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Window Treatments That Work

Window Treatment Ideas That Fit Your Style and Budget

A table runner as a valance? A couple of Styrofoam balls as finials? Short sheers behind long drapery panels? What's going on here? What's going on is thinking outside the box, something Anna Politi, a freelance decorator from Gibsonia, Pa., says is the key to beautiful window treatments that fit your style and add a fabulous finish to a room.

Hard and Soft


Before we get to the really creative stuff, it's important to understand the basics of covering a window. According to Deb Barrett, owner of Window Dressings in Kaneville, Ill., window coverings can be divided into two categories: soft treatments and hard treatments. The hard treatments include shades, blinds and shutters, while soft treatments are the side and top accessories such as valances, swags, scarves, curtains, drapes and panels.

Usually, window coverings consist of several layers, perhaps, for example, a shade covered by a set of drapes or curtains; or a blind as the inner layer, sheer panels as an outer layer and an attractive valance at the top. What you choose depends not only upon the room's décor but also your personal style and the amount of privacy and light control you desire.

"Custom window treatments have been a growing trend in window coverings over the past six to eight years," says Barrett. "Prior to that, people were just putting up blinds when they moved in. Then a year or two down the road they'd add a valance. What we've seen is a move toward the softer side of home furnishings, and along with that has come a lot more interest in doing more intricate things on the windows."

Barrett says that in hard lines, interior shutters are becoming increasingly popular – partly because they can be built into a mortgage. Roman shades and roller shades are two other big growth categories because they have a softer look and come in more colors and styles than in the past.

Politi also likes to think about the aesthetics of the exterior visuals when planning window coverings. Rather than a hodgepodge of colors at each window, she tries to achieve uniformity of color either by lining curtains and drapes or by using the same color on the window side of all the windows on a particular side of a house.

No Limits

Many years ago, when Barrett's mother was doing window treatments, the drapes were the same color as the walls, which were the same color as the carpet. It was merely background for the furniture. Now, window treatments are an important part of the overall décor of a room. But it's still important to follow some basic design principles such as proportion and scale. "Usually, you start at the ceiling and work down," she says. "This adds height, formality and drama. Also in general, window treatments should stop at one of three places – sill, apron or floor. Anything else looks awkward."

Here are some of Barrett's guidelines for effective window treatments:

  • Top Treatments – Barrett says the biggest mistake she sees is making the top treatment too short. It should be at least 1/5 or 1/6 the length of the total treatment.
  • Rule of Three – This is a basic decorating tenet that any grouping of three is more aesthetically pleasing. This applies to window treatments as well.
  • Pools and Puddles – Draperies should always touch the floor. Puddle them for dramatic effect.
  • Mounting – A window treatment should never be mounted right on the frame; it should be at least three inches above a window. For windows topped with transoms, the treatment should start above the transom.

Politi agrees with these rules of design, noting that using as much of the floor-to-ceiling space as possible can give a room vertical dimension as well as hiding the flaws in a window. However, when it comes to creating window toppings, her only rules are to express the personality of the room and its owner. "It's important to think outside the box and not to be limited by what you can buy in the window department of a store," she says. "You can get your inspiration from nature, from looking at magazines, or from the interests or hobbies of the person who uses that room. Try to be inspired by the room."

Some examples that Politi has used in her decorating:

  • Kid's Rooms – Politi painted baseball-sized Styrofoam balls to look like baseballs and stuck them on the end of a plain curtain rod instead of purchasing finials for a sports-loving child's room.
  • Valances – To create a room with an Arabian theme, Politi purchased a table runner made from a satiny material with tassels, stapled it above the window, and then glued faux gems to the staples.
  • Curtain Rods – Rather than store bought, Politi suggests using tree branches (for a garden room), hockey sticks (another idea for a sports fan) or anything else that will hold a draped material. Again, let the room be the inspiration.

Cutting Edge
The decorating industry has recognized that window treatments are no longer just backdrop, and there are some terrific new products that are making window decorating choices very exciting. Barrett says she's also seen a big trend in creative cornices, which are relatively easy for anyone to make. She just did one in the shape of a train engine for a child's room. While this type of creativity may be easy for Barrett, if it's not your cup of tea, she definitely suggests consulting with a window design professional. "Usually it doesn't cost as much as you think it will to have your window professionally evaluated," she says. "Think of it as an investment – you may use these for 10 years or more."

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