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Window Decorating Essentials: A Guide To Window Treatments

Choosing the proper window coverings is often a confusing chore. If you find yourself dazed by draperies or troubled by top treatments, you’ve come to the right place, because Curtainworks can answer all of your questions regarding window décor!

There are three main things to consider when decorating your windows. First, consider the size of your room: smaller rooms call for simpler window treatments, such as sheers, basic top treatments, simple curtain panels or tier curtains. Larger rooms are suitable for more elaborate designs, such as heavier draperies and window treatments that combine multiple layers for maximum visual impact.

The second factor to consider is the room type, and how that room is going to be used: a formal living room or dining room requires more decorative, layered drapery treatments; a casual den or office needs a relaxed curtain style; privacy and room darkening functions are important in a bedroom environment; and the best fit for a kitchen or bathroom is probably a tier and topper curtain set. Machine- washable curtains are best for rooms where heat and moisture are present, such as bathrooms and kitchens, as well as for high-traffic rooms such as a dens or family rooms.

The third and final point that you need to think about is the function of a window treatment: fixed curtains and lightweight, sheer window coverings generally are more decorative in function; and in rooms where privacy is not an issue, sheers or stand-alone top treatments provide a lightweight window decorating alternative and allow natural light to enter a room. When privacy, room darkening or energy efficient functions are desired, however, moveable, heavier drapery panels should be used.

Top Treatments/Valances

To get started in the selection process, let’s look at the various components that can be used in window decorating, starting from the top down. Top treatments, also called valances or toppers, can take a wide variety of shapes and sizes; generally these terms refer to any treatment that covers the top one-quarter to one-third of the window.

Top treatments can be used as stand-alone decorative elements; as the top layer of a layered window treatment; or to hide the drapery rod and brackets. Top treatments almost always feature a rod pocket construction that slides onto a drapery rod or pole. Most top treatments are stationary, rather than moveable.

Some common types of top treatments include tailored or straight valances; balloon, blouson or pouf valances; swag valances; ascot valances; and sawtooth valances. Some elaborate, decorative top treatments include scarves, festoons, crescents, turban valances, toga valances, trumpet valances and waterfall valances. (Please see our Glossary section for a detailed description of each type of valance.)

Top treatments usually are sold as individual pieces, and measured width for length, with the width stated first. For example, a 50-by-18 inch valance measures 50 inches wide by 18 inches long. You should purchase enough valances to give the appearance of “fullness”—generally one-and-a-half to three times the measured width of your window.


The next component at the window is a sheer curtain. Sheers are lightweight, translucent curtains made of finely woven fabrics. Sheers can be used alone to create a light and airy feeling, or as an under-treatment with heavier draperies for a layered look. Sheers can be used alone in a small room as a casual, standalone window treatment; these panels are ideal for family rooms, dens or casual dining rooms. Sheers allow for a good deal of outside light to filter into a room, yet filter out harmful UV rays that can fade furniture and carpets. Sheers often are paired with curtains or draperies to create a fashionable, layered window treatment in formal living rooms and dining rooms; many people also use sheers as an under-treatment paired with blackout draperies in bedrooms.

Sheers almost always feature a rod pocket construction that slides onto a drapery rod or pole. Sheer curtains can be either stationary or moveable. Sheers generally are sold as individual panels and measured width for length, with the width stated first: a 50-by-84 inch panel measures 50 inches wide by 84 inches long. Sheers almost always are sold as individual panels but should generally be purchased in pairs; wider windows will require more panels.

Curtains & Draperies

The terms “curtains” and “draperies” are often used interchangeably to refer to fabric panels that cover the window, but there are some distinguishing factors: Curtains usually are lightweight, unlined window coverings that are stationary. Curtains feature a rod pocket construction and are shirred onto a curtain rod or decorative pole. Curtains typically are used with fabric tiebacks or fixed holdbacks mounted on the sides of the windows. Curtains can be made from any lightweight fabric and are often constructed of sheer or semi-sheer fabrics.

Draperies, on the other hand, generally are constructed of heavier weight fabrics, including velvet, suede, damask and chenille. Draperies can be either stationary or movable, and can be used with fabric tiebacks or fixed holdbacks mounted on the sides of the windows. Draperies are offered either lined or unlined, and can be either a rod pocket or pinch pleated construction. Pinch pleated draperies typically are hung on traverse rods, which open and close using a cord; while rod pocket draperies slide onto drapery rods or decorative poles.

Curtains and draperies almost always are sold as individual panels, and measured width by length, with the width always stated first: a 42-by-84 inch panel measures 42 inches wide by 84 inches long. You will need to purchase enough curtain or drapery panels to give your window treatments “fullness.”

The concept of fullness relates to the overall appearance of the finished window: Less fullness, produced by using fewer panels, will give the window treatment a more contemporary, tailored look; while more fullness, created by using more panels, will produce a richer, more opulent appearance. In general, curtains and draperies should be one-and-a half to three times the final measured width of the window. You should also purchase enough valances to give you the desired degree of fullness. Curtain and drapery panels almost always are sold as individual panels but should generally be purchased in pairs; wider windows will require more panels to achieve the desired look.

Curtains typically are considered more casual and therefore suitable for almost any room. Curtains can offer a good amount of light control and privacy, depending on the fabric used. Draperies are more formal treatments, and usually are hung in formal living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms. Draperies are used when a high degree of light control and privacy are desired.

Tier curtains, which are also called café curtains, novelty tiers or kitchen tiers, usually are used in kitchens, bathrooms or children’s rooms. The tier is a short, straight curtain that covers the bottom half of a window, and is also paired with swag valance or a tailored valance. Tier curtains often feature whimsical novelty print patterns.

Tiebacks & Holdbacks

Whether you are using sheer, curtain or drapery panels, most fixed window coverings will require some sort of tieback or holdback that will allow you to draw the panels to the sides of the windows and hold them there. Tiebacks are the most common type of holdback, and usually are made of a fabric that matches the window panel. Most tiebacks are sold in pairs. Drapery holdbacks are made of metal, wood, resin or plastic and are mounted on the sides of the window. Holdbacks come in virtually any shape and design; and usually are in one of two styles, straight or J-arm configurations. Holdbacks also are sold in pairs, and often are finished to match the drapery rod. Holdbacks also can be used to hold up decorative top treatments, including scarves and swags.

(Please see our "How To Measure & Install" section for more information on selecting the appropriate window coverings to fit your individual needs.)

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