The Cross House

An Oval Mystery

The first-floor bath of the Cross House, 1999. The original half-bath was converted into a full bath in, I believe, 1929. See the oval window? (Courtesy Bob Rodak)


Why does the oval window angle in????????

Have you ever seen that before?

VERY weird! And of course I love this eccentric detail!

When I purchased the house in 2014 the bath had been totally gutted. Today, the white quartz slabs are sitting in the dining room. The previous owner had all the trim stripped in a dip tank. This, unfortunately, removed the original finish, too. So, you can imagine my thrill when I found one piece which had not been stripped. I will have this analyzed to ascertain the original finish. Painted white or cream? Or with a faux wood finish like the rest of the house?

Last year I was able to round up most of the wood bits for the room, and I placed all these in the room. Where they have been sitting. And sitting. And sitting.

A rebuke!

A few months ago I thought: Wouldn’t it be cool to, at the very least, get the mysterious oval window back in place?




Outside, adjacent to the newly re-installed HUGE kitchen window.


The mysterious oval window is typical of architect Charles Squires. It is quirky! WHY is it angled? WHY is it oval? WHY is it so high up on the wall?

I think I know the answer to the last question!

Under the window was the toilet. A high-tank toilet. So, the window had to be higher up.

Now, as to the other two questions…



25 Responses to An Oval Mystery

  1. Regarding the angled oval window: that high up, any light coming in would go directly across the room. Angled, the light would come down into the room.

      • I don’t think daylight responds that way.

        If the window was vertical, the same amount of daylight would enter the room. And the angle of daylight is determined by the location of the sun.


        • Ross is correct: The angle of daylight is determined by the location of the sun. The size of the window determines the amount of daylight that would enter the room. The only thing that changes when the angle alters is the shape of the daylight.

          It’s another strange and delightful mystery.

  2. That is very interesting, and something I have never seen before in a house. It reminds me of the tilt-in single-sash windows commonly used on barns and other outbuildings, but those were vertical in their closed position, and tilted in to allow ventilation through the gap created at the top, while preventing rain from coming in. This does not appear to be the case here, as it appears to be fixed in the inclined position, and doesn’t project in past the casing.

    Have you examined the jambs and casings closely inside? Is there any evidence of it being an operable window, in one manner or another? Perhaps a remotely-operated mechanism like a transom? Some means of ventilation seem logical, especially considering that the conventional siphon-style toilet wasn’t universal in 1894, and the earlier “wash-down” and other styles weren’t as effective at keeping offensive odors trapped beneath a water seal.

  3. I would say that the angle would allow any condensation due to hot water during bath/shower to go down the window more easily? Is there any evidence of a groove on the bottom to collect water from condensation with maybe a hole to make it go outside or ventilate and allow it to dry? (i can’t find a picture to illustrate this groove/hole feature, but we see this on single gazing windows in France sometimes)

    • Ross said the bath tub was added around 1929 so there wouldn’t be any steam coming from the bath/shower when the window was originally installed in the half bathroom.

  4. Hmmm. Ross, is it feasible that this window was also a stained glass ornament? You noted in previous posts that this room has a self closing door and it was designed as today’s 1/2 bath, so could it be possible that there originally was a stained glass in there? I’m wondering about the positioning of the external street lamp. Given that guests would use this in the evening, would there be a delightful “picture” in there at night when dinner parties were happening? You have a round window in the phone closet, so why not in the “convenience closet”? In the day time, the other window is for ventilation, and it could have been angled to show the stained glass to advantage above the tank. Truly a conundrum!

  5. Older banks have angled windows at the drive-thru to reduce glare when looking through them. Though if I were standing in front of the toilet I would be looking down instead of up.

  6. If you stand in front of the toilet can you see outside? Maybe it was angled to give one the ability to look out but not in?

  7. That window currently is neither decorative nor functional. Is it possible that it was there to serve the raised toilet tank in early indoor plumbing days?

    • It does have a function. It lets in direct sunlight.

      The other two windows are under the roof of the porte-cochère.

  8. The house that my grandmother grew up in had two similar fixed windows, tilted in at the top. They were simple square panes, and the tilt was not as deep as yours, but I would assume that they were that way to shed rain. In your case, that would raise the question of why your square fixed windows (like in the pantry) are straight vertical, and not tilted. This may require some research…but your “Cross House Think Tank” is working on it!

    • All windows are designed to shed rain. I hope!

      This is why the glazing is beveled, and why sills are beveled.

      The only window in the house which is at an angle is the oval one. Why? I suspect just because the architect, Charles Squires, was amused by the detail. It certainly amuses still, 123-years later!

  9. Hey Ross, I googled “purpose of tilted windows” and found out this type of window was very common in Vermont in the 1800’s and was known as a witch window. They were usually installed in places where there was little wall space such as at the end of a gable. By installing them at an angle, they could use a larger window for more light and better ventilation. I have no idea of this makes any sense in the context of your house, but from the picture, it does seem like you don’t have much wall space.

    • I came across this as well in my googling, but in the related images, this appears to be an entire window – frame and all – tilted 45 degrees so it can fit in the wall space available between two roof lines. The window pane itself was not angled within the frame. (We are all “googling for Ross” :-))

    • The oval window would not be any smaller if it was straight. And it was never an operable window.

      But I like learning about a “witch window”!

  10. Perhaps it’s simpler than people think. The window is small and very high up, and if it were placed normally the shape would be visually distorted by the extreme angle. I think it’s hung like that for the same reason paintings hung in high places were hung tilting in towards the room.

  11. Also it is not a “witch window”. Witch windows are installed on gable ends and angled so they are parallel to the slope of the roof. Kinda hard to explain in words but a Google image search will make it clear

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