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Windows on the world, from your deck


They are, by definition, open spaces. From decks we can ease back and take in an unimpeded view, whether the vista is of vineyards, redwoods, crashing waves or simply our own backyard.

But contractor Claudia Schmutzler of Windsor Decks and Gardens likes to add a note of unexpected whimsy to the views from her singular decks — large, multipaned windows.

Rather than being built into a wall, her custom-made outdoor windows, like a Surrealist painting, appear to float in the air.

These detached outdoor windows have become a signature design element for Schmutzler, featured in leading magazines like Sunset and Better Homes & Gardens.

Gardeners who enjoy decorating the outdoors with architectural salvage have already discovered how an old window, complete with peeling paint and missing glass, can appear almost like a piece of contemporary sculpture in a landscape.

Schmutzler, however, has taken the idea to a different level, designing and building brand new redwood windows customized to match, or at least blend with, the architecture of the house.

"They're decorative. But they're also functional," said Schmutzler, a longtime designer and builder in Southern California who is newly relocated to Santa Rosa.

A bank of windows can serve as windbreak or as a screen.

She came up with the idea while contemplating how she could gain a little privacy in her own backyard in Huntington Beach. A mere five feet separated her from her neighbor. Then it hit her that she might be able to make use of the four extra window sashes that her contractor had left over from remodeling her house.

"They were nice neighbors, but privacy is also nice," she said. "I just thought, 'Why don't I hang these extra windows from a chain and see how it looks. I loved how they moved with the wind. I dressed them up with a little valance."

Friends were charmed and before long, simply through word of mouth, Schmutzler found herself routinely using them as design elements in her deckscapes.

Made of weather-resistant redwood, they are typically hung using hooks and eyes and chains from a beam. She fits them so that they fall just above the railing.

"I usually hang them above a railing, from the upper patio cover or pergola. The tighter you hang them, the prettier it looks," she said.

Windows can create a different effect depending on where they are placed, evoking anything from a high wall with windows to the wall of an old summer sleeping porch.

She makes them from certified sustainably harvested redwood from the California Redwood Company in Eureka and usually finishes them to fit with the house, whether it's a rustic and cottagy look or painted the same color as the house or its trim.

She recommends putting them in a location on the deck where your eye can see through a window or French door from inside the house.

Do-it-yourselfers who want to try some deck windows themselves can make them as large or small as they choose. Schmutzler finds that an ideal size is about 2 feet wide and 3 to 4 feet tall. She inserts either more opaque sanded glass or beveled glass that glints like crystal in the sun.

The windows can withstand the elements. She likes to change them up for different occasions with curtains, valances, bunting and fairy lights.

Schmutzler has been doing construction work for years. One of her earliest gigs was pouring structural concrete for the Getty Museum in Brentwood.

"Richard Meier was the architect, and it was a thrill working on a project he designed," she said.

At 33, she shifted to landscape design and decks.

In addition to floating windows, Schmutzler is noted for decks that go beyond the usual squares or rectangles. She loves to work with multiple levels to create different outdoor rooms and adds design details that also are functional, like built-in benches for added seating or firepits that are secured into the ground, with the decking built around them.

"Multilevels are so much fun. They make the structure interesting," she said. "You can take one level to have an outdoor dinner table and a lower level that can feel like a living room."

Different levels, she added, can also offer different perspectives, with a step up to catch a view or a step down to move closer into the landscape.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.