,” says Frank. “I’m so happy we did the vintage windows. The house looks fantastic.”

Published in: Old-House Journal August/September 2011


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