clerestory windows
© Peter Fritz

Clerestory Windows

Modern and mid-century style homes usually have one thing in common: big, expansive windows.

You may have noticed that many of these homes have windows that sit just below the roof line or even above it. The placement of these windows helps brighten up the space and truly makes it feel more open and larger.

These windows are called clerestory windows, and they are a mainstay in modern home design.

What is a Clerestory Window?

High Windows In Modern Home – Photo by Scott Frances

Clerestory windows are mid century modern windows that sit along the top of the wall, usually near the roof line.

They allow natural light to shine through without compromising on privacy. Their high placement also allows light to reach far deeper into the room, making it feel brighter and larger than it really is.

While these windows are commonly associated with the mid century style, they have been around for centuries. In Ancient Egypt, clerestory-style windows were used in sacred temples, like the Temple of Amon, to fill the space with light. The Romans also placed windows high up on walls to illuminate their great halls.

Today, clerestory windows are commonly found in contemporary architecture. In homes, these windows are typically placed either on the North or South side of the house to take full advantage of natural lighting.

What About Sizes?

Clerestory windows are available in virtually every size. They can be as big or small as you want. Because these windows are usually built-into a home, you won’t find standard sizes. Some clerestories can be 20’ long. Generally, these windows are narrow, but you may find tall options as well.

Clerestories are really just like any other window. It’s their placement that sets them apart from other window types.

Clerestory Window Designs

MCM Home with clerestory roof line

Clerestories come in a variety of styles and sizes. Some of the most common types include:


Contrary to popular belief, clerestory windows don’t have to be straight. Instead, they can be pitched to follow the natural angle of your roof line. These types of windows are installed either at the front or the back of the home.


If your home has an inclined roof, clerestory windows can be installed along the higher side of the roof to fill the space with natural light.

Varying Sizes

When most people think of clerestory windows, they envision long, narrow windows. But they don’t necessarily have to be this way.

Although it’s unusual, you can find clerestory windows that are just as tall as a regular window. They may be separated, or they may run continuously along the wall.

Generally, taller variations of these windows are reserved for homes with vaulted ceilings.

Parallel Design

In rectangular, narrow rooms, clerestories can run along both sides of the room to open up the space and make it feel bigger. The windows run parallel to each other on opposite walls to allow natural light to brighten things up.

Are Clerestories and Transoms the Same Thing?

Many people use the terms clerestory and transom interchangeably, but these are two different types of windows. While similar in nature, they serve different purposes.

  • Clerestory windows are typically placed just below the roof line, but they may also be placed above overhangs or roof lines.
  • Transom windows are placed above doorways and windows to allow more natural light into the space.

While they may look similar, transoms are typically not installed above or at the roofline. They are also generally smaller and narrower than clerestory windows.

What are the Main Benefits of Clerestory Style Windows?

There are many advantages to installing clerestory windows in your home.

#1 – Add Natural Light Without Taking Up Too Much Wall Space

While the windowed wall look is attractive, it does have disadvantages. For starters, it’s more challenging to use that wall for anything other than viewing the outdoors.

With clerestory windows, you can introduce natural light without using up all of your wall space. In living areas, placing windows high up on the wall allows you to brighten up the space while still using wall areas for art, shelving or whatever else you may need.

For smaller spaces, clerestory windows can instantly make your home feel more welcoming without forcing you to give up valuable usable space.

#2 – Brighten a Space Without Overheating It

If you live in a warmer climate, clerestory windows allow you to brighten up a room without overheating it.

Clerestories can increase solar gain in your living space, particularly when placed along the home’s northern side. When used with high mass walls and floors, clerestories can store solar heat during the sunniest parts of the day. These windows should be protected by the roofline, overhangs, or other architectural features to maximize their efficiency.

Windows that are double glazed with low air infiltration rates and low U-values can help improve energy efficiency and save you money on your energy bills.

#3 – Safer Than a Wall of Windows

Clerestory windows can be placed above other windows to create the illusion of a windowed wall. A support beam positioned between the two rows of windows allows you to enjoy the beauty of expansive windows without all of the risks.

#4 – Can Be Fixed or Opened for Ventilation

Clerestories can be either fixed or operable to allow for better airflow and ventilation. In warmer climates, operable clerestory windows can work with your lower windows to push hot air out and circulate cooler fresh air throughout the space.

Alternatively, you can install fixed, double-glazed windows if you live in a cooler climate to help keep the space warm and comfortable throughout the year.

#5 – Bring the Modern Windows Style to Your Home

If you’re remodeling your existing home, clerestories can help you create a modern look. Consider adding these windows along narrow and dark areas of your home to introduce natural lighting while bringing the mid century style into your space.

Final Thoughts

Clerestory windows play an important role in modern home design. Along with creating a certain aesthetic, they also help introduce more natural light and may even help you save money on energy costs. If you want to brighten up your space without sacrificing privacy or wall space, consider clerestory windows for your home remodel.