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What Is an Eyebrow Window?

Elizabeth West
Elizabeth West

An eyebrow window is a narrow, elliptical arched window without sides, usually located on the front of a building’s roof, where a dormer would be. It is so named because the roofing material carries over it much like an eyebrow over an eye. Of medieval origin, eyebrow windows can be found in old thatched cottages in Europe and large houses of the American Victorian era. They are expensive to build in modern homes but very attractive, and custom window treatments are available for them.

There are no sides on an eyebrow window like a regular dormer, which looks something like a box with a roof. The shingles go right over the top of the window in an unbroken wavy line. An eyebrow window usually doesn’t open but does bring sunlight to upper rooms and attic spaces and breaks up the roof line. The eyebrow window first appeared in medieval and thatch cottages, as a way to admit light and air to the heavy-roofed structures.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Many American versions can be found on Queen Anne and Second Empire houses built in the last part of the 19th century. At that time, American Victorians were in a flurry of excess and the resulting architecture was a mishmash of gables, trim, all types of windows, towers and other features. A revival of medieval styles and the need for light and ventilation in dark upper stories was probably responsible for the inclusion of the eyebrow window. Architect Henry Hobson Richardson first popularized them in his Boston Shingle style houses. Later in the 1920s and 1930s, they were used in simpler Craftsman bungalows.

The modern eyebrow window is usually custom-made. Shingling the structure is sometimes challenging, and requires a contractor with experience in handling its unique geometry. Roofers can treat the window as a separate entity, or run the shingles right up over it, but either way the intent is to produce a seamless look. Typically this type of window will cost three times what a roof skylight would, due to the difficulty of design and installation. Newer designs are more functional than the originals, and may even be operable.

A simple window treatment for an eyebrow window is a curtain rod hung above the arch, allowing the fabric to drape down over it. Since most dormers and custom windows like this are installed to add light, white or pale curtains or sheers would be a better treatment than heavy drapes. Some window treatment companies offer special curved or flexible rods that can hold a gathered sunburst treatment, like a large fan which covers the glass. These, along with custom blinds, still allow light to come through the eyebrow window but preserve privacy.

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