For centuries, windows have allowed people to view the world around them from the safety and warmth of their homes. Unfortunately, however, when older homes are torn down or old windows are replaced by newer varieties, the wood-frame windows that once offered a view of the world are relegated to rubbish heaps, salvage yards, and used builders’ supply outlets.
If you see an old wood window that’s been put out to pasture, rescue it! Save its history and charm by giving it a new purpose. Few household objects can be as effective as an old wood window at providing style and individual flair to a home or a garden.
Old Windows Au Natural
When left unfinished, old windows have a beauty all their own. Their rusted hardware and chipped layers of paint tell their stories of decades of use when you use them for a new purpose.
Left as-is, old windows can be used indoors or out. Add to your garden’s ambiance by hanging an old window from a fence. Or mount one on a closet or bedroom wall to create an intriguing organizer. (If you intend to leave an old unfinished window out in the weather, consider applying a clear satin finish to protect the wood.)
Refinishing an Old Window
Creating a more refined-looking piece takes a bit more thought, time, and elbow grease. But the final, colorful product can bring new life to a dreary hall or plain wall. A simple coat of paint can do the trick. Or you can get trickier and apply a weathered finish.
If the glass in your old window is intact, you are in luck—you can mask the glass with blue painter’s tape, and then paint the frame just as you would paint your home’s window trim. For more about this, see How to Paint Trim.
Of course, broken glass should be removed. Use caution. Wearing heavy protective gloves and goggles, center each pane, one by one, over a lined garbage can and gently break out the glass, using a hammer. Carefully remove all remaining shards with pliers. Then clean the wood frames with a wire brush.
Once the old glass is removed, sand the wooden frame to a desired smoothness, prime and paint.
How to “Weather” an Old Window
A new coat of paint with an aged look can revive and restore a window frame, while still honoring its age. To create this type of finish, use a product that allows a base coat color to peek through “weathered” cracks in the topcoat.
Begin by sanding or wire brushing any loose pieces of old paint from the window frame. Because of the irregular texture you will be creating, the surface needn’t be totally smooth.
Choose two acrylic paint colors that will compliment each other. Paint-on the first coat and allow it to dry.
Next, brush-on a coat of a crackle-finish medium, such as FolkArt Crackle Medium (available on Amazon). Allow this to dry overnight.
Next comes the fun part. When you paint a layer of a secondary, complimentary color over the top of the crackle-medium, the new paint will immediately crackle to expose little hints of the color beneath. Apply only one coat of the secondary color, brushing in a single direction. Avoid over-brushing, which will fill-in the cracks.
Photo Frames & Mirrors
Old family photos take on historical significance when framed in old French doors. Transom mirrors bounce light off of a high ceiling. An outdoor window mirror brings the backyard right up to the back porch. A sturdy, ledged mirror reflects the outdoors to an upstairs landing and allows a perch for some whimsical wooden animals. Cartoon characters find a new home in a brightly colored window frame.
Installing new glass or mirrors in your window frame will add a finished look and sturdiness to a window. By far the easiest way to do this is to pack-up your cleaned-and-prepped frame and take it to a local glass dealer.
Most glass dealers can also install bracket hangers on the back so that, when you get home, all you need to do is mount them on the wall.
Artist and writer Bobbi Vandervort brings creative inspiration and personality to home furnishings and design in Southern California. All window designs by Bobbi Vandervort.