How to Detail Window and Door Heights

More often than not, window placement is determined during the exterior design phase of a house. This can cause visual alignment problems from the interior if door and window heights do not match up in individual rooms or around corners. The trick is to work both from the inside and the outside at the same time and apply a few simple rules of thumb to set your window and door heights.

First, the head height or top of the window, should be the same in any given room or visual field. Typically this is about six foot – eight inches off the floor with an eight foot high ceiling or 8 feet off the floor if the ceiling is nine or ten feet tall. The sill or bottom height of the window can vary within a room and still look visually correct, but the head heights have to be the same, especially as windows turn a corner.

To align a door with an adjacent window, it is important to measure the entire height of the door within the frame, as the frame height will be higher than the slab size. Make sure the window head heights are set to match the top of the door frame, so the interior trim can align. This is particularly important with sliding, French or folding doors, as their sizes vary and are often a few inches taller than the height of the operable portions.

Today’s Slides:

  • Jim Argeropoulos

    You didn’t discuss the role of clerestory windows for lighting vs windows for view. I assume you would be okay with clerestory windows extending above other windows.

  • Matthew North

    Hello Jim! I would still want the sill height of any clerestory window to align with the head height of any regular window. I have seen many a house where the clerestories have not visual alignment with any of the other windows. In a very tall space (like a ten foot ceiling) they may be placed quite a bit higher on the wall, so as not to cause any visual distraction, but with a lower (8 or 9 foot ceiling) I think the same ordinance rules would apply. What are your thoughts?

  • Li-Na

    Ahhh, we are back to the list of things that drive me *absolutely* bonkers! Goody! :-)

    I must confess that the second picture is making me twitch a little as I keep feeling that the art should be lined up with the top of the windows as well. Either that, or perhaps it needs to either be a slightly larger piece (so that it would line up with the top of the windows and still cover the same area it currently does) or a much smaller piece so that it doesn’t compete with the window. Any thoughts on that? Or perhaps there’s a reason for its positioning?

    I didn’t know about the trickiness with the Nanawall, must remember that tip if I ever get to have one in my own home! ;-)

  • BradW

    All this order has me craving a completely ad hoc yet infinitely comfortable bohemian spaces inhabited by starving artists. Sadly, I am not that creative or skinny so I must follow the rules :).

  • Matthew North

    The rules create comfort!

  • Matthew North

    The piece of art should really be set to the top of the window head height. That photo was taken many years ago in the days when all the rules were still being worked out……some of them were in place while others were still trial and error. Kind of like when you watch the first season of a TV sit-com and the characters and voices are not all figured out yet!

  • Louis Pereira

    I chuckled in agreement with John’s comments at the beginning of the video.  Nothing drives me crazier too, mostly because it’s such an easy thing to avoid. 

    Matthew – i noticed in most of the built samples that there is wall space above the top of window/door frame. This leaves plenty of room to accommodate a window or door header.  Typically, i try to go floor to ceiling but find this requires so much more precision which can sometimes create some issues during construction.  Do you purposely leave enough wall space above to avoid these problems…

  • Matthew North

    Hi Louis – we do go floor to ceiling from time to time, but as you say, it is tricky to get the beams/ headers all flush into the ceiling or roof. Typically we leave some wall space above the windows in either our new builds or renovations for that very reason – it is less expensive and less difficult to construct and I think the impact of having large expanses of glass is still achieved.

  • guest

    Around here the traditional thing to do with 9′ ceilings is to keep doors at 6’8″, add a transom and raise the window head height to match.  What do you think about ditching the transom, keeping head height at 6’8″ for doors and windows, then adding clerestory windows along the top of the ceiling?