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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for more Atomic Ranch articles and ideas!