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6 Ways to Use Transom Windows in Your Home Design

Wednesday June 24th, 2020
Transom windows have been a staple in both residential homes and commercial buildings for centuries. Their compact structure and picturesque design make them an obvious choice for installation throughout a floor plan in both exterior and interior spaces. Though traditionally installed in exterior walls, transoms are now featured in many more areas of the home.

6 Ways to Use Transom Windows

  1. Front Entry Doors
  2. Exterior Walls
  3. Above Windows
  4. Above Interior Doors
  5. Between Two Rooms
  6. In Exterior Spaces
The transom window is rich in functional design history which might help inspire or direct ideas of contemporary inclusion. To fully understand the impact a transom window can have on your space, it’s important to understand the history of its gradual reformation as well as its many modern uses.

What Are Transom Windows?

Transom windows earn their name from the beam located atop a window or door, referred to as a “transom.” Accordingly, a window that is placed above this horizontal beam is deemed a “transom window.” Just as the size and shape of windows and doors can differ, transom windows are available in a wide variety of dimensions, though they typically match the width of the transom beam. Today, standard doors range from 24 inches to 36 inches, in 2-inch increments, so you’ll generally find that transoms match these widths as well. The height range, however, is much more diverse. The casing of a transom window is generally between 2-6 inches, although it can start as small as 1 inch and stretch up to many feet in height.

Reaching back to the 14th century, the transom window emerged in homes as a way to provide natural light and ventilation above a front door while also maintaining the privacy of the close quarters common to architecture of this era. Back then, transom windows were covered with fabric or animal skin that could easily be pulled back. Eventually, these natural coverings were replaced with glass, when the material became more readily available in households. The transom’s evolution continued as the windows became more mechanical, operating with hinges and metal rods that allowed a more seamless opening and closing as seasons changed from warm weather to winter.

Eventually, transom windows earned a dominant role in households, not just above exterior doors but within the interior space of a home as well. Both business and residential buildings installed these windows atop doors leading into offices, dining areas, or libraries, creating a continuous flow of air and light between spaces. The convenience of creating ventilation and brightness while keeping a door shut and locked for privacy was irresistible. The popularity of the transom window grew and grew until a brief hiatus in the 1970s and 1980s, where it briefly fell out of style before a resurgence of popularity in the 90s.

Today, transom windows are generally non-functional though some companies still craft options that open and close and some homes boast of antique transoms that have been preserved over the years. Used in many homes and offices, transoms are an increasingly desirable option for homeowners and renovators.

Benefits of Transom Windows

Both interior transom windows and exterior transom windows hold certain benefits that are exclusive to their unique design and history. From decorative transom windows to functional transoms, this window style adds a particular effect that has led many homeowners to install these framed panes of glass throughout their floor plan.


Traditional arched transom windows, known as “fanlights”, contribute a classic aesthetic to the modern home. When used within a front entryway or patio, they create a sense of drama and grandeur. Placed in doorways leading into a living room or dining area, a transom window crafts the sense of formality and beauty known common to classic and traditional design and architecture.

Transom windows are found in other shapes as well. The bold lines of rectangular transoms paired with sidelights are most commonly found in mid-century modern design. These transoms make a strikingly brilliant statement of light and space. Choosing irregular shapes, patterns, and uncommon materials or types of glass allows a homeowner to create the specific character they desire. A transom’s flexibility of design and style makes it an accessible and practical addition when looking to create an unforgettable statement.

Natural Light and Ventilation

The original benefit of transom windows has partially endured the test of time. Again, functional modern transom windows are not as common, so the benefit of airflow is reserved to transom windows that can open. Ventilating transoms can be customized no matter if your structure is new or old. Transom windows are an attractive source of natural light. Whether bringing exterior light inwards or allowing interior light to flood from room to room, transom windows facilitate a bright and airy space. Imagine catching a glimpse of swaying leaves in the wind or feeling the warmth of sunshine as you walk past your transom. It’s no wonder that many seek to include these windows within a home.

Visual Effect

The visual appeal of a transom window is not confined to the character of a transom frame but expands to the effect of its architecture as well. Transom light adds a roomy and airy element to the interior, making small spaces seem larger by connecting rooms through natural elements. Transoms create a visual facelift to traditionally segmented rooms when the option of knocking down walls for an open floor plan is not a structural or financial possibility.  


Installing a transom window on an exterior wall or above an office, bedroom, or bathroom door allows a homeowner to reap the benefits of exterior and interior connectivity without sacrificing privacy. Doors can remain closed and locked without creating a feeling of isolation or complete separation.


As with doors, sidelights, and windows, transoms can be customized to fit the needs of a space or your design preference. Transom window sizes differ between companies and many offer the option for complete customization, including height, length, width, color, and material. Homeowners can have transoms designed to identically match current door styles and sidelights or can have craftsmen create a brand new, custom-designed door and transom combination.

6 Ways to Use Transom Windows 

The list below provides a starting point for transom window installation. Consider it a starting point for design inspiration as you begin to imagine the many areas that could use a boost from the character and charm offered by transom windows.

1. Front Entry Doors

Installing a transom above an entry door is perhaps the most common use for transom windows. Many homes, both traditional and contemporary, feature an entry door with arched or straight-line transoms accompanied by sidelights. An exterior transom window above entry doors with sidelights artistically produces an impression of drama and awe-inspiring design. Imagine walking up to an entryway lined with a transom and set of sidelights as opposed to a solid panel door. One is definitely more inviting than the other.

The architecture of an entryway with a transom will always create more curb appeal and a better first impression. This effect is particularly powerful when a transom window is paired with a glass door. Likewise, architects and homeowners sometimes install a stand-alone fanlight along the front of their entryway for a dramatic and brightening effect, felt as one approaches the doorway from both the exterior and interior. This is often the go-to option when the ceiling allowance directly above a door does not match the spatial requirement of a transom window. Instead, transoms are installed next to and in line with the top of the door frame’s transom beam.  

2. Exterior Walls

The exterior walls of living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, dens, and bathrooms are all popular places to install transom windows. This window style provides light and maintains privacy without sacrificing wall space in areas where you have cabinetry or hanging artwork. This is especially helpful in kitchen and bathroom areas.

In a kitchen, sunlight peaks through the top of your wall over cabinets while allowing you to maximize space usage. In a bathroom, privacy is maintained while providing a connection to the outdoors and a chance for ventilation if installing operable transom windows. You could even consider framing mirrors or artwork (keeping preservation in mind) with a set of sidelights and a transom. In a sense, transoms are a great alternative to skylights—they create the same effect as windows placed within roofing but they are installed with less effort and at a more affordable rate.

3. Above Windows

Some older windows don’t allow for much natural light and many smaller spaces depend on transoms placed above windows for a much-needed boost of sunlight to make a room seem more spacious or cheery—especially in colder seasons where daylight is limited. Or, it could be that your space is oversized and the interior designer wants to take advantage of a panorama of windows and transoms as a main decor element. Transoms are perfect for either of these scenarios.

Consider placing a transom above each window in a dining area or in a family room—the places in your home where you spend most of your time. These windows could also be a part of your effort to revamp your space and create a more formal effect. Installing stained glass transom windows or vintage transom windows in your most-used spaces can transform an eating area into a formal dining room or a family room into an impressive space for guests to gather during parties.

4. Above Interior Doors

Installing a transom window above an interior door leading to an office, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, or sunroom invites sunlight to travel from room to room. The effect is very similar to a pair of interior French doors, though an interior transom window allows for a bit more privacy—especially if paired with a solid wooden door. Many row house owners will choose to include transoms over an interior door to bring more light into their space, as their options for sunshine are limited. The same is true for apartments or condos that do not feature exterior sidewalls. Installing transoms onto available walls can dramatically transform the space and increase the value of the property or building.

5. Between Two Rooms

Similar to exterior walls, interior walls can be upgraded with the use of a transom or a set of transoms whether or not a doorway is present. Transoms can create a connection between two formerly separated areas like a dining room and kitchen. Or, transoms can be combined with a doorway that leads from one room to another. This coupling creates a connection of light and sound, forming a stronger social connection when hosting large parties where guests move and mingle between spaces. Furthermore, transoms can be installed alongside stationary or moving room dividers, like curtains, pocket doors, French doors, and sliding barn doors.

6. In Exterior Spaces

Shed transom windows or transoms that line a semi-enclosed patio area or a screened-in porch are growing in popularity. You might want privacy in any of these spaces but that doesn’t mean you want to be cut off from nature. Transoms continue to allow sunshine to make an appearance in artistic and mood-lifting ways, even if you're spending hours working on a project out in the shed or want to seek partial refuge from the heat on summer days. Coupled with screened windows in a sunroom or porch, transoms can double the room’s sun exposure. This is also true for indoor garden areas and greenhouses.

How to Decorate Transom Windows 

We’re always looking for ways to give our windows the perfect facelift that marries functionality to design, so it makes sense that homeowners also look for ways to decorate transoms. Consider the categories below when looking for inspiration on using transom windows as a decoration.

Transoms as a Decoration

Transoms can be quite decorative, adding color, texture, and other design elements to a space simply through its installation. Consider the topics below as an introduction to how a transom itself can be used as decor.

Paneled Glass Transom

This particular type of transom is reminiscent of the French door. It features multiple panes of glass separated by framing that creates symmetrical patterns. Most frequently, the framing is crafted from metal or painted wood.

Fanlight Transom

Fanlight transoms form an arched shape, like a fan. A fanlight can be a fixed window but traditionally it is hinged at the base, allowing the window to open in either direction.

Solid Window Transom

In contrast to the paneled transom, a solid window transom features a single panel of glass surrounded by a frame. Many craftsmen and homeowners use the solid design when they want to feature an alternative to traditional glass, like stained glass or leaded glass that is to be beveled, painted, or texturized.

Window Treatments for Transom Windows

The options for design are not limited to the structural style of the transom itself. There are options to incorporate alternative glass panels, framing materials, and window treatments for both fixed transoms and ventilating transoms.

Glass and Framing

There’s no need to settle for the average pane of glass. For expressive decor, install panels of brightly colored stained glass. If replacing your panels isn’t an option, homeowners can always attach vinyl window clings that create the appearance of true staining. These clings are similar to semi-permanent stickers. They are adhesive and can be easily placed or removed over glass.

Beveled glass, or other types of leaded glass, are also great options for adding texture to your transom. Frosted or etched glass contributes a unique element of beauty to your doorway or wall. All these options create a classic or vintage appeal that would complement a traditional home.

Blinds and Curtains

Though it sounds counter-intuitive (isn’t the purpose of a transom window to allow light into a home?), many homeowners are quick to install blinds and curtains over their transom windows. Whether you’re particular about the time of day you want to let the sunshine in or you’re looking for an option to create added privacy, you might want to consider placing blinds or curtains over your windows. Curtains for transom windows can be opaque and drawn back with a hook or they can be sheer and left closed, still allowing partial light into the room. Blinds can still operate with a pulley system or homeowners can opt for a mechanical, motorized set that operates with a remote. Just like full-length blinds and curtains, these options can be purchased in a wide variety of sizes, colors, and styles.

Installing a Transom Window

Many homes are already built with the inclusion of a transom window. Installing a new transom window involves making simple measurements and choosing the appropriate materials for indoor or outdoor use. Most doors and walls will allow for a transom, but it’s highly recommended that you consult with a professional, especially if the wall in question is a load-bearing one as you’ll be cutting out a section of it.

The transom window itself can be installed in a number of ways. First, transoms can be purchased as stock transom windows or customized to a homeowner’s preference. These can be installed above a door with the help of a carpenter. The second option is to purchase a transom window that is pre-mounted, or attached to a door’s framing. This option is easier in general as the door and transom are installed at once. A pre-mounted transom and door combination offers the same opportunities for customization in both design and dimension.

Can Transom Windows Open? 

Most modern homes have inoperable transom windows. This means they do not open or close. Rather, they are used more as a decorative glass feature and to allow more light into the home. However, older homes may have operable transom windows. These transom windows typically open and close via a hand crank. 

Operable transom windows were more popular before homes had air conditioning, as the location of the transom windows allowed ample airflow and cross-ventilation throughout the home. On a balmy summer day, the opened transom windows were great for letting a cool breeze into the warm home; keeping the house cool during the night. 

Transom windows that can open usually open as awning windows do, which means they open from the bottom and go up and out via a hand crank that shifts the glass panel upwards. 

Nowadays, most transom windows are inoperable due to the other better ventilation options available, such as air conditioning. They are now used as a decorative element to increase natural light flow and add spaciousness to an entryway. Plus, they are not as easy or convenient to open as other types of windows are, as they often require a step stool or ladder to reach them. As inoperable windows, they are sealed into their frame, increasing their insulating capacities. 

While most people choose to use them as a non-functional decorative element and natural light source, you can still purchase transoms that can open and close. The advantage of operable transoms is increased ventilation, especially for homes without air conditioning or those looking to reduce energy costs by not running the air conditioning. 

What is the Standard Size of a Transom Window?

The size of a transom window varies, as the size of the window will correspond to the door width. It is usually just as wide as the door frame, and can vary in height. Most transom windows measure between 12 inches and three feet in height and width, but can be customized to be larger or smaller.
If you’re replacing an old transom window, you’ll want to measure the current dimensions of the window opening, as described above. If the transom window is a new installation, there are standard sizes for standard openings available. 
The general dimensions of standard transom openings range from 24” x 12” for the smallest to 72” x 24” for the largest. The former is the standard size for a small single door, while the latter is a standard size for large double doors.
The standard transom window rough opening widths include 24”, 28”, 32”, 36”, 40”, 44”, 48”, 56”, 64”, and 72”. The standard transom window rough opening heights include 12”, 18”, and 24”. 

If you have a space in mind for a transom window that doesn’t fall within these dimensions, you’ll want to order a custom-sized transom window. The same applies if you have an arched transom window, as there are no standard sizes for arched transom windows. 

What is the Difference Between a Transom and a Clerestory Window?

There are many similarities between a transom window and a clerestory window: they both have historic architectural uses, they are both above eye level, they’re usually wider than they are tall. They’re also both known as decorative windows. While they have many similarities, one key factor distinguishes one from the other. But, before we jump into what sets them apart, let’s start with what a clerestory window is.
A clerestory (pronounced “clear-story”) is a thin, yet usually large window found above eyeline, usually right below or right above the roof line. These inoperable windows are designed to amplify the amount of natural light in a space and give small rooms a more spacious feel to them. Their advantage of height benefits the home by offering increased privacy without sacrificing natural light. 

While transom windows are similar in that they are above the eye line and can be the same dimensions as a clerestory window, transoms are always above a doorway or window, while clerestory windows are not. 

As mentioned above, transom windows earned their name from the structural beam located atop a window or door. This beam is known as a “transom.” As such, the windows above the transom are known as “transom windows.” A clerestory window, on the other hand, doesn’t have any correlation to other doors and windows, and can be found anywhere in the house near the roof line.

Transom Windows in Your Home Design

There’s no limit to the ways a homeowner, landlord, or renovator can take advantage of the ever-developing and expanding inclusion of transoms within home design. Kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, dining areas, sheds, sunrooms, and more can all be transformed through the gracious light that transoms invite into a space and the impactful connection and spatial broadening abilities of its framed paneled glass. The addition of blinds and curtains along with the many beautiful choices for alternative glass, like stained or beveled, create infinite possibilities for an impactful and unique design.

Thankfully, this window is back in style and isn’t going anyway anytime soon. Many manufacturers, including Rustica, are offering more options for transoms in exterior and interior spaces. These transoms can be customized to match an old or new design or be purchased pre-attached to the frame of a door. It’s time to have fun exploring your options for including transoms in your home design.

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