Why 4/1?

What does 4/1 mean?

The shorthand way to describe a double-hung window is by the number of lights in each sash, either spelled out: four-over-one, or written simply with numbers: 4/1.  From the common one-over-one to a Colonial’s six-over-six, from an Italianate’s two-over-two to a Bungalow’s three-over-one, each form is tied to an era or style of house and helps an architectural historian identify when a structure was built.

Trinity Design/Build - by permission

I’ve always been partial to windows in general – original windows on an old house are crucial to the character of the building.  I often speak about the importance, value, and durability of old windows and why they should never be replaced, so it seemed natural to honor them in my company name.  4/1 windows particularly, with four vertical lights on the top sash, are distinctive to bungalows around Durham, NC.  They have a lovely proportion and balance with the thin panes above the single wide one below.

Any time you want me to pull out my old window soapbox, just say the word.  I’ve got a great vantage point from up there, and am always happy to lecture.


9 responses to “Why 4/1?

  1. Meghan Fitzgerald

    You know, I never actually knew of your affinity for windows. Its funny the things people never talk about. Ha! I was looking at your site, mostly because I was wondering what you are up to these days, and you fortuitously brought up a subject which I have been thinking about often these days. Windows. 1920s windows. With old storm windows and plastic wrapping for the impending winter (ugh!). Old and falling apart but gorgeous windows, which are possibly going up for replacement next year. Windows for which, after this weekend, I have almost intimate knowledge of their every muntin and kind of adore in an old, rickety, rotting, and somewhat strange way.

    The problem is that said windows, as well as myself, and the co-op house in which the windows currently reside, all happen to be in Madison, WI. Which, while wonderful, is not exactly prime for a consultation by the best historic preservationist/architect extraordinaire that I know. Any suggestions? Where does one find someone such as yourself in places far away?
    Miss you. I hope you’re doing as well as your electronic life seems to suggest.

    • no, don’t replace! don’t do it! really! one of these days I’m going to trot out a blog post detailing all the various reasons, but you, as an enviro, scientific, handy person can fix those windows, make them nice and tight, and then have the house get some spiffy new, snug storm windows and caulk for cheaper than brand new windows and win in all ways.

      google gave me the following leads for you: from Historic Wisconsin, and Madison Preservation. read over the ‘how to fix a window’ from the first link, and then call up Madison Preservation and see if they have workshops, experts, or other advice they can give you on-hand. if they’re a preservation organization worth their salt, they should have some sort of local resource or a list of carpenters who can help. after your poking around the windows, you may have realized that it’s all pretty straight-forward carpentry that makes up an old window, and all of it is repairable. that’s one of the biggest pluses for them, as if anything goes wrong with one little bit, you can fix instead of replace…

      I’ve got a friend from Wisconsin, too, and I’ll ask her if she has any suggestions for who to call. let me know how it goes – it’ll be worth the effort, I promise. you and your roomies can spend all the money you saved on windows on better insulation in the attic and basement, and still have some pennies left over.

      and yes, I miss you too, and my life is indeed going along swimmingly!

  2. Brian D. Miller

    Hi. I love the 4-over-1 style. It’s why I bought my particular house in Louisburg, NC. (built in 1935). To me, there are few things tackier than a neat old house with modern replacement windows featuring fake muntins. Anyway, where did the 4-over-1 design come from?

  3. yeah! 4/1 fan!! have a 1942 home in baton rouge that i believe originally had 4/1 windows with nice wide frames. these were replaced (before i bought the home) with 4/4’s and narrow frames. totally changes the look. replaced the frames. painted them purple. but haven’t (yet) found the $ to restore the windows to their proper 4/1 glory. so a question… where to find 4/1 windows?! just checked out pella and nothing.

    • sometimes 4/1s fit into the ‘custom’ sash options, unfortunately. I’d look at Anderson for another option, and see if there’s a good, local building supply shop around that carries a number of different window lines for comparison.
      my husband and I looked at a 1902 house that needed replacement windows replaced, and we joked that we’d get one for each other as a christmas present every year. it would only take us seven years to fix the first floor!

  4. I have a colonial style home which was built in 1900 – Kaufman, TX 75142.

    The windows across the front are as follows:

    1 window – 4 over 1

    2 windows – 3 over 1

    Those would be downstairs….

    With 3 windows – 3 over 1 upstairs.

    The windows are in horrible condition. I would like to replace with wood windows.

    Should I keep the current pattern? Or should I go with a more traditional Colonial window??? Six over 1???

    Thoughts and suggestions? I can send pics of the house if needed.


    • I assume the windows in the house are original? I would first investigate whether there are any local craftsmen who can repair the windows you have – it’ll probably be cheaper than new wood windows. If the windows are too far gone and you have to replace, then I’d match the sash patterns in the new ones. Most likely, the variety is because the width of the opening is different, so more panes can fit across. If you replaced that 4/1 with a 3/1, the panes would be wider and look odd.
      If they windows are not original (not wood, no ropes and weights, etc.), then they were replaced once before and a more colonial style may be appropriate. There was certainly a rash of people trying to ‘bungalow’ up a house with that style window over the past few decades!
      Good luck.

  5. Hi! I have beautiful 4/1 windows throughout my 1938 bungalow in Adams, NE. The kitchen was remodeled in the 50s and had the original windows replaced. We are getting ready to embark on a kitchen renovation and we are going to replace the windows. Where would I go about finding 4/1 windows? Everything I’ve found has the grid pattern instead of 4 vertical panes over a solid pane. Also, what do you recommend to use for french doors in an older bungalow? We currently have a single door next to a solid pane going out onto our deck. I’d like to have something more original looking. Thanks os much for your help!

    • A number of manufacturers make 4/1 windows, but sometimes they’re listed in the custom sash section instead of as one of their standard options. Try MW, Anderson, Pella – or even better, try your local building supply company, as they will know the different brands available in your area and be able to talk you through the different options available.
      For french doors, around here they were almost always 15-light (three across and five down). It’s rare to see them paired as original exterior doors, but that doesn’t stop people from using them now, as we value that inside/outside connection a lot more these days than they did in the 1930s!
      Are there any architectural salvage places in your area? See if there’s any place that has old house parts for sale, and at least you can get a look at what was common in Nebraska from that era – it’s a little out of my geographic range!

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