Sometimes the inside and outside of a home demand different window proportions; here are some ways to satisfy the requirements of each.
Suppose you are asked to add two wings to a beautiful old classical home. Typical of older houses, this one needs a new kitchen and a first-floor master suite. Because the best view is in the rear, the bedroom suite would have closets in the front, and the kitchen wing might have the counters and sink facing the street. Small, functional windows would be fine, but the rigid aesthetics of the classical design demand that you keep true to the historic proportions of those old, high double-hung windows.
An up-to-date floor plan doesn't always fit a historic façade. However, there are ways to have a well-proportioned window on the outside, while seeing only the necessary part (or no window at all) on the inside.
The old builder's trick is to simply wall up the window on the inside — putting a black panel or black sheet plastic (vapor barrier works great) behind the glass. Clients can also install drapes behind the glass for a finished look. From the outside, the view is that of a dark room. This works best if you use windows that allow access to the inner sash from the exterior. Otherwise, it's difficult to wash the inside of the window glass.
If the window needs to be in a closet, nothing says you can't just use a blackout shade on the inside and simply allow the clothes to hang across the window. Raise the shade for spring cleaning.
Occasionally, there needs to be a kitchen or bathroom counter behind a low-slung window. Aligning the muntins or meeting rail with the counter or back-splash edge allows you to use a variation of the dark-room trick. Paint the back of the cabinets black or hang dark plastic sheeting behind them to make the covered part of the window look much like the upper part when viewed from the outside. On the inside, the counter lines up with a muntin or rail and looks perfectly proper. With a double-hung window, the upper or lower sash can slide behind the cabinet and function normally.
Of course, you could always install closed shutters with window trim only — but it has a somewhat forlorn feeling to it, as if nobody's home, or someone's hiding. Better to have actual windows, even if they're not used. —Dick Kawalek, a registered architect for more than 30 years, is founder of Kawalek Architects, Cleveland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.