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Oriel Windows

An oriel window can increase the size of a room cost effectively, allowing optimum use of a restricted site and, reports Clive Fewins, can often help overcome the planning problem of overlooking.

"The most peculiar thing about oriel windows is that so few self-builders now incorporate them into their project," says Abingdon based architect Alan Dury, who has designed a number of oriel windows into new self-build homes.

"Building features like oriel windows which are, in effect, self-contained projecting bay windows that do not reach to ground level is not an arbitrary business but one that is dictated by the site," Alan explains. "You can often make the most of a rather restricted site perhaps in a narrow street in a town by the use of upstairs oriel windows. They are a good means of improving a view that is not too special but where the street has a pleasant view at the far end. Good examples are in seaside towns, where terraced houses may be crammed in a street but the view of the sea at the end is well worth seeing."

Oriel windows are also an ideal way to overcome some planning restrictions, in particular when there is a problem of overlooking the adjoining plot. One clever technique here is to close off or blinker one side of a triangular oriel so the open side frames the view and the planning objection is overcome. Sussex based architect and H&R contributor George Baxter has just done this for a client on a tight village site in Hurstpierpoint, Sussex. "Blinkering can be a very good solution to the problem of overlooking, allowing a window to be inserted into a room where it would otherwise be refused by the planners," he says.

Another use for oriel windows is to make a gable end more interesting. Alan is doing this in a large house he designed in the Arts and Crafts style for a local builder. It has a south end with a hipped gable which is broken up with upstairs and downstairs bay windows, supported from the ground, and a pointed oriel window that projects at first floor level. The purpose of the oriel window feature in this situation is aesthetic and also to add space rather than to gain a view, which is already extensive across beautiful open countryside.

As with other oriel windows Alan has designed, this will be supported by steel brackets hidden by strategically placed window boards beneath. The brackets do not necessarily have to be hidden, however. Historically they have played an important part in the appearance of oriel windows, especially stone mullioned oriels in the mediaeval period and timber built oriels, usually with small pane windows, much loved by the Edwardians.

Today, however, there is another means of creating oriels that avoids brackets altogether. Andersen Windows have perfected a cable support system which allows oriel windows to be thrown out from the wall without the need for bracketing. By this method, the window platforms at the top and bottom of the oriel are supported by cables that run off the rafters above or off the vertical wall of the side or gable end of the house.

"This system will be particularly useful when large brackets beneath are not wanted or are considered inappropriate to the style of the house. Generally we recommend this system, in which the wires are concealed in the frame of the window, for shallow oriels because there are specified maximum loading weights," says Andersen spokesman Bob Findon.

Whatever sort of oriel window you opt for, it will almost certainly make the room inside more interesting. The area inside the oriel is a bonus space that can increase both the floor area and interest of the room, particularly if a chaise longue, sofa or window seat is incorporated within it.

But won't all this be prohibitively expensive? Well, there's no doubt that it will certainly cost more than a plain flush window but the actual amount extra it will cost as a percentage of the overall build cost will be very small, according to George Baxter. "These features form attractive windows and theoretically can be of any shape," he explains. "You should remember that there is no need for a foundation below, which makes them quite economical. All you are really buying is a piece of glazed joinery and, in terms of adding value to the property, oriel windows can be very cost effective."

One of the best alternative techniques for reducing construction costs is to make the main roof catslide down over the bay. That way, a new roof with framing and valley gutters will not need to be built. Allowed a generous overhang, it is a mode of construction that will add depth and a lot of interest to your property.

"Design ingenuity is the answer," says George. "Good design is all about weighing up the cost relative to the whole effect. Oriel windows are a wonderful tool to add detail and interest to a house and also to make the most of any views that you may have. We should create a lot more of these beautiful features."