The Best-Dressed Windows and How to Get Them


Hanging curtains or shades can have a transformative effect on a room, adding warmth and style to a drab space or hiding unfortunate views out the window. You can even create the illusion that you have more space than you really do by exaggerating the appearance of ceiling height.

But figuring out which window treatment is right for your space can be tricky. What if there’s no room for curtains on either side of the French doors in your tiny apartment? What’s the best way to play up the lovely leaded glass in those prewar casement windows while keeping out the draft? How do you gracefully cover a bay window?

We asked interior designers to share their tricks for dressing up a range of window styles.

With a mechanism that allows them to open out like doors — and let in lots of light and fresh air — “casement windows are really very versatile,” said Michelle Morgan Harrison, an interior designer in New Canaan, Conn.

If you have casement windows, she said, Roman shades are an option. She recommended mounting them at least six inches above the casing, so that when the shade is up it doesn’t block the light.

But “my recommendation is to go with draperies,” she added, “as you get the full view of the window when open.”

That’s what she did for a library in Greenwich, Conn., where she chose a linen from Osborne & Little in a blue-and-gray ombre, to complement the color of the walls. For the hardware, she used a clear Lucite rod with rings, brackets and end caps in polished nickel.

As a general rule, she said, use a rod wide enough to allow at least six inches to each side of the frame for smaller windows; eight to 10 inches on each side of a double-width window; and up to a foot on each side for larger windows. You should also avoid pushing the drapery past the window casing, she noted, as “it looks better when the drapes cover the casing on each side and frame the window.”

If space is tight on either side of a window, Ms. Harrison suggested using a bracket that curves back to the wall, instead of a rod that ends in a finial. This allows for the drapes to be pushed back against the wall and to clear more of the window.

With bay windows, your options are more limited: You could hang stationary curtains on either side of the bay and install a shade inside each window frame, or you could hang curtains on each individual window. But if there isn’t enough room for hardware, Roman shades are the way to go.

“An advantage of Roman shades is that you do not need to have decorative or functional hardware,” said Grant K. Gibson, an interior designer in San Francisco, who opted for flat-panel shades in white linen from Clarence House for a bedroom overlooking Buena Vista Park.

“We wanted the fabric to fade into the architectural details, and matched the fabric as close as possible to the already-finished white wall color,” said Mr. Gibson, who installed the shades on the outside of the molding to make sure they blocked out as much of the light as possible when closed. “Your eye would have too many places to look if there had been a color or pattern on the window treatments.”

What if your windows aren’t that interesting, as in many postwar apartments?

“Use floor-to-ceiling drapes, even if the window doesn’t go to the height of ceiling,” advised Alexis Alvarez, design director at Interior Marketing Group. “It will draw the eye up and make windows appear bigger and ceilings appear higher.”

To liven up the postwar windows in a Greenwich Village living room, Ms. Alvarez mounted the curtain rods above the moldings and beyond their width to create the illusion of higher ceilings and wider windows. “The light-and-airy, white-linen fabric blends seamlessly with the modern aesthetic of the room,” she said.

Curtains that hang straight and just graze the floor tend to work well with sliding-glass doors.

“Generally you want to avoid blocking the doors in any way for function, and also for light coming into the space,” said Jess Cooney, a designer in Great Barrington, Mass., who dressed a sliding-glass door in an open kitchen with a simple rod and patterned fabric from Robert Allen. “The overall goal was to give the sliding door behind the draperies a more formal feel and to soften the space.”

Another benefit of drapes, she noted, is that they are good at absorbing sound: “Textiles help so much for acoustics, especially in a space with an open floor plan, where noise can easily echo and bounce around.”

If you are lucky enough to have a continuous stretch of windows or doors from one end of a room to the other, adding lightweight drapery panels between the doors or windows will help create the illusion of an unbroken expanse of glass.

In a Manhattan living room with three pairs of French doors opening onto Juliet balconies, the interior designer Alexa Hampton installed simple, pleated panels in an embroidered Cowtan & Tout fabric. Then, “we layered the panels with lacquered bamboo shades,” Ms. Hampton said, “and two-tone hardware with darkened-bronze poles and antique-brass rings and finials, for a collected look.”

What about round or arched windows?

If you want the window to stand out, choose a window dressing that’s the same color or pattern as the wall, so it blends in. That’s the effect the designer Martin Brudnizki was going for in a luxury suite at the Grand Hotel Stockholm, in Sweden, which has porthole-style windows. Mr. Brudnizki used the same fabric for the wall covering and the curtains, which made the window pop.

“We had to use a special technique for the curved window treatment, which included using a center-split, full-length curtain, which is manually operated using an Italian-cord pulley system,” he said. “The curtains are pinch-pleated to the top and fixed onto an arched runner. We also lined them with blackout material, to ensure guests can enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep, especially considering how light Swedish evenings can be.”

No matter what type of window you’re dressing, be sure to choose fabric that has a nice draping quality, said Kevin Dumais, an interior designer in New York.

“Generally, lightweight fabrics such as linen-poly blends or wools work best, because they hang straight, they are durable and keep their shape over time,” Mr. Dumais said. “Linens woven with polyester or acrylic are terrific; the synthetic fibers help stop the linen from growing and wrinkling.

He added: “We are finding that fabric houses like Holland & Sherry and Creation Baumann are creating wonderful sheer fabrics made of Trevira or 100 percent polyester. We use these on projects with direct sunlight from south-facing windows, as the fiber content seems to resist fading and deterioration over time.”

Also, consider adding layers.

“People forget that a quantity of fabric literally softens hard materials when fabric meets up with glass,” Ms. Hampton said. “The softgoods not only help with acoustics in a space, but they act as a frame for the view outside.”

That’s something even a minimalist space could benefit from.

For one master bedroom, Ms. Hampton used silk window treatments with shirred valances and pleated side panels. “We stayed with a really neutral color palette,” she said, to keep the room elegant and clean-lined, “but decided to double up the tassel trim, to make the treatments even more lush.”

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