Do you know what a widow's walk is?
I am seeing them more and more in new construction. Aware of the history the architect below has incorporated the romantic feature into this new home.
While they don't have the functional aspect they once had, the widow's walk has a very storied history.
Legend has it that widow's walks were prominent features on the seaside homes of ships' captains.
It provided a means whereby the captain's dedicated wife could stand with an unobstructed view of the sea, looking at the broad horizon for the returning sails of her husband's ship.
And then, should he never return, as a grieving widow she would wistfully stand there every day to mourn her gone husband, and privately commune with his cherished memory.
There are those who think this to only be a romantic myth. The feature probably started in houses that were heated by wood, and afforded easy access to the top of the chimney to pour sand or water down to douse a fire. This practical chimney access was certainly easier than setting up a long ladder, or trying to access an icy roof during winter.
Variations of the widow's walk came into prominence in the early 1800s as cupolas and belvederes. They also allowed for the escape of indoor smoke from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, or even summer heat from the house. The famous air-conditioning cupola can be seen on top of Mr. Washington's home at Mount Vernon.
As the feature became more stylized they added to the charm of the house and even the ultimate sales value. A feature is a feature!
The feature is coming back today in many forms.
Usually it appears as an upstairs porch or veranda beside bedrooms, or as room at the top of the house.
The porch affords a place for enjoying the air, or an astronomical repose. The enclosed room at the tops of houses has become one for visiting and relaxation.
These are very popular features in new construction. They might have such marketing labels such as "observation deck," or "master bedroom veranda."
But more and more the former, more romantic, feature as the one in the first photo is coming back.
My recommendation: if you are designing a new house, see if your builder offers the widow's walk feature! As a porch or room it is very popular, and very functional. And as the more historical feature it is very pretty.
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC
Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.
Office (703) 330-6388 Cell (703) 585-7560