clerestory windows in living room
Take a look at those picture-perfect clerestory windows! See more photos of this home here: Modernism Speaks Fluent Scandinavian + California Modern In This House

Clerestory windows, the small windows placed along the upper part of a wall, are a common feature in Mid Century Modern homes. But their history goes back much further than a mere 70 years or so— they date back to the ancient Egyptians, as they were used in sacred temples to fill the spaces with light. They were used in other religious institutions throughout the centuries too— in synagogues, cathedrals and basilicas.

Eventually, these windows made their way into residential architecture around the mid century. Because clerestory windows were placed high upon the wall, they let in more ambient light and less direct light, keeping homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

mid century modern clerestory windows in cathedral
Check out the exquisite clerestory windows of Chartres Cathedral in France. The church was built in between 1194 and 1220 CE. Courtesy of Histories Of Emotion.

These windows were perfect for homes with more extreme weather, like the dry heat of Southern California or the wet and cloudy skies of the Pacific Northwest. Clerestory windows soon began to show up in the regional architecture of these areas (Desert Modernism and Northwest Regionalism, respectively.)

Clerestory windows were also a helpful feature from a design standpoint. They meant more open eye-level wall space, allowing for more space for art and built-ins. They provided privacy without sacrificing natural light, and when combined with skylights, clerestory windows made a space feel truly heavenly.

Let’s take a look at 7 examples of clerestory windows and dive into the beauty these small-but-mighty architectural features.

mid century modern clerestory windows on exterior of washington home
Courtesy of FINNE Architects.

The exterior clerestory windows of this Washington home make the most of the sunlight the home receives. There are also interior clerestory windows, allowing for light transfer and a feeling of openness between the spaces.

mid century modern clerestory windows on exterior of coachella valley home
Courtesy of Zillow.

The clerestory windows of this Desert Modern home fit perfectly alongside the butterfly roof— notice how the roof’s overhang protects the windows too. The protected windows mean more indirect, ambient light and less hot, direct sunlight.

mid century modern clerestory windows in post-and-beam home
See more photos of this home here: This Post And Beam House Is A Renovation Success Story

The clerestory windows in this 1957 Colorado home provide the perfect amount of light for the surrounding houseplants! Shutters were removed from some of the windows, further enhancing the clean lines of the design.

mid century modern clerestory windows on roofline with lava rocks
See more photos of this home here: Invisible Solutions In A Case Study House

The homeowners of the Case Study House #26 recently installed window inserts into their clerestory windows to maintain better installation. They also surrounded the windows with lava rocks to give the space some visual contrast.

mid century modern clerestory windows in dining room
See more photos of this home here: Modernism Speaks Fluent Scandinavian + California Modern In This House

The clerestory windows in this Swedish home built in 1959 allow for more options when it comes to wall decor— because the windows are placed so high, there’s more room for a unique wood-paneled built-in. We also love the coordinating wood framing surrounding the windows.

mid century modern clerestory windows in living area
See more photos of this home here: Preserved Rudolph Schindler California Modernist Masterpiece On The Market

This 1952 Rudolph Schindler California home demonstrates another great use of wall space— the unique shelving system allows the homeowner to show off some of their favorite pieces, while the clerestory windows that sit above provide ample light.

mid century modern clerestory windows in family room
See more of this home here: Let’s Keep It Rolling, Pt. 3: The Remodeling Bloopers

Clerestory windows don’t have to be huge, as this 1960s California home demonstrates. They can fit into tiny spaces and still be an ideal vessel of ambient light. The windows look even better when they’re paired against a shiplap ceiling.

Want to learn about another amazing architectural feature? Check out some cantilevers! And of course, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest for more Atomic Ranch articles and ideas!