It’s said that the quickest way to update the look of a room is to paint it. But to add that final bit of polish, experts agree that nothing beats installing the right window treatments. “The prettiest rooms are filled with layers and textures,” says Christy Edens, a designer with Verve. “Adding those elements at the window really finishes the room.”
But unlike rugs, that have nothing more to do than lie there and look beautiful, curtains, blinds, draperies and shutters also have to work for their keep by blocking light and glare, offering privacy or framing a view. In most cases, they’ve got to be able to multi-task as well — letting sunshine spill in during certain times of day, or allowing a door to open and close. As is so often the case, combining form and function can be a challenge. “It has to do whatever it’s supposed to do and still has to look nice, both from the inside and the outside,” says Christy.
For many homeowners, a window treatment is all about giving the room a personal look. When it was time for Christine Koutrakos to update the window treatments in her breakfast room, she felt like she had an easy job. “Our side yard is very private, so the treatment could be totally decorative,” she says. “We really didn’t need anything, but it just looked unfinished to me. I think window treatments are an element of a room that really matter. There are so many choices you can really find something that reflects your style.” Since the room has a Mexican tile floor that gives it the feel of an outdoor room, Christine chose a fabric with velvet swirls, which she feels warms the space. To balance the large window, which didn’t quite cover the room’s short wall, panels are hung all the way to the edge of the wall, and hanging them as high as they could go makes the room seem taller.
In the den, where a drapery box meant to hide the inner workings of mechanical draperies prevented Christine from hanging the drapes to the ceiling, she chose a bold circular pattern that’s tempered by a muted palette of copper, bronze and deep red. “Since the walls are red I didn’t need color, but I wanted to give the room some pop,” she explains.
Delaine Bradley, who made Christine’s panels and helped her hang them, says that homeowners who plan to work directly with seamstresses instead of decorators should bring photos of what they like to the first meeting. “That way, we can recommend fabric that will do what you want it to do,” she says. “If we’re not meeting at the client’s home, I usually ask her to bring photos of the room because that helps determine the style.”
Mary Kay Burnett Nolan thought about making the decision herself and choosing fabric for the three windows in her living room, but she found the process overwhelming. “There are so many fabric choices that I needed someone to help me narrow them down,” she explains. Working with designer Katherine J. Anderson, Mary Kay was able to quickly find a fabric she loved. Katherine was also instrumental in coming up with a swag design that would dress up the room. “The only problem is that it made me want to redecorate the rest of the room!” says Mary Kay.
Since Mary Kay already had wooden blinds on her windows, Katherine didn’t have to come up with a privacy solution, but if she had, she probably would have stuck with the blinds. “I like them better than shutters,” she says. “Since there’s no frame, you can pull them completely out of sight, which blocks less light.”
Although Katherine’s love of light brings a “less is more” philosophy to the windows she dresses, the designer’s key operating theory is scale. “As much as I love the look of a plain blind or shutter, many rooms, particularly formal ones, need the weight that comes from fabric,” she explains. “A little eyebrow of a valance on top of a window just won’t do it. You want to add interest to the room and, at the same time, balance it.” She often uses sheers to get the look she wants, hanging them under draperies and in front of glass doors. “There are such cool fabrics out there that sheers can really be funky,” she says. “I’ve seen them with metallic flakes, colored stripes, ribbon stripes and even crewelwork stitched into the fabric. The sky’s the limit.”
To hide windows that are too narrow for a room, Katherine will often cover the window with a sheer and hang long panels on either side that extend past the window’s sides. If the window is too big, which is rarely an issue, she’ll border the drapes in a color that matches the paint on the wall. “That way, the window sort of disappears into the wall,” she says.
Still, Katherine’s favorite treatments are imaginative and don’t require an inch of fabric. “I hung a grouping of about 20 plates over two windows once. They’d been hung low, so the plates filled a huge amount of space and drew the eye up. It didn’t need anything else. In the right room, you can accent the window with a large brass tray or even two cool poles crossed over the top. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of creativity.”
Palladian windows, which are regular windows topped by a windowed half-moon, are particularly challenging. “They can look like a huge wall of glass, which can make a room seem cold,” says Christy. “An uncovered Palladian window on the sunny side of the house can also run your electricity bill way up in the summertime.” To get the warmth the room needs, Christy suggests running a rod above the entire window, and hanging the drapes from there. For panels, measure fabric as if they’ll remain closed, even if they’ll be open all the time. “It’s more expensive since you’ll be using more fabric, but you really need the fullness,” she explains. “It’s also important to have them lined. It will keep the fabric from fading and stretching.” To give the room privacy without having to close the panels and block all the light, the Verve designers often hang a shade or blind from the transom right below the arch.
Recently, a client came to Verve designer Sumner Holman needing help with a two-story Palladian window that followed the line of the room’s barrel ceiling. With nowhere to hang a rod, Sumner came up with a way to attach the large, striking drapery to the frame of the window so that it was invisible from every angle. “We could have left the window bare, but the room really needed the fabric because it was so large,” says Sumner. A simple woven Conrad shade can be pulled down for privacy; matching shades on the side windows provide continuity without overwhelming the room or competing with the larger window.
Kitchens and bathrooms are notorious for their difficult windows. Marrian Baker, who owns Beautiful Windows in northeast Columbia, has found that most troublesome spots for her clients are French doors. “They’ll have a set of French doors where one or two are stable and one works. You need a window treatment to cover both but the door needs to be able to open,” she says. To fix this conundrum, Marrian developed a valance that attaches to the door rather than the wall. “When the door is closed, the valance looks like its neighbors, but it opens without pulling at the fabric.”
Another issue is the often oddly-sized window over the kitchen sink. “For some reason, they always make it small,” laughs Christy Edens. To balance the wall, she often hangs the window treatment at the same height as the surrounding cabinets.
Christine Koutrakos wanted to hang panel curtains in her kitchen, but since one cupboard is flush against the window, there was no place to hang it. The solution? A pleated Roman shade, hung inside the sash. “The fabric finishes the window, but it doesn’t get in the way of anything,” she notes.
In the bathroom, where it’s all hard edges and surfaces, Marrian often uses the windows as a way to bring softness into the room. “I like a London shade over the window in front of the tub because it’s functional and pretty,” she says. “For a more contemporary look, I’d use a Roman shade. They’re particularly nice because you can use stiff fabric and paint them to match the room.”
Katherine Anderson also believes that bathroom windows should be covered with fabric or shades. “A lot of people use those glass blocks, which are great except that everyone walking by your house can see exactly where your bathroom is!”
Delaine Bradley, who’s been in the sewing business for more than three decades, says one window treatment challenge has remained steady over the years, regardless of the room. “The husbands!” she laughs. “They never see the need for new drapes.”