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Beyond window dressing

Elaine Markoutsas
Universal UClick

Cover-up isn't the issue. For most, windows are welcome — the more, the merrier. They usher in natural light, and sunshine is a surefire pick-me-up. There is that privacy thing — you don't want to feel like you're living in a fishbowl. But equally important, is the matter of decor's finishing touch, the punctuation and warmth (both visual and physical) that fabric adds, in the form of well-chosen window treatments.

"Draperies are an important design element," says Marta Enriquez, director of interior design for Ethan Allen. "They can be used to filter light and protect furniture, to darken a room, and to keep it cooler or warmer. They can open up a space or make it appear cozier — depending on how they are hung — and can be used to add color and texture. They are great for drawing the eye to a beautiful view or architectural (element) you want to showcase."

Although some types of draperies (here's looking at you, swag) seem fussy or dated, working with an interior style and architecture for an appropriate complement will net major design dividends.

But buying window treatments is not as easy as snapping up a chair. Or is it?

That depends on whether or not your windows themselves are standard issue, meaning their measurements. If the dimensions are not unusually wide or tall, you're in luck. Most retailers today carry ready-made (or off-the-rack, in fashion parlance) draperies. The price ranges from just a little bit more than nice shower curtains (around $40) to several hundred dollars and up, depending on fabric (quality and how much of it), whether or not there's a lining, complexity of style (rod pocket, where fabric is folded over and stitched to allow sliding into the rod, is the simplest construction), and trims.

That's not all. There's quite the range in fabric and pattern styles — from elegant silks and velvets to nubby linens and smooth cottons, from opaque to sheer, from stripes (skinny or fat) and geometrics to ikats and zigzags, from florals to paisleys. The designs can be screen or digitally printed, even embroidered.

Another bonus: dressmaker details. Contrast borders, ribbon ties, pompon edging, ruching (a kind of puckering), bands at the top, bands at the bottom, even nailheads or grommets used to define. The punctuation also is setting off top treatments like fixed boxy headers or loose valances.

"Cool white linen panels," for example, "can offer simple, sophisticated style on their own," says Enriquez. "But when you add a Greek key tape trim, the same panels take on a more classic, elegant look."

As in most other segments of home decor, fashion also is influencing drapery design — from materials to accoutrements.

"Just as rich color and textures have been all over the runways this year," says Enriquez, "we're seeing those same trends in home decor. Luxurious fabrics, brilliant new embellishments and hardware options. Many designers also favor ultra-feminine looks and colors, so light, airy sheers are in vogue again."

But what to call them: draperies, drapes or curtains? Years ago, there was a kind of snobby distinction. Drapery was reserved for more formality, while curtains fell into the more casual beat (like cafe style, hung on the bottom half of a double-hung window, which often shows up in breakfast rooms. Designers often grimaced if the word "curtain" was uttered, though even cafe curtains are better looking today (check out Ballard Designs' checks with pretty French pleats and solid grosgrain ribbon trims, particularly fetching in black and white).

Curiously, retailers are referring mostly to curtain categories, although Pottery Barn hedges its bets by dropping all three names. Further, PB features two videos on its website that address "how to hang a drapes," and "how to hang curtains," but honestly, no revelations about what's the dif. Other sites offer tips that include how to measure, create fuller effects and puddle, with 6 to 8 inches at the bottom for added oomph.

What all have in common, of course, is panels. When you're purchasing, that's what you need to know — the width and length of a panel. Most panels are 50 inches wide; when doubling up (to open in the middle) that covers a good-sized space — a little more than 8 feet across. If that doesn't do it, you can purchase additional panels (and have them sewn together, if you like). More choices of lengths are available today, generally from 48 up to 120 inches. That full 10 feet happily handles windows in spaces with tall ceilings.

With sheers trending, some gauzy looks are especially suited to those loft settings, because they're light and airy — even in bold hues like fashion-forward yellow. Crate and Barrel's French/Belgian linen is transparent enough to allow filtered light, and is attractively flow-y, to soften a modern layout.

Another semi-sheer, tie-dyed print on polyester, is even bolder because of pattern, but with an eclectic enough spirit that's a wonderful counterpoint in dark gray on white to shades of blue in a contemporary room, like one designed by Crate and Barrel.

Of course, a sheer linen in natural goes with pretty much everything. It's especially fetching in the presence of weathered or light woods, baskets and other natural materials, as seen at Pottery Barn.

Patterns can lead or follow design themes. Flora or fauna, especially in more modern, open styles, can lend a tropical or outdoorsy vibe. Geometrics often are a favorite go-to with mid-century styles. Velvet has become a more popular option — and in brighter colors (a surprisingly modern choice), one that can add a bit of visual heft and suede-y texture in a simple design. And silk, especially lush taffetas, lends a ballroom-gown elegance to rooms calling out for more dressed-up decor.

Drapery accessories also have ramped up, with more attention now showered on finishes and shapes of rods (with some squarish alternatives), and stylish finials in metal, ceramic, resin.

Mercury glass, so popular in furnishings accessories, has found a home in sparkly golden finials, for example, at Anthropologie. Tiebacks also are far more fetching than "self-ties," made out of the same fabric as the curtains, some even crafted in leather.

Going the custom route, of course, appeals to those who want to orchestrate a more personalized expression, choosing more exclusive fabrics and details, through decorators or programs such as Drapery Expressions at Ethan Allen (not available online), which offers choices of thousands of fabrics, trims and hardware options plus designers to help navigate the process.

At the high end, custom is as fabrics go; some ornate or sumptuous imported materials may command price tags of $1,000 per yard, times the amount of yardage (say 30 for full treatment on a few windows), PLUS labor — and you'll quickly see how intimidating those numbers can be.

Online shopping is attractive because it's easy — and offers almost instant gratification.

Says Enriquez: "That enables (consumers) to get the look and feel of custom with the ease and affordability of ready-made."


■ Anthropologie, 800-309-2500,

■ Ballard Designs, 800-536-7557,

■ CB2, 800-606-6252,

■ Country Curtains, 800-937-1237,

■ Crate and Barrel, 800-967-6696,

■ Ethan Allen, 888-324-3571,

■ Pottery Barn, 888-779-5176,

■ West Elm, 888-922-4119,