So the delivery guys will actually know what the number is on our house

A staple of DC rowhomes (as well as most rowhomes from the same period elsewhere) is the tradition of hand-painted house numbers in the transom over the front door. A tradition which has sadly been replaced in most “flipped” homes around here with the fine tradition of whatever crappy numbers Home Depot sells nailed to the brick on the front door. Lots of character, that.

When we repainted the front door way back in March 2011, we took out the inexpensive (read: crappy) house numbers that were tacked to the door itself. If there ever were original painted transom numbers on any of our block of 6 houses at some point, they’re all gone now.

Front Door before

We knew that we wanted to do proper transom numbers at some point, we just didn’t know exactly where to find a modern-day artisan to hand-paint numbers on a transom. And I still don’t know if such a person exists here in DC. I was about to start searching online for answers when Glenn from House Number Lab found me first and left a comment here on the blog.

Hi guys – Great site. Great renovation. I’m finishing one in Capitol Hill on a similar house. What an adventure. Anyway, during the renovation I found it hard to find cool address / house numbers you put in the transom so I started a web based business that does this. Check us out at We do numbers in a lot of historic reproduction styles with 22k gold (burnished, matte and swirl), metallics and premium cast vinyl…

That was more than a year ago. Which means that we’ve had no numbers on the front of our house at all for a year and a half. Well, that’s not quite true. When we were trying to figure out which size of transom numbers to order, we put up some 4-inch “numbers” to see if they were the right size. And then they stayed there for awhile until I ordered, and then for a month or so after I got the numbers in the mail before I could get them installed.

Old fancy transom numbers

Classy, right?

Dry run lining up numbers

While it would be great to get hand-painted numbers on the transom, this is the next best thing — and might be even better since the paint won’t fade and the numbers are actually on the inside away from the elements.

We ordered our numbers in 4″ matte gold and were persuaded to go with the extruded drop shadow when Glenn sent us a proof with a few different options. Rachel and I don’t care for gold, but gold is the color of most other Petworth transom numbers (as well as in most of the city) and we wanted to match the original historical look of the neighborhood.

You can order numbers and have them delivered straight away, or request a proof so you can see what they’ll look like. I was glad we did since we changed our mind on the shadow after seeing the mockup. Glenn is great to deal with and the whole process is super easy. In a week or so we had our letters in the mail and put them on the mantle so they could lay down flat over a week before install. Or six weeks. Whatever. I was busy.

If you do order numbers from House Number Lab, he sends you a video and step by step directions that make it a cinch to put up. I was still pretty nervous, though, since there’s no margin for error and once you put the gold down with the wet installation after a minute or two, it’s there to stay.


After putting a centerline level marks on the outside of the glass with a dry erase marker, you wet the glass with a special adhesive that comes with the numbers and then put the gold numbers down on the glass and then squegee out the liquid and air bubbles. After a short wait — moment of truth — you can peel the backing back, leaving the gold numbers on.

Moment of truth peeling backing

Then you do basically the same thing for the shadow, except without the liquid, and the backing can come off right away. More squeegee-ing to get the air bubbles off and you’re good to go.

And now the pizza/chinese food/UPS delivery folks will know which house is ours without having to look at the two neighbors’ houses to find a number.

transom detail

Transom complete

And my most favorite thing about the numbers is the shadow cast into the house by the streetlights every night after dark. Check out that fantastic old wavy glass too.

transom shadow on the wall

Anyway, if you’re in the market for some transom numbers (or numbers/letters for pretty much any other similar application), definitely check into House Number Lab. We were very satisfied with the final product.

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