What Is A Widow's Walk In A Home?

Should you add one to your home?

The architecture of homes often focuses heavily on decorative features and making a home stand out from an aesthetic point of view. That's easy to see, especially when you're talking about ornate columns at the entrance of a large home or a dormer window on the peak of a house that doesn't have a room behind it. Two core concepts are often considered when designing a home: form and function. Though today's homes usually focus on aesthetics, that's not how it always went. Naturally, one needs to consider a home's function while factoring in its appearance. As such, it's easy to see why older homes often have features designed to make living there easier or more efficient.

So, when you see a widow's walk on a home, you may wonder exactly what it is and why it's there. They are not common throughout the United States, but they're a rather interesting feature and certainly add to the interest of anyone driving by. Do you know what they are?

An iconic design element

A widow's walk often looks like a space on the roof or near the roof line with a railing around it. Sometimes white and wooden and other times made from wrought iron, they look almost like a balcony or a rooftop patio that could allow you to sit and watch the sunset each day. Per Island Institute, they are often found on coastal homes — especially right along the waterfront. The history of the widow's walk is quite interesting. They developed as captain's homes were being built along the New England coastline. After the Revolutionary War, many of these captains accrued significant wealth, allowing them to build beautiful homes.

It's not fully understood why widow's walks were developed, though there's ample speculation. Many believe they were added to sea merchant's homes simply because they fill the same purpose as a crow's nest on a ship. Thus, they could have been used as a lookout position, though not all are convinced they were used for this purpose. On the contrary, many believe they are practical additions, providing a way for property owners to access their roofs and safely repair the tile and other structures.

Consider adding a widow's walk

If you are designing a home, adding architectural details like this may appeal to you, and with good reason. That's especially true for those building a Cape Cod or other New England-style home. Widow's walks are certainly an element of historic charm but aren't reserved for historical properties.

If you plan to add one, Modernize offers some tips, including ensuring the look agrees with the style of your home. For example, a widow's walk wouldn't fit in well on most ultra-modern homes. However, for those with more of a classic home design, installing this feature could be a nice touch, mainly if it serves as a functional porch off the second-story bedroom. Getting the sizing right will play a role in the process, as will choosing a durable roofing material that can handle the higher wear and tear of people walking on it. A significant investment to be sure, the addition of a widow's walk can be a fantastic way to bring the elegance and charm of East Coast vibes to your neighborhood.