Window Treatments 101

Window treatments add a finished element to any room. But choosing the perfect window treatments for your space is a complex process. It’s not just about color or pattern; to find a window treatment that’s just right, you’ll need to take into consideration a number of factors -- as well as know some basic terminology.

First, let’s begin with some of the most common window-treatment terms:

 

  • Blackouts: Lined or coated window panels that are made from a heavyweight fabric with the intent of blocking light and insulating windows so that interior air doesn’t escape and outside temperatures can’t penetrate the rooms as easily. Blackout draperies may also be used to reduce exterior noise.
  • Blinds: Window treatments made of plastic, metal, wood or heavy fabric that come in horizontal or vertical slats, kept in place with string, cord or fabric tape.
  • Brackets: A piece of hardware attached to a wall or window frame to support a rod.
  • Cellular shade: A style of multi-layered or pleated shade that has a distinctive “honeycomb” fabric construction, and provides a high level of window insulation.
  • Curtains: Unlined, stationary window coverings made of lightweight fabric that are typically hung over windows using a curtain rod or decorative pole, and are often held back with tiebacks or holdbacks.
  • Draperies: Draperies -- not to be confused with curtains -- are made of heavier fabric. They can be stationary or mobile on a track, and can be paired with fabric tiebacks or fixed holdbacks mounted on either side of the window.
  • Finial: A decorative end piece that comes in a variety of shapes used to finish or cap the ends of a drapery rod or the top of a drapery holdback.
  • Grommet-top: Also known as eyelets, these are metal, plastic or rubber rings used to reinforce a hole in the fabric at the top of the drapery or curtain through which a curtain rod is placed.
  • Holdbacks: Used to hold curtain or drapery panels when pulled to the sides of the window so the panels can remain open.
  • Panel: A single curtain or drapery. Most window treatments require two panels, one for each side.
  • Rod pocket: A horizontal sleeve stitched across the top of curtains or draperies that opens to allow a rod to be slipped through.
  • Roll-up shade and roller shade: Flat shades made of fabric, plastic or vinyl that roll up onto a cylinder. Roller shades are spring loaded, while roll-up shades are drawn up with cords or strings.
  • Roman shade: The classic Roman shade has a fabric that forms pleats as the shade is raised; these pleats are formed by rings threaded with cords or tapes sewn on the back of the fabric that allow the shade to be raised and lowered. 
  • Shade: General term to describe blinds, pleated shades, roller shades and other opaque window coverings that can be adjusted to expose or cover a window. 
  • Sheers: Lightweight, translucent and finely woven fabrics.
  • Swag: A decorative treatment placed atop windows that features a soft, curving semicircle centered on the window top with fabric hanging down on both sides.
  • Tab-top: Fabric loops or tabs sewn across curtain tops through which a curtain rod is threaded creating a window treatment that hangs straight and flat.
  • Valances: Decorative window treatments that cover the top part of a window, used primarily as the top layer of a layered window treatment or alone as a decorative accent.

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to purchase your perfect window treatments. To guide you through this complex process, you’ll want to consider both function and form. Here, Sally Morse, director of creative services for Hunter Douglas, offers some tips to keep in mind when choosing window treatments.

Window Treatment Factor Number 1: FUNCTION

  • Energy Efficiency. Cold winters and hot summers are no match for window treatments that are designed to be energy efficient. Think about the direction your windows are facing and how much direct sunlight they receive to determine what level of energy-efficient coverage you might need.
  • Light. How much light do you want filtered in the room from the outside? Do you prefer to wake up to natural light in the morning or would you rather have an ultra-dark space that enables you to sleep in? Window fashions with rotating vanes or louvers can be used to direct light where it’s needed most, so consider this option if you prefer the appearance of slat treatments.
  • Convenience. If your windows are large or out of easy reach, you may want to consider remote-control-operated window treatments. Many companies offer a variation on the remote option, including Hunter Douglas -- their PowerRise 2.0 battery-powered remote control options are easy to use (and affordable), and they enable you to move your treatment to your desired position by shade, room, time of day and even activity (for instance, when reducing glare on the TV is an issue).
  • Noise. Window treatments can even help reduce noise. Consider treatments designed with features such as rear fabric air pockets that trap more air to provide sound absorption.
  • Privacy. Your home should be a private refuge from the outside world -- but not necessarily a dark cocoon blocked from natural light. Choose window treatments that provide both privacy and a view. Pair sheer fabric with fabric vanes to keep your view of the outside while maintaining variable light control and privacy both during the day and into the night.
  • Safety. Little ones running around? Keep their safety in consideration when choosing window treatments, including cordless systems.

Window Treatment Factor Number 2: FORM

  • Color. Color is always an important consideration in any home décor purchase. While white is a popular choice for window treatments, you can also add color with soft, light hues that expand the room. Coordinate your window treatments with the wall color, as low contrasts will keep the eye moving around the space. Reverse the technique to draw the eye to the window. You can also make the window or room appear smaller and cozier by using dark, warm colors and high contrast between the window and the wall.
  • Pattern. Pattern, like color, can add intensity on a large surface. Keep size and scale in mind when bringing pattern to your space via window treatments.
  • Proportion. The right window treatment (and placement of such) can help expand and enhance the feel of a room. Choose window treatments s within the overall scale of the space to maintain proper proportions. With a smaller window, try extending the window treatment higher or wider to make the window appear larger. For a window with interesting details, place the window dressing within the frame to keep the architecture visible. 
  • Texture. Texture is needed in every room, whether casual (rough, nubby or earthy) or formal (smooth, elegant fabrics). To easily integrate texture into a space, add it to your windows.
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Photo: Corbis Images

How to Find the Perfect Contractor

Carrie Rigsby and her husband Chris are renovating their old New England home, and Carrie is tracking their progress on her blogHazardous Design. They tackle all sorts of home renovation projects themselves. But there are times when they seek out the professional expertise of a contractor.

Hiring a contractor, however, shouldn’t be task that’s taken lightly. It’s important to find a seasoned professional who will execute your job on time, on budget and to code. Here, Carrie shares her tips on finding a good contractor.

In Search of the Perfect Contractor
We’re halfway through our second major home renovation, and we’ve worked with our fair share of plumbers, electricians, landscapers and contractors along the way. Some have made the cut, some haven’t. Let’s face it: There is no “perfect” contractor. But here’s what we’ve learned about finding the right person for the task.

1. Referral Sources
Surely, referrals from your friends, family and co-workers are the usual suspects -- but we have found some of our best referrals from our real estate agent. Agents get to know who the local rock stars are in the trades because they deal with them every day.  

2. Referrals from Referrals
Once we establish a good relationship with a contractor, we never hesitate to ask whom he or she might recommend. A good contractor will be able to recognize quality work in other trades. Our punctual and communicative plumber came as a referral from our electrician. Our roofer came to us from the mason who took the time not only to re-point our chimney but also to point out some trouble spots on the roof. When we have our roof replaced this summer, I’m planning to ask our roofer who he’d recommend to paint our house.

In addition to the quality of the referral, we’ve found that when you call a new contractor and indicate that someone who works in the trades has given you their name, you are passing along a very nice complement. Who wouldn’t want to hear that of all of the people in your industry they could recommend, they chose you? It puts you on the right foot from the start.

3. Risky Referrals
So…your coworker’s cousin’s husband does contracting work? “I’ve never actually used him myself,” they tell you, “but you should give him a call…” We’ve been down this road and it never works out. There just isn’t the connection between the referring party and the quality of the contractor (or lack thereof).

4. Play it Safe
Many states have websites documenting contractors. Check them out: You can see if there are any claims or violations and if their insurance is up to date.

5. Paying it Forward
So you hire a great contractor, but should you refer them to your friend? This is a risky one, both for your relationship with your friend and with your contractor. For instance, we work with a contractor who is very inexpensive. He has always done impeccable work on our home. That said, the low cost of his work comes with an expense of its own: punctuality and communication. We don’t know when he is starting until the day before -- and generally don’t know when he’ll finish. We use him on the smaller jobs that aren’t time sensitive. While we are happy with him and understand the way he works, he is probably not a good bet for our neurotic friends who want to be in control of the process. In the end, you can save your friend and your contractor a big headache if you think about the match up front.

6. Start Small
If you can build up your experience with a contractor over some smaller jobs, it will increase your comfort level on the big ones and minimize your risk. Have your electrician do some general wiring before he or she puts in the new supply line and panel. Make sure that you are comfortable with the quality of their work and their treatment of you as a client. If it isn’t working for you, fall back on those other referral sources and start over.

Photo: Corbis Images