Air Conditioners of the Past: Transom Windows

I’ve always been fascinated by those little windows above doorways. I know, it’s a little weird but I get like that. Anyway, you can imagine my excitement when I found out they have a name—transom windows. Depending on the window, they can serve as decoration or swivel open a little to allow air to circulate.

The bathroom at the Formosa’s transom window.

Because they are high up, when transom windows are above front doors or, say, living room windows they can allow sunlight to stream into a room. Also, you can close curtains to your regular windows but still get the benefits of natural light from the transom window above.

You don’t really see them used much today. You’re more likely to see them in a vintage apartment building or an older home that hasn’t remodeled so much that they’ve been removed. In the days before air conditioning, they were necessary to create cross ventilation while still maintaining privacy and light. If you happen to live in a place that has a transom window, celebrate it. You’re one of the lucky few!

Transom windows can swivel open or stay closed.

Before air conditioning, transom windows were important to keeping rooms cool and allowing extra light to shine through. The added opening permitted air to circulate and light from other areas could still be seen.