Old Windows: Clearly, Many Uses

Bone yard:  Slang. an area where old or discarded ships, planes, etc., are collected prior to being broken-up for scrap, or otherwise disposed.

Years ago, while on a job for a client at a window and glass shop, I noticed old windows piled in a heap, in the “bone yard” outside. Many of the windows were shattered, but some were intact. Some of these windows were more than 100 years old, removed from remodeled Victorian houses. I thought it a shame to discard these charming relics, with aged patina from layers and colors of paint, weathered by decades of seasonal heat, cold and wind. The old glass, with ripples, tiny bubbles and imperfections, a nod to an historic era of pride in elaborate metal hardware and wood craftsmanship.

I struck a deal with the owner of the glass shop, and purchased all the windows that would fit in my Honda Element, nearly 20, for $5 each. “What are you going to do with them?”, the curious owner asked. I told her that I wasn’t exactly sure, but that I just couldn’t pass up something so cool, historic and beautiful. That day marked my discovery of untapped treasure in a glass shop bone yard.

My interest in old windows has led me to antique stores, thrift shops and yard sales, though usually for more than $5 each. Shortly after acquiring that first batch of windows, I put them to good creative use for a custom photo wall for a client. Being bored by the notion of the typical family picture wall –*yawn* — I wanted an unusual way of featuring five generations of family members, and had the idea of a baby and young child theme.

The client and I went through boxes and albums of photographs in search of the ideal baby picture of everyone in the family. I went to a print shop, and had all the various sized photographs printed in black and white, to the size of the pane, on matte cardstock paper. Using spray adhesive, I mounted each photo on a piece of foam core cut to the size of the window pane, and pushed the photo/foam core into the window pane.

In keeping with the historic theme of the photos, I resisted the impulse to scrape, sand and repaint the window framework, but instead, knocked off peeling paint with a light scrape of a stiff wire brush. Two hardware “D” rings were screwed to the back of each window frame to keep them secure and level. The result of antique window frames, displayed on the client’s long hall, was a dramatic presentation that honored 60 family members, past and present.

I liked the result of this project so much that I made my own family wall, though on a much smaller scale. My 700 square foot house has little wall space, with the challenge of prioritizing my favorite art and photos. I had six single-paned old windows, in which I enlarged color family photos to black and white, and hung them “gallery style”, close together, on a wall 4’11” wide. Many who visit my house leave with the resolve of finding old windows, so they can customize photos in a unique and artistic exhibit in their home.

Recently, out of curiosity, I googled “uses for old windows”. I was floored by the number of sites dedicated to clever and aesthetic purposes for cast-off windows. There are the requisite chalkboard painted windows, mirrored windows, paintings or landscape photos set behind windows for an illusion of a window with a view. There are folding screens and room dividers using old windows. Here’s just one interesting site.

If anything, it might inspire you to give those old discarded windows a second look and second life in discovering the creative possibilites of something destined for the landfill.

The ultimate use for old windows was not found online, but in talking with friend Vicki Bonnell about creative uses for old windows. Vicki mentioned that her she had always loved old windows, had accumulated quite a collection, and had found the ideal use. In next month’s design column, I’ll feature the story and photos of the Bonnell’s amazing upcycled window project, built by her husband, Craig.

I’d like to hear about your old window projects and ideas. Perhaps we’ll bump into eachother at a glass shop bone yard or antique store, hunting for old windows. Who knows, maybe you’ll have plans to tackle a project as ambitious as Vicki and Craig’s. We’ll see, next month.

Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is Interior Re-design Network certified.  Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior “re-design” – where she transforms and refreshes clients’ living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator and muralist.  To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at  530-276-4656 or leinanishively@gmail.com

Shelly Shively
Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is Interior re-design network certified. Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior re-design where she transforms and refreshes clients living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator, muralist, Whiskeytown kayak volunteer and curator at O Street Gallery. To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at 530-276-4656 or leinanishively@gmail.com
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7 Responses

  1. Hal Johnson says:

    So cool. Although I’m a neanderthal with anything even vaguely concerning interior design, I love seeing old stuff resurrected.

  2. Ginny says:

    Love your ideas Shelly. Keep up the interesting columns.

    Great ideas!

  3. cheyenne says:

    I can tell you that old windows can fetch a pretty good sum, more than $5, at auctions in this area. One lady in Nebraska paints the glass to look like large animals, moose or bear among others, looking into the house when the window is mounted on a wall. With all the old farmhouses that have been vacated in this area, through new ones being built or residents moving into the city, there is an abundant source for old windows or wood. One veteran at the VFW rescues the old wood panels and makes plaques out of them that he sells at flea markets.
    And this weekend I am going to a farm auction on the plains east of Cheyenne. I love going to farm auctions, Nebraska is better than Wyoming, more farms there.

  4. Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    My sister has old windows hanging free form in her outdoor porch area. They are secured by chains and provide a “wall” and wind break for her outdoor seating area. I have friends who scrounged for years for the fittings and handles and lighting fixtures for the day that they would build a house. Thank goodness that there are people like you with a good eye for treasure.

  5. Janet says:

    This article has given me much hope, I have 2 salvaged windows from my father’s old office building they are at least 60 years old. The building was torn down but for some reason I wanted them. My dear brother took them out and brought them to my house. They are peacefully resting in my side yard. Thanks to you I have some more ideas and feel less crazy about needing to save the windows ??

  6. Hollis Pickett says:

    And a visit to see Dusty Logan’s work at the Vintage Wine Bar is in order….just sayin’!

  7. Lazlo57 says:

    I would love to build a green house with recycled windows, but no luck so far.
    I stopped at a couple of places that were having new double pane windows installed, but they didn’t want to sell the old ones.

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