When I think of window treatments I always think of one of my favorite childhood books, Amelia Bedelia, in which author Peggy Parish’s kooky housekeeper character interprets—perhaps too literally—her employer’s directives to “draw the drapes.” So rather than pull the curtains closed as she was asked, Amelia takes out a pen and paper and literally draws a picture of the fancy living room curtains. The scene always struck me as funny not just because of the farcical play on words, but also for the absurd formality of it all: Who really ever draws the draperies? I don’t blame Amelia for getting this one wrong. I guess I have always been more of a “let the shade down” kind of girl. I don’t like fancy curtains like those of Mrs. Rogers, Amelia’s employer. Swags, tassels, fringe, and billowing fabric have always seemed overdone to me, like a prom dress gone awry. For my own house, I have only ever used Roman shades or simple, floor-length curtain panels; I keep window treatments tailored, crisp, and elegant and only sometimes add a touch of trim, appliqué, or contrast border. So just keep curtains simple, but make sure that they fit the window properly: When closed they should fully cover a window while maintaining a few soft folds for volume. It is far worse to hang something too small than to hang nothing at all.
Windows connect us to the outdoors and are a natural gathering spot; they bring sunlight, views, and ventilation to our homes. And design-wise they’re vital because they’re the most architecturally significant feature of any room.
It’s easy to understand the old maxim that windows are the “eyes of the house.” Not only do they peer onto the outside world, but, with a little dressing up, they can be a room’s most expressive characteristic. Some are tall and graceful, stretching from floor to ceiling, others so small they’re practically winking. Some historic houses have 16-pane windows, other modern homes have pane-less windows that span walls. There’s a different mood and feeling for each one, but one thing is constant: Save for a demolition, your windows are here to stay.
Luckily, the fabric you pick for your window treatments and the way you mount them offer limitless ways to transform even problem windows into gracious, light-giving sources of beauty.
Identifying your needs
First things first. When it comes to window treatments, you need much less than you think. Yes, a room feels unfinished when its panes of glass are barren, but, on the other end of the spectrum, a fussy window is like an elaborate hat on an otherwise smart ensemble: overkill. The idea of dressing a window has been somewhat overstated and oversold. Traditionally, curtains accounted for a huge chunk of the decorating budget (hence the overselling). And while there’s a bit of math involved in measuring and making curtains, even the most overwrought curtains are still hewn from fabric.
Blinds, shades, and curtains are the three most popular (and simplest) ways to dress a window, and you’re bound to use at least two of those styles in your home, in tandem or solo. Blinds are for light control and are rarely decorative (chunky wood blinds with fabric tape are an exception), while shades offer light control and aesthetics. Lined curtains are vital for blocking light and add a finishing touch to any decorating scheme.
But window coverings are not one size fits all; each room in your house needs a specific prescription. Especially crucial are the needs of the bedroom, where morning sunlight can be more jarring than the piercing cry of an alarm clock. And if you use your living room primarily at night, you’ll probably desire a window covering that shields the night glass, which becomes reflective, cold, and dark (and that veils your evening hobbies from nosy neighbors).
If you have historic or architecturally stunning windows in rooms that don’t need privacy or light control, skip window coverings altogether. Windows in passages such as a landing or hallway and high windows in a bathroom or kitchen are all good candidates for leaving bare.
While windows pointing east or north are subject to only moderate light, south- and west-facing views are blessed (and challenged) with direct sunlight. And as the seasons change, so will your curtain needs. You might desire less coverage in the winter when sunlight hours dwindle and more protection in summer if you’re faced with blisteringly hot rays. The landscape will affect your choice, too. If verdant summer months bring a canopy of leaves over your roof then you’ve already got an all-natural sunblock.
Walk through each room and envision how you use it. Of each window, ask yourself two questions:
- What degree of light does this window receive and how much of it do I want to preserve?
- Is this a view I want to emphasize or one that I’d like to hide?
The answer to those determines the kind of coverage you’ll need, from pinpointing the variety (shade, blind, curtain) to possible fabrics and finally the style in which it’ll be mounted.
If the view out of the window is worth emphasizing, pick an understated treatment that maximizes the amount of exposed glass and acts as a frame—not the focal point. If you’re trying to divert attention from the window, a treatment with more than one layer will help veil the view.
The textiles you choose for your curtains should somehow relate to the colors and textures in the room itself. The feeling and style of window coverings should be in keeping with the mood of the room.