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windows mullionedWindows: Panes in The Butt
by Marjorie Dorfman

Have you ever wondered why windows are always so difficult to clean? Can you see through yours to the town or street below? If you can, you are lucky and too clean for words: if you can’t, read on for some tips, information and advice that no one requested in the first place.


A pane by any other name is still a pain. . . .The Dorfman Archives

I once knew a lady who informed me over an endive salad that she had exactly seventy-two windows in her home. Had I been on my toes, I might have asked whatever possessed her to count them in the first place, but alas, I was seated and did not think of it. I don’t know how many windows there are in my house: I only know that I have to clean them and that I can’t see clearly through most of them, (at least from the inside out). How about you? Do you know how many windows are gathering dust, dirt and nature’s grime right this very moment in your own humble abode? Do you have dormers, double hung sashes, French doors, mullioned, bays, bows, palladians, casements, clerestories or just plain panes? Who cares what these are and why are they here? Read carefully. A quiz will follow.

bay windowA dormer is set under a sloping roof. The double hung sash variety is comprised of two panels that slide up and down in vertical grooves with the aid of cords concealed in the jamb. The casement is hinged and opens in or out, like a door, operated by a crank mechanism or by a cranky hand. Introduced in Versailles in the 17th century, the French door is a casement that extends from the ceiling to the floor with glass panes that run its entire height. Mullions are vertical strips of wood that divide the panes of glass in a window. A window that projects from the exterior wall of the house is known as a bay; a bow is a semi-circular bay. The Palladian window, popularized by Renaissance architect, Andre Palladio, has three openings. The central one is arched and taller and wider than the others. (More to clean.) The clerestory probably gathers the least dust of all as this one lives in a gable or outside wall of a building that rises above an adjoining roof. All in all, we’re talking a lot of Windex here. N’est ce pas?

But what is this thing called glass anyway? Where did it come from and why is it in my house? Glass occurs naturally in the form of obsidian, forged in volcanoes and widely available to the ancient world for use as spearheads and other tools. The invention of glass as human technology probably occurred first in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC during the Bronze Age. The invention of the blowpipe by an unknown person around 30 BC brought a technique that although not easily mastered expanded the range and size of glass products. With this invention, glass became less of a luxury item and its manufacture became very important in the Roman Empire. It was during this time, known as The First Golden Age of Glass, that window glass (later known as crown glass) was developed. (Whether or not this permitted the Romans a bird’s eye view of the barbarians approaching the Empire’s borders is not known.)

The most famous account of the invention of glass is found in Pliny’s Historis Naturallus. It tells of an evening when Phoenician soldiers were camping out along the banks of the River Belus (located in modern day Israel) and placed their iron pots on the sandy shore. "When these pots became heated and mingled with the sand along the beach," writes Pliny, "a strange translucent liquid flowed forth in streams; and this, it is said, was the origin of glass." Window glass allows sunlight to come in but traps solar heat, much like what happens to a car when parked in the sunlight. The Romans were so obsessed with solar energy that they wrote within their legal code of law the Opieans Digesture, which deemed that no Roman could be denied solar access. (Forget about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! Don’t steal my sunshine, fella!)

Glass found wide application in Roman daily life. It was used in mosaics, panels and façade decoration as well as window glass. The invention of mirrors made by coating flat glass with silver or gold foil also dates from Roman times. Can one speculate whose reflection Emperor Nero really saw in the mirror before he decided to set his whole world on fire? Pomponius Mela writes that Egyptians made large statues from black glass, while Pliny speaks of a four-meter high statue of Serapis and a column made of emerald green glass at the Temple of Ammon. Lucius Severus gave the name of his warhorse "Volucris" (meaning light wing) to the glass cup, which he used.



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