As an interior designer, I often hear people say, “I love light, so I don’t want to put anything on the windows.” I love light, too, but I don’t like living in a fishbowl. I suggest this: around 7:00 on a winter evening, turn on the lights and ask a family member to do whatever you normally do in that room (wash a dish, eat at the table, read a book on the sofa). Then go outside. Stroll by that window and tell me what you see.
Chances are, the answer is everything.
That’s my argument for window treatments from a privacy perspective. From an aesthetics perspective (which, let’s face it, is more fun to think about!), most rooms simply don’t look finished unless there is something on the windows. Leaving your windows bare is a design decision, and it usually works best in an ultra contemporary home. Historic homes – or homes traditional in style – require window treatments, even if they’re simple.
“But there are SO MANY KINDS of window treatments!” you exclaim. “They’re intimidating! How on earth do I know what to do?”
First, you call me ☺ . And I likely will recommend one of these, my five favorite window treatment styles.
Natural woven Roman Shades
Natural woven Roman Shades are incredibly versatile. I love them in kitchens, kids’ rooms, bathrooms…I live in a 1910 townhouse, and I have them in my bedroom. There are endless color and material options; I prefer the grassier or matchstick shades, which are elegant and neutral.
Fabric Roman Shades
Fabric Roman Shades are one of my favorite window treatments, alone or under drapes. Patterned Romans can add much-needed interest to a room. Solid colors with tapes or trim add structure and color. Translucent Romans are quiet and subtle – they filter light while providing privacy at night. Roman Shades are clean and simple, and they don’t require a lot of fabric.
One of the big decisions to make with Roman Shades is whether to do a straight or relaxed bottom edge.
If you’re going to raise and lower the shades often – daily, let’s say – I recommend flat Romans. The fabric develops a memory for the folds, so you can put them up without having to straighten the fabric.
Relaxed Roman Shades are lovely, but when you raise them, you may have to spend a moment “dressing” them, adjusting the fabric to get a nice, even drape. This doesn’t take long, but it can get tedious if you’re doing, say, six shades in a row. (A tip: give the cord quick gentle tugs as you’re raising the shades, and you’ll shake the fabric into place.)
A final word about Roman Shades: if you live in a historic home, chances are your windows aren’t exactly square. (If you live in my house, chances are NOTHING is square!) So “outside mount” Roman Shades that are mounted to the face of your moulding could work better than “inside mount.” The installer can make the shades straight, even if your windows aren’t.
Drapes over Roman Shades
Layering simple drapes over Roman Shades (natural woven shades or fabric) is usually the most complicated window treatment I recommend – and it’s not very complicated! With this combination, the drapes don’t even have to close; they simply can be decorative “side panels.”
Drapes are classic. The drapes that I recommend have these characteristics:
- Straight, with no fabric or metal tiebacks
- Tidy pinch pleats at the top
- Exposed metal rings on simple metal rods
- “Kiss” the floor rather than bunch up (“puddling”)
Drapes can look traditional or modern depending on the hardware and the fabric. Big structured florals are generally more traditional, while a plain fabric works everywhere. Unpatterned window treatments complement a modern room beautifully (especially if they’re the same color as the walls.) But they also are the height of elegance in a historic or traditional home. Don’t forget to add trim; even a simple contrast banding on the edges will let people know that these treatments were custom-made for your home.
Finally, there are some practical benefits to drapes. They provide an effective layer of insulation if your windows are drafty (and whose aren’t?!), and the fabric absorbs sound, reducing echo.
Ah, yes. The window treatment formerly known as “café curtains.” I wonder how they got this name? Is there a Sir or Madam Brisbee somewhere? The new name caused me to take a second look; I never would have thought of café curtains for a formal room otherwise. We’re doing some lovely Brisbees in a bay window right now: the clients don’t need a lot of light control, but in the urban setting, they need privacy from passers-by.
The bossy color way to do Brisbees – in other words, the best way to be fresh and modern with them – is to use a solid or tightly patterned linen or semi-sheer linen-y fabric. No elaborate florals. No crazy color palettes. Just simple ring-top panels on a small metal rod mounted slightly higher than the window’s center point. There’s no question that custom window treatments are an investment. But for a major aesthetic element that also serves a practical purpose, they’re worth it.