Why Do Some New England Homes Have a ‘Witch Window’?
Here's the story behind this unusual home feature.
You can find witch windows (aka diagonal windows) on old New England farmhouses. The windows might seem to be architectural mistakes, but like other old home features, there’s a reason these windows exist.
What Is a Witch Window?
It’s a double-hung window installed at a 45-degree angle on the second story of some older farmhouses. The long edges of the window frame run parallel to the first- and second-story roof lines on the home’s gable end.
There’s a sensible explanation for this oddity. Let’s say you have a two-story home with a pitched roof. The home has windows on the first and second floors of the gable end—the part of the house where the sides of a pitched roof meet to form a triangle.
You decide to build an addition, but don’t want to mess with the existing roof. (Roof work can be expensive, after all.) You build a one-story addition onto the gable end of the home. However, the new addition covers up the windows that were there before.
You can put new first-floor windows on your addition, but there’s not enough room on the second-story end of the house to keep the existing windows. And if you don’t add new windows, it might be pretty dark up there.
Why not reinstall your old window at an angle, the only way it will fit? That seems to be what many homeowners in parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine did!
Find ways to add farmhouse style without installing diagonal windows.
Why Are They Called ‘Witch Windows’?
Local lore says witches can’t fly diagonally, so having a crooked window would prevent them from getting into your home. Less commonly, people also refer to witch windows as coffin windows, crooked windows, lazy windows or Vermont windows. People appreciate this kind of regional design quirk, the same way they appreciate the high ceilings and tall windows of Southern architecture.
You might want to take a New England road trip to look for witch windows. You might get lucky and see barn quilt squares, too!