What frames your view?

Understanding window trim options

A window is not just a hole in the wall.  A window establishes the meaning of “inside” by revealing our relationship to the outside.  Windows should purposefully frame the outdoors and enhance the interior space.  You may be finding a puzzling number of options out there when it comes to the finish “look” of your windows. A good architect puts significant thought into how and why your windows look the way they do.

The quality and character of a window is inherently associated with the materials and thickness of the wall itself.  The function of this detail is to mediate the joint between the window frame and the finish material of the wall. This joint should also be designed to absorb a certain amount of movement in the building.

The possibilities are endless, in fact, the window opening has been the muse for architectural invention for centuries.  So for now, I will narrow the study to wood frame residential construction.  Here are the basics to get you started.

Option 1:  Wood Casing

A straightforward approach that layers trim boards over the joint.  Like a picture frame around art, this method can bring good or bad attention to the window.  This detail can lend itself to a variety of styles from traditional to modern depending on the following factors:

  • The type of corner joint, mitered vs. square cut
  • The number, size and surface detail of each casing member. (from simple to very decorative)
  • The use of a protruding window sill with or without an apron below it
  • The color of the trim or type of wood and how it relates to the window and jamb material

Painted Wood Casing

Option 2:  Sheetrock Wrap

A contemporary and very simple approach that eliminates all trim boards allowing the sheetrock to turn the corner into the window jamb.  Sometimes, a wood sill (typically poplar as it is resistant to moisture) is added which makes for a more durable sill surface to set things on.  The corner bead can be rounded or the jamb splayed depending on the thickness of the wall.  This is also the most economical approach but needs to be thought through ahead of time.

Sheetrock Wrap

Option 3:  Jamb Extension

A more custom look and more complex to plan for and build, this distinctive detail frames the view in a minimal way.  The Jamb extension can be painted the color of the wall or the window or it can be wood as in this example.  The distance that the trim extends out from the wall surface is variable and can also be flush with the face of the wall. This approach is not standard in the industry so having details worked out with the window manufacturer and contractor ahead of time is important.

Jamb Extension

Option 4: Block Frame or Direct Glazing

Two different but similar details are the block frame and direct glazing approach.  This the most architecturally integrated method of framing a window since a structural member can double as a window jamb eliminating the need for any type of trim or wrap.  The thickness of the window frame itself or any custom built glazing stops are all that obstruct the sightlines.  Often reliant on a good caulking job and large overhangs, the waterproofing on these details needs to be studied carefully.

Direct Glazed (left), Block Frame (right)

Option 5 and Beyond: The Window as Design Opportunity

Windows attract out attention, from an architectural standpoint they are a precious opportunity to celebrate the momentarily thin separation between us and the elements.  It is a chance to give character to the building, to carve out a place of rest, a place to work or to display dramatic shadows that change throughout the day.

Sometimes the best way to handle a window is to rethink its purpose all together. I leave you with some inspiration.

Let me know what you think on my Facebook page and remember…

“Less is only more..where more is not good”
Frank Lloyd Wright


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