Window (un)dressing

Windows, when properly outfitted by the skilled hands of a designer, can turn a simple view of the outside world into a work of art. At their most basic, windows frame our surroundings, bringing in natural light, gentle breezes and an unblinking eye on nature. But when function works with form, a window can transform a room.

Creating this transformation is as simple as working in layers. Start with a naked window and assess how much light and privacy control the room requires. For instance, bedrooms and bathrooms usually need the greatest amount of privacy while a kitchen, living or dining room on the curbside of the home may need a healthy dose of both light and privacy. The amount of each is a personal preference and is usually moderated based on how the room is being used. Either a shade or a blind can provide control with enough design flair to add some fun as well as function.

Clean Lines
Blinds moderate light through the adjustment of wood, faux wood or metal louvers. They bring a structured, architectural quality to a space and introduce a horizontal stripe pattern across windows that works well in modern or casual spaces. A pair of interior shutters incorporates the blind concept but folds open to the sides of the window as opposed to being raised and lowered, lending a rustic charm. Vertical blinds are often still the best option for sliding glass doors and some tall windows and the latest versions are available in attractive styles like the chic large, stacking panels, the soft vertical set between sheer fabric layers or new, more natural looking textures and sophisticated colors.

Window shades can be made from a multitude of materials. Recently, natural woven options have become more popular. Made from organic elements like rattan, sea grass, wood or bamboo, these shades incorporate earth tones—think sandy whites, greens and browns—and lush texture. The colors complement a wide range of décor styles and harmonize particularly well when a window boasts a bucolic view because the natural elements on the window correlate with the nature outside. In an urban environment, these materials can help stand in for a lack of Mother Nature. Some manufacturers offer woven wood shade collections with varying levels of opacity and a privacy or blackout lining can also be added if less light is needed.

Roller shades represent a simple and affordable option and are available in a vast variety of colors, textures, prints and patterns. Retailers will custom size roller shades in a fashion-forward collection of fabrics with trim options such as taping or beads. These flat, clean shades can stand on their own in minimalist fashion or can set the stage nicely for another soft, unstructured, layer.

The most decorative option in shades is custom-made from a choice of fabrics. A particular color, coordinating pattern or specific type of fabric in the room’s décor can be incorporated into roman styles (such as flat, folded or relaxed), or in a balloon shade or valance above the window casing. A professional decorator can assist in finding the perfect design or, for DIYers, retailers like Calico Corners and The Fabric Mill are both a fabric showroom and custom window workroom in one.

Dress for the Occasion
Once the first layer’s form and function have been determined, the next layer brings the design to life. The room, its purpose and any existing furnishings contribute to the method of dressing the window. Are multiple layers required or is a single layer enough? Will this create a formal look in the dining room, a casual feel in the family room or a relaxed vibe in the bedroom? The trend in window fashion is moving toward more streamlined looks. Today it’s all about tall, columnar panels and tailored valances sans all the draped fabric, ruffles and extraneous embellishment. Drapery panels can be finished in different ways at the top, from pinch-pleating to grommets, to create a varying degree of formality.

As form is incomplete without function, it must be asked: Will the window panels be stationary or operable? Different types of rods—single, double and traversing tracks—are used to facilitate the drapery’s operation and there are ingenious solutions to cover every window scenario. A curved rod follows the contours of a window bay while elbow joints allow straight lengths to be connected and turn 90-degree corners, like those in a breakfast or reading nook. A decorative fascia, which can be installed to cover the rod, can also be bent concave or convex, as well as around corners.

Another leading trend is the cornice, a wood board cut to size and shape and upholstered in fabric. It’s finished in details ranging from quilting to button-tufting to nail heads and imparts a custom-designed look above windows and sliding doors. Installing rods, tracks or wood-mounted treatments just beneath the crown molding or ceiling draws the eye up, creating the illusion of greater ceiling height and taller windows.

The elemental layers, shapes and proportions of a window treatment create the design, but it’s the fabric selection that infuses the sense of style and impact. The choice between opaque and sheer fabric—and everything in between—can take windows from formal and dressy to relaxed and casual. Silk, velvet, linen, jacquard, tapestry, brocades and the myriad of patterns and textures that are available can make a window a fantastic focal point and change the character of the entire room.

Choosing the right window hardware is part of the functional aspect but has to work with the decorative decision too. The hardware is the jewelry that accents the ensemble. Creativity reigns in topping the treatment off with a bit of eye candy like square rods and rings, sculptural metal or art glass finials. Tackle it layer by layer, remembering that form must follow function to build a design that captures both the practicality and the aesthetics intended.

Caroline Wilkes is an interior designer who also writes about design trends. From Manhattan to Montauk, this native Long Islander draws inspiration from the dynamic forms and energy of the city to the organic serenity of our land and seascapes. CarolineWilkesInteriors.com

caroline wilkes

Caroline Sophia Wilkes is an interior designer who also writes about design trends. From Manhattan to Montauk, this native Long Islander derives inspiration from the dynamic forms and energy of the city to the organic serenity of our land- and seascapes. CarolineWilkesInteriors.com