A dormer is a window that is typically set vertically on a sloping roof. The dormer has its own roof, which may be flat, arched, hipped, pointed, or ornamented. Dormer windows come in all shapes and sizes. They can be roof dormers or wall dormers. They can have different kinds of roofs, that may complement the larger roof or other architectural details of the house. Dormers can add beauty and curb appeal to your home, or they can end up making your house look ridiculous. The following photo gallery of dormers will help you make your own decisions. This series of photographs shows many types of dormers from different architectural periods throughout history.
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The Eyes of a Dwelling
The dormers shown here, each having a gable roof, are from a pub called The Myddelton Arms. Located in the Medieval town of Ruthin in northern Wales, these notable and popular dormers from the 16th century are known as "the eyes of Ruthin."
For centuries, windows have been known as "the eyes" of a dwelling. Like a chimney, roof dormers are not part of the roof but stick through the roof. Some dormers, called wall dormers, stick through the edge of the roof at the cornice.
Essentially, dormers are "glazed structures," meaning they are windows. In fact, they are sometimes called lucarne, a French word for "skylight."
To install a dormer in your home, call a window specialist and master carpenter instead of a roofer.
More Definitions of Dormer
" dormer a glazed structure with its own roof that projects from the main roof of a building or is a continuation of the upper part of a wall so that the eave line is interrupted by the dormer." — John Milnes Baker, AIA
" Dormer Window. A window placed vertically in a sloping roof and with a roof of its own. The name derives from the fact that it usually serves sleeping quarters. Also called LUCARNE. The gable above a dormer window is often formed as a pediment and called a dormer head." — The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture
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Why Add One?
Dormers can have exterior and interior beauty and appeal.
On the inside, what may be dark, attic space can become habitable with a dormer window. An additional bathroom can be enlarged by a dormer tucked into a large bedroom. Besides additional space for a home, natural light and ventilation can make interiors more inviting and healthier.
From the outside, a dormer can define certain house styles — Neo-colonial and Colonial Revival, Stick Style, Chateauesque, Second Empire, and the American Foursquare are all house styles that generally include a dormer in their designs. Also, a dormer can give a horizontally-oriented house a sense of height, especially if the house is situated very close to a street. When designed correctly, a dormer can accentuate the architectural details in the body of the house — Victorian scrollwork, pediments, and even window likeness and symmetry can be enhanced by a like-minded dormer.
Avoid the False Dormer
Like cosmetic cupolas that sit without function atop a roof, the false dormer is a growing trend, especially in new commercial real estate. In an attempt to mimic a certain hometown colonial style of architecture, dormer units are attached to the roof without breaking through the roof. Fake dormers are often ridiculously out of proportion — either too large or too small — and they look silly because they appear so unnatural. The artificiality of planned communities like Celebration, Florida is due, in part, to this type of fake architectural detail. If you're tempted by this trend, ask yourself this — who are you trying to fool?
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Dormer = Dormitory
The word "dormer" comes from the same root as the word "dormitory," both coming from the Latin word dormitorium, which means a place for sleeping. It should come as no surprise, then, that attic spaces are often converted into extra bedrooms with a dormer to cross-ventilate with a gable window. Original dormers may have been built into your own large home to accommodate live-in domestic workers.
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Add a Bathroom
Besides extra sleeping quarters, the additional interior space created by a dormer took a different turn with the invention of indoor plumbing.Continue to 5 of 16 below.
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Dormers were especially popular in the 1950s Cape Cod style home designs of America's mid-century building boom. Nothing fancy with these additions — simple gable roof dormers that functioned as planned, adding light, air, space, and symmetry to the American home.
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The Shed Roof Dormer
After the gable roof dormer, probably the second most popular roof shape is the shed dormer. Often taking a pitch similar to the roof of the house, the shed dormer can accommodate small or large windows in a narrow or elongated width. Shed dormers are very common in Craftsman style homes and bungalows.
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The Extended Shed Dormer
Perhaps the most common type of shed dormer is the one extending nearly the full width of a house. In the front or back, this type of shed dormer extends interior space without adding to the footprint of the building. It has been very popular since the 1960s to the present time.Continue to 9 of 16 below.
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Arched Eyebrow Dormer
For centuries, the playful British have incorporated small arched windows into their cottage architecture. As these windows enable more light than space to enter interiors, eyebrow windows are often considered more window than dormer. The glazed slits can become very narrow and visually seductive.
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Mansard Roof Dormers
Dormers are common features of Second Empire style homes. François Mansart (1598-1666) modified the gambrel roof by making the sides steeper and inserting windows. The French architect had invented what became known as the Mansard roof, a popular roof style. The windows breaking through the Mansard roof are some of the earliest examples of dormer windows.
Even a more modern building with a Mansard roof likely will have dormers — sometimes both wall dormers (through the cornice) and roof dormers. The elegant and regal Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina exemplifies the 19th-century Mansard roof dormer on a Chateauesque style large home.Continue to 13 of 16 below.
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Most dormers are roof dormer windows — that is, the structure's roof surrounds the dormer as if it were a skylight. Accounting for snow loads in certain climates, constructing roof dormers is relatively straightforward in both original design and renovations.
A more complicated and some would argue a more elegant design is the dormer that is built through the cornice or the roof's edge. Also called "wall dormers," these "through-the-cornice" dormers are common in grand mansions and upscale neighborhoods.
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An Architect's Eye for Windows
Windows are part of an architect's toolbox. In this Southern California house, the renowned architect Paul Williams (1894-1980) combined different window types in an aesthetically pleasing way. A shed dormer and a wall dormer breaking through the roof line are added to more typical windows and an oriel window to make this English Manor style "cottage" look like a simple country home inside and out.
A good architect will have the education and training to envision design patterns that work for your house.
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The Eyes of Your House
Remember that essentially dormers are windows, and glazing is two-faced. Whether you are looking out or the neighbors are looking in, dormer windows can make your home come alive. Just look at those eyes....
- "Fleming, John, Honour, Hugh, and Pevsner, Nikolaus. "Dormer Window," The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture. Third Edition, Penguin, 1980, pp. 96-97
- Baker, John Milnes. American House Styles: A Concise Guide. AIA, Norton, 1994, p. 170