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What are Oriel Windows?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Oriel windows are polygonal windows which extend out from a structure, without coming into contact with the ground. They typically appear in the upper stories of a structure, although they are sometimes situated on the ground floor, and they are often viewed as a selling point in a home. Oriel windows most commonly appear in homes built in either the Queen Anne or Gothic Revival style of architecture, although they are increasingly common in modern design, and examples of oriels dating back to the 15th century are readily visible in Europe today.

There are a number of advantages to an oriel window when compared to a regular window. Oriels bring much more light into a structure, by expanding the total area of exposure to the outdoors, and they can also significantly improve ventilation for the same reason. Oriels can also be convenient for expanding the floorspace of a structure without increasing the surface area, which may be why they are so common in cities especially.

Depending on the design, oriel windows may go all the way to the floor, like a bay window, or they may start partway up the wall. Oriels are commonly installed over sinks in the kitchen, providing a nice view for people while they work in the kitchen and also creating a space for drying dishes or growing kitchen herbs. Depending on the design, the supports may be seamlessly integrated into the structure, or they may be used to add decorative ornamentation to the building.

On stone buildings, oriel windows are usually supported with corbels, pieces of weight-bearing stone which may be carved so that they are ornamental as well as functional. Oriel windows can also be supported with the use of wooden or metal brackets, which may be carved or cast into particular shapes. Given that oriels often appear on homes with a lavish decorating style, the ornamentation associated with the supports can sometimes be quite decorative.

In addition to being common in 18th and 19th century Western architecture, oriel windows are also common in the Middle East, because women can look out from shaded oriel windows without being seen. In communities where rules of isolation are observed for women, oriels can provide more of a sense of freedom, allowing women to see what's going on in their community without fear of being seen by passerby. An oriel may be known as a mashrabiya by Middle Eastern architects.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon262472 — On Apr 19, 2012

@Azuza: No need to feel sorry for those ladies. There are ways to take part in society without having physical contact with members of the opposite sex. Arab women are not all powerless and certainly have contact with each other.

Believe it or not, many of them choose to "isolate" themselves from a very public life so that they can spend more of their time on pursuits that strengthen their families and develop themselves intellectually and spiritually.

I personally see that kind of lifestyle as a privilege and hope to experience it one day.

I found out about oriels while proofreading a thesis on the subject written by a very well educated outgoing Saudi woman. Nothing sad about that.

By Mykol — On Jul 21, 2011

I spent about 10 years living abroad and am very familiar with oriel windows. One of my favorite places I lived had a long row of porch windows in this design.

This porch was built on the upper level of the house which looked out over the street. I spent many evenings and weekend mornings looking out these beautiful windows and watching the people going up and down the street.

By bagley79 — On Jul 20, 2011

Anytime I am in the market for a new house, I always look at a lot of houses before making a decision. One house I looked at had an oriel bay window in the family room and dining room.

I have always liked a lot of windows in a house and like to have the sunshine streaming in whenever possible. I immediately fell in love with this house just because of these windows!

They were both on the south side of the house, and this was an added bonus, because you receive the most sunshine from windows on the south side. I didn't end up buying that house, but have always enjoyed the look these unique windows provide for a home.

By julies — On Jul 19, 2011

My daughter lived in Europe for several years, and whenever I went for a visit, I was always fascinated by the buildings that had oriel windows in them.

One of the houses she lived in had these installed in the kitchen. They had a lot of charm to the outside of the house, but are also very appealing on the inside too.

They didn't get a lot of direct sunlight so whenever the sun did shine, it was nice to let in as much light as possible. Because they have a lot of cloudy days, having a long oriel window helped let as much light in as possible so the room didn't seem quite as dark.

By Azuza — On Jul 19, 2011

I'm very interested in the use of oriel windows by Middle Eastern woman. Interested, and a little sad for those ladies too.

It's good that the windows give them a chance to observe their communities. However, I think I would feel even more isolated observing the community activities from afar and not being able to participate.

By sunnySkys — On Jul 18, 2011

A friend of mine has an oriel window in her kitchen and she just loves it! She does in fact use it to dry dishes, and it also lets a lot of sunlight into the kitchen.

I love letting a lot of sunlight into my home, so if I ever do get around to buying a house I'm going to keep oriel windows in mind.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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