When Life Closes a Window, It Opens a New Window

Almost everyone that has purchased an older home has — at some point — questioned the decision making of a previous owner.

In our case, there’s a part of our 1930 house that has been somewhat annoying for a couple of years now. Although it isn’t our least favorite part of our home, one potentially amazing part of our house is undermined by a decision made decades ago.

We’ve got a fantastic sun porch, but sometime after the house was constructed, the owners put in a bunch of cheap aluminum windows. It probably seemed like a good decision at the time. The porch was probably originally open, and the aluminum windows probably seemed like an upgrade.

The windows have those Z-shaped removable cranks that allow you to turn them and ratchet the windows open for a little fresh air. Unfortunately, the aluminum frames were thin and have warped over time — and you can even see daylight through a few parts. What should be a fantastic sun porch is instead a leaky way to inflate a utility bill. We keep the door to it closed and mostly just store our recycling out there.

No longer!

We’re decided to put some good windows on our sun porch. We mentioned it here on MML a few years ago, when the aluminum sun porch windows impacted our quest to secure our home’s historic designation. So in addition to making our house look better and allowing us to make better use of the sun porch, our project will also bring us into compliance with what the city’s architectural review board (ARB) asked us to do.

As such, we found the perfect contractor for us — historic homes and windows expert Hilda Dent, from Old House Specialists. Together we began to plan how we’d pitch our project to the ARB. After all, if you want to meddle with the exterior of your historic home, you need to run it by the ARB first. Hilda and her team came by to measure and make some drawings, coming back a few days later with a cool proposal – what if we could use scavenged windows from an old home and breathe new life into them as part of our revitalized room? We were sold.

The next step was to get the ARB on our side. Hilda helped us to fill out the form explaining what we were proposing to do. We included sketches of the project and submitted them on deadline to make sure we’d make the March meeting.

Last week we went to the ARB, which meets in the City Council chambers. If you haven’t been to see the renovated chambers, you really need to get yourself down to City Hall. The Council used to meet in a gross, cramped room with a dropped ceiling and a funny smell. No longer! They’ve renovated the beautiful old auditorium, retrofitting it for modern sound and keeping all kinds of beautiful architectural details. There’s ample seating, lots of light, and even an amazing secret mural behind the stage which will be the subject of a future post.

The meeting itself was fast. It was fun to watch other folks come forward and pitch their plans for their homes and (in a few cases) businesses. Everybody got approved, so we were curious to see what sorts of things really rankle the commission and cause them to send folks back to the drawing board. And we were also curious about what happens when someone crosses the commission, using the “ask forgiveness, not permission” approach. Does the commission ever drop the hammer on people?

When it was our turn, Hilda brought some of her salvaged windows for a little show and tell, which seemed to really captivate the ARB members. They quickly approved our plan and a few days later we got a letter telling us to come pick up a building permit. Now Hilda and her crew are hard at work refinishing the old windows. Hopefully next month they’ll be installed. Then we just need to figure out how to use our new space and find a different place for recycling storage.

All in all, the ARB is an interesting experience in a city that both loves history and preservation, but also hates government interference in property rights. Coming away from the experience, we thought we might even go back one day if we were bored and just watch some of the other proposals.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.


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There Are 3 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Stephen Woerner says:

    Hilda and her crew restored the windows on my 1940 home in Cloverdale. These windows had turned into water features, every time it rained. The quoted price from one of the better companies in town was a minimum of $500 per window to replace my windows. Hilda and company came out, and for far less than we expected, fixed all our leaking windows, replaced a couple of panes, and opened windows that had been painted shut for decades. We could not be any happier. Hilda is truly a treasure and an incredible resource for historic home owners in Montgomery! She is as passionate as any home owner about the beauty of the homes in our city.

  2. Carole King says:

    And don’t forget Rescued Relics at Old Alabama Town. We’ve got a huge selection of sashes with assorted numbers of lights. Volunteers are at 423 Madison Avenue on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, 10-12. We also need more volunteers to be open more hours, so…calling all you retired folks and eager preservationists!

  3. Jay Croft says:

    Aye, Hilda is a gem! She restored some of the windows in our home and now it’s a showpiece!

    We’ve sat through two or three ARB meetings. Fascinating–I remember one person who wanted to erect a toolshed or something, and what she proposed was worse than what was already there!

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