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