I think I actually chuckled aloud when I first stumbled upon the illustration on the right. I was searching online for good photos to illustrate this post, and I came across this image on the website for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. It pretty much boils a fanlight down to its most basic representation, simply & clearly, doesn’t it? And it perfectly fits the definition of “fanlight” from The Old House Dictionary by Steven J. Phillips, which explains it as “a semicircular or fan-shaped window with a radiating glazing bar system, usually found over entrance doors.” I have also heard fanlights referred to as “sunburst windows” or “spiderweb” windows (you can kinda see why on this one for sale in Vermont).
If your historic house has a fanlight window over the door, there is a very good chance that it is “Federal” style” and was probably built between 1790 – 1820– unless the house is Victorian or turn-of-the-century– in which case it is probably an example of the later style that celebrated early U.S. architecture, “Colonial Revival” (popular from about 1880 through the 1920s). Either way, it is nice to be able to point out “the beautiful fanlight” to your propsective buyers! By the way, the cool photograph to the left is a collage of fanlights from England, and the image can apparently be purchased in several forms by visiting this website.