Window Treatment Design Solutions

Chinoiserie print linen valance with tassel trim over silk curtains.

DECORATING WINDOWS in your home involves much more than just finding the right color fabric; a well-chosen window treatment provides insulation, light control, pattern and color, softness, and can even improve the proportions of a room. In most of today’s new homes, large walls of windows have become popular; it is not uncommon to see French doors with transom windows above, and another bank of windows above that. A room doesn’t have to be a sunroom anymore to be flooded with light.

All of this sunshine, however, creates its own set of problems. In addition to privacy issues, large windows flood bedrooms with too much light at sunrise. They can cause furnishings to fade in strong afternoon rays and reduce usable wall area in a room, making furniture placement and window treatment design difficult. Large windows are quite fabulous, however, and most of us feel blessed to have them.

Today’s extensive array of window treatment designs offers choices that address all of the problems above, while adding personal style and charm to a home.

Blinds and shades are often the first product used to control light and provide privacy. Wide slat blinds are an inexpensive option and allow a lot of light to filter in. They can be tilted to protect furniture. They look best when left down, however, since they form a large stack of slats at the top of the window when raised. If you want an uninterrupted view, they may not be the best solution. Be careful when purchasing blinds to buy the best grade your budget allows. The cheaper the blind, the more likely it will yellow, warp, or tangle. Ask for specific warranty information. The major manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty on some of their blinds that indicate superior quality and long-term performance. Window treatment specialty stores offer the most selection, and will take the time to explain the differences between quality levels. An expert window treatment professional will help you choose the best your budget allows. Larger box stores are more self-service and don’t offer measuring or installation. When all is complete, often the price difference is minimal, but the service offered by an independent retailer can eliminate common mistakes. Blinds don’t add much in the way of color, but they control light with ease.

Many people begin with blinds, and then add curtains later for color and insulation. Instead of blinds, one could begin with light-filtering fabric shades, woven grass or bamboo shades.

These fold up on themselves to leave the view open, and look attractive when raised. They should be lined to protect the fabric or wood materials from the drying effects of the sun. A heavy lining could also be used, to darken the room for sleeping or to provide effective insulation from extreme heat and cold. Used alone, they provide a more modern look, especially in a small room where long curtains might crowd the floor area. For a large window area, an individual shade for each opening works best, because shades that are too large can be impossible to operate. While Roman shades can be expensive to fabricate, they offer a lot of style and function.

Once blinds or shades are up, the room may need more color. Valances or top treatments are a popular and cost-effective way to brighten up a room with fabric. There are endless clever valance designs. Some designs trick the eye to make a ceiling seem higher; others add structure to an architecturally uninteresting room.

For double height ceilings, I sometimes place a valance or curtain rod above the lowest tier of windows. This creates a horizontal line around the room at a lower ceiling height, bringing the scale of the room down and creating a more cozy feeling.

Some tall ceilings create an echo in the room that can be decidedly un-cozy. This can be minimized by adding long, full curtain panels and sound-absorbing interlining. Add a soft rug underfoot and the room becomes comfortable for lively conversation.

For the largest, grandest windows, curtains are really a must. Old-fashioned, custom-designed, beautifully crafted curtains are back in style. Most designers wax poetic about the general fabulous-ness of curtains, but I think they are missing the point. Curtains came about because houses way back when were cold, drafty and stark. Even though our modern homes are insulated and newer windows keep out drafts, our trends towards larger windows make true climate control impossible. Curtains that filter the hot afternoon sun will save hundreds on air conditioning. Window films can slow down furniture fading, but not really prevent it. Window treatments are another layer that protects interior fabrics, wood floors and carpets. Large sliding doors need extra insulation for chilly winter days in the south. In bedrooms, blackout curtains create a cozy cocoon that make it easy to catch up on sleep or nap during the day.

And as I’ve already mentioned, lengths of fabric add the softness we need to help those stark, echoing new houses feel like home. They create a wall of color instead of a black expanse of cold glass at night.

Be sure to use an experienced workroom that specializes in custom window treatments and offers design assistance. With large windows, there are many issues involved. Special hardware may be needed to traverse a large window or carry heavy curtains. What type of lining and interlining should be used? What length of fringe? The proportions of the design are important in relation to the window layout and size of the room. I have a large portfolio of our work that is a great way for clients to see different ideas; any window professional should have the same. It is also important to see actual work that they have done in addition to magazine pictures and books, so you can be sure things are well-constructed.

A professional designer whose work you’ve admired is the best source for a custom window treatment. The best pricing is found at shops that sell fabric by the bolt rather than out of swatch books. They will usually have a designer in-house and the better ones offer fabrication services. They should be able to handle the job start to finish, and bring a professional installer on delivery day. Shops that stock bolts of fabric are able to buy directly from the mills, and offer many of the same fabrics seen in designer books at half of the price. If they have an in-house workroom, the prices will be better than a designer’s markup. Custom window treatments are expensive, but they are a labor-intensive process that requires education, experience and good customer service. Purchasing fabric yourself and looking for a seamstress can have mixed results, as it may not save money and can create a host of problems. Be sure to get some good advice and think about privacy and light control before you choose a style. A good design shop will advise you on all of the areas I’ve discussed. They’ll also send someone out to measure in person; they may charge for an estimate, but it is money well-spent to avoid expensive mistakes.

Custom window treatments can be a significant project, but they are a real necessity with today’s large windows. With the right planning and advice, you can have something practical that will beautify your home for many years.

Ready Made Draperies are a less expensive option, and there are some beautifully made styles on  the market today.  Find out more here:  Ready Made Draperies with a Designer Look 

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17 thoughts on “Window Treatment Design Solutions

  1. Debbie West says:

    Hello,
    I’m writing to you to see if you can possibly point me in the right direction. I made a huge mistake with purchasing very expensive custom made panels and london shades for my home that were just installed this week (purchased at a local interior design company in Pittsburgh who does not offer exchanges -they are a national outlet). I made the decision just after moving and having a baby and was not in “my right mind” (ha ha). The fabric does not match our decor and my husband and I are sick over this as we spent close to $2000 on these.

    In your experience, is there anywhere we can go to try to sell these to recoup some of our cost. I am desperate and am trying to find a good home for these custom made products.

    Any help you can provide would be much appreciated.

    Thank you

  2. Kerry Ann Dame says:

    Dear Debbie,
    When I read your question, I immediately thought of a shop called the Curtain Exchange, which is a franchise with several locations that used to resell designer window treatments. However, a quick check of their website shows that they seem to be only selling new curtains now. But it may be worth giving them a call.
    It is a shame that you don’t like your window treatments, it can be difficult to imagine a finished project when ordering, but perhaps it is not that bad – you must have liked the fabric when you chose it. Perhaps the real problem is that a decorating project was begun, but not completed. Instead of getting rid of the new things, perhaps a little more decorating in the rest of the room would help – recover a chair or paint the room to help the new curtains blend with the existing furniture. I would recommend contacting a local designer for some ideas (preferably not the one who sold you the curtains). Ask a friend whose house you love for a recommendation. Look for someone whose style you like and who is comfortable working with you hourly, and get an hour’s consultation at your home. This should be about $100-$150. Ask her to bring a paint deck. You will be surprised what a professional may come up with to solve your problem. You should also get lots of other great ideas for the house at the same meeting, so don’t feel like you are throwing good money after bad by doing this.
    I often meet clients who think they have made a drastic mistake when they chose a rug or fabric, when really what they did was not take the idea far enough. Adding something new to a room can make the old things suddenly look out of whack, so if I were you I would take a deep breath and try to see your room in a new light. I would ask myself if there was one major thing (like a sofa or rug) that was fighting with the curtains, and would consider removing it to see if it looks any better. For example, if the club chairs are neutral but the sofa is the wrong shade, maybe slipcovering the sofa to coordinate with the new window treatments would pull it all together. Photographing your room can help you see what jumps out to the eye. Perhaps it is time for the old wing chair to go live in the bedroom, or for the dark oriental rug to be replaced with a classic, inexpensive seagrass. Changing one or two elements gives you a chance to bring in something that really matches the new curtains, and voila! things will start to come together.
    You didn’t tell me what style the room was, but if you are going for a certain look, get some decorating magazines and spend an evening tearing out pictures you like, to show your consulting designer. This will tell her your taste and save a lot of time so you’ll get a lot more out of your meeting. Instead of considering this a huge mistake and trying to ditch the curtains, maybe this is the start of a new look for the room. You can work with your designer to achieve this over time, and of you are clever it doesn’t have to be a major investment.
    If the window treatments really have to go, you can try a high-end consignment shop or a newspaper ad, especially if you live in a tract home with common window sizes. But it will be impossible to recoup the cost. The best thing to do would be to try to make them work, and hopefully, with the right advice, actually come to love them.

    Best of luck,
    KerryAnn Dame

  3. Bill Iacono says:

    We’re currently in the process of purchasing silhouette window shadings for our windows. We’ve priced two manufacturers: Hunter Douglas and Allen + Roth. We found that the ones made by Allen + Roth are considerably less money for the same product. I have never heard of them, and was wondering if they make a good product comparable to Hunter Douglas. Please advise.
    Bill Iacono

  4. Kerry Ann Dame says:

    Thank you for your question. Allen + Roth is a house brand of Lowe’s. While they may look like the same product as Hunter Douglas, in my experience as a designer, the “big box” versions of blinds and shades do have to cut corners somewhere to have the price so low. Typically, the parts in the headrail are not as high-quality (such as plastic pulleys instead of metal) or, with faux-wood blinds, the resin slats are not the best resin and will yellow and warp. So while you may get similar-looking shade fabric, it may be lacking sun-protection treatment, or the mechanisms you can’t see are cheaply made. Of course, Lowe’s is big enough to sell direct and come in at a lower price. So a good way to tell if the product is close in quality is to compare the warranties. The best brands – Hunter Douglas, Kirsch, Graber – have a 5 year to lifetime warranty, and really stand behind their product. Check to see if they warranty actual performance (materials changing color or warping) or just manufacturer defects. Since blinds and shades are often in baking sun, it is important to have high-quality parts that won’t split or crack after just a couple of years, and if the manufacturer thinks that’s a problem they won’t warranty against cracking, fading or warping. There are many cheaper brands of blinds (Vista comes to mind) that have a worthless warranty.

    The other problem can be installation – with Lowe’s you are usually on your own, or using a sub-contractor. In our experience Lowe’s installation fees are very high, because they hire a local guy and add markup, which quickly offsets your savings. I have seen clients buy blinds from Lowe’s and end up spending close to what they would have spent on a premium brand once the measuring fees and installation are added on.

    My suggestion would be to get a quote from a couple of dealers in your area who sell Hunter Douglas; they will give you the service you need to get a good job, since measuring and fitting can be tricky. Since the shades come in several grades of fabric, ask to see the lowest-priced styles first, and work up from there. Otherwise, you may pick a color from the book that is a high-priced shade and never realize you might have liked a cheaper one nearly as well. If you need several windows, don’t be shy about striking a bargain – ask if they will throw in the installation for you – often smaller shops will do this to get the job, you save money, and you get great service. You’ll also be getting an American made product and supporting a local business.

    I hope this has been helpful – I’m all for getting a great deal if you can; you are smart to make sure you are comparing “apples to apples” before you make your decision.
    Best of luck!

  5. KY Derby Mom says:

    A wall of windows, a set of french doors and transom windows measuring 38.5″ W x 29 ” Lg. What type of window treatment? Really hate window treatments. If I could have lived during the Shaker era would have loved it! The room measures 15″1″ x 19’7″ and is a garden, sitting room that walks out onto a 2 story covered porch this is used for entertaining and leisure. There is a 10 ft. farm table and grommet/ tension wire hung sheer curtains. The french doors that sit between the 2 sets of windows are the problem. Like to have them uncovered during the day. Thinking about roman shades and sheers. What height do we hang the curtains and roman shades? Thanks!!!

    KY Derby Mom

  6. webmaster says:

    Dear Derby Mom,
    Whenever anyone says they hate window treatments, I feel what they’re really saying is that they don’t want their home to feel old and stodgy. Window treatments today offer fantastic light control so you can enjoy the views and sunshine while controlling glare and keeping the room a comfortable temperature. Roman shades underneath sheers are a modern, clean twist on classic window treatments. The sheers filter the light and keep hot afternoon sun at bay, and add softness. Roman shades mounted directly on the French doors are perfect for evening privacy. In a tailored style, they will fold up quite small at the top of the door and function as a decorative valance when raised. Usually, I will install full-length sheers near the crown molding, on a simple iron or wood rod and rings, with modern styled pleats for a tailored look. There are many gorgeous ones now that have some light embroidery or a tiny bit of pattern so they can be quite interesting. Also, check out some new sheer blind products, like Hunter Douglas’ Silhouette shades – they combine sheers with the light control vanes of a blind, yet they draw up into a tiny box and disappear too. The best of both worlds! You can see them at http://www.hunterdouglas.com/our-products.jsp?so=ft&sop=hp#
    If you treat the entire window wall with one large pair of sheers, then you can add shades or blinds individually on the windows and doors underneath. Raised to the tops of windows, they can add a little texture and pattern. Mount them inside the window frames for a clean look, and right onto each French door about an inch wider than the glass on each side.

  7. deborah says:

    Weeks away from moving into our newly built house. I guess you could say that the style is a contemporary farmhouse! Exterior is red painted siding w/ some rock accents and front door is sorta a turquoise blue-green. I am considering installing black wood blinds in windows across the front of the house. I have vowed to not put any white woodwork anywhere in this house. I have no doubt the black would work on the interior. It’s the exterior that I can’t imagine how it would look. But think it might just work and not draw attention away from windows and ext. but just blend with how the glass in windows looks dark anyway. what do ya think?

  8. webmaster says:

    Hi Deborah,
    Sounds like an interesting idea that might look really great. Colored blinds do show outside the house more than you’d think, especially if there is direct sun. I’d see if your blind supplier can order a slat sample for you that you can try inside the window. We are also seeing a return of aluminum wide-slat blinds, because they fold up very tightly off the window, and the street side can be done in one color with another color facing the interior of the house. If the house is contemporary, they may work too.
    Best of luck – send me a picture!
    Kerry Ann Dame

  9. Grace says:

    Help! My husband and I recently purchased a beautiful home with a 3 season, 12×32 sunroom attached to the back of the house with entrance off the kitchen area. The room has sliding glass door walls at each end of the room. There are 8 windows 55w x 63l. The sun shines all day creating a very hot envirorment. The view is beautiful with a sloping lawn down to a creek. I have considered putting reflective dark film on the windows for privacy, as well as reducing the glare of the sun, as I dont want to obstruct the view . I still want to put up some type of curtain if possible as I have been told it is possible to see into room at night with lights on if there is the film only on the windows. We live on a corner lot with a side street that has lots of traffic . The door walls will probably be okay with the film even if the one is on the street side. I dont know what to do so any advice would be a blessing. Thank you.

  10. webmaster says:

    Dear Grace,
    It seems like some light sheer panels that close over the windows would give you daytime privacy and keep out the heat. If you keep them closed on the sunny side of the room in the morning, it will keep the room from heating up. If you need privacy, Hunter Douglas Silhouette shades are perfect. They act as a fabric sheer blind and close for privacy. Tilted open, you can enjoy the view and cut the glare. They disappear into a small headrail when not in use for an open view, so when you don’t need them it’s like not having blinds. Whatever you choose, you’ll probably want to be able to open and close them easily to follow the sun and provide privacy as needed.

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  12. Thomas says:

    You are incorrect about Allen + Roth products from Lowes. There is
    no difference in the warranty for Hunter Douglas and Allen + Roth. They both carry 5 years on motors and limited lifetime on everything else. There is no better retailer to stand behind what they sell than Lowes. If you are not satisfied they will refund your money. Believe me I have dealt with Lowes on many products. I have just installed cellular for Sunroom by Allen + Roth for 1730.00 where Hunter Douglas was 7300.00 for the same job. They are comparable, not exactly the same but very close. Definitely less expensive. If they break at this price you can have them replaced 4 or 5 times for the price HD charges. Also you said they were expensive to install. They only charge 99.00 to measure and install the product up to 10 windows. Can’t bet that price either. Evidently you don’t know what you are talking about or you have not checked this lately.
    Tom

  13. webmaster says:

    Thanks for your comment – we haven’t checked on Lowe’s installation charges lately, and it is good to see they are becoming more competitive. Hunter Douglas dealers are expected to provide a high level of service from start to finish, and they offer innovative products and a wide range of designer colors and materials.
    Lowe’s has definitely come a long way (in the years since this article) in providing help with measuring and installation, and greatly expanding their selection. Nowadays, consumers can shop wherever they’re comfortable, either with a designer or in a big retailer.

  14. Terry Novack says:

    Dear Kerry Ann: I had window valances installed about a year ago. The fabric was on sale. I was wondering if you had any material left over which I can purchase? YOU DO FANTASTIC WORK and will you be opening your store soon located on Highway Business 17? Thank you, Terry Novack

  15. webmaster says:

    Hi Terry,
    Nice to hear from you! We have closed our shop, after 15 years it was time! With our wonderful clients and our business online, having the shop was too much. I do have a studio in the area and am working by appointment. I’d be happy to help you with more fabric. You can easily reach me via email:customerservice@poshsurfside.com Thank you!

  16. Luke Yancey says:

    I definitely agree that curtains offer a wall of color in an otherwise blank home! I think it is also great that you mentioned the old-fashioned style is back. I’ll take your advice and look for some new curtains that are old-fashioned but light enough to make a statement.

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