Window Treatments...what you need to know. Curtain Call—Lessons from the best stage mom ever!

This Blog is dedicated to my mother, Mary Steinkamp. She has taught me just about everything I know about window treatments and assisted me with all of mine.

Curtains and other window treatments are often the final touch that many of our clients struggle with. They often opt to go with the paper shades until they can wrap their heads around this detail.  So, today I am writing with a few considerations as well  tips and tricks that I think will help you with the process when you are ready. 

Things to Consider:

1.  The Architecture of the Room: 
Windows and their placement are typically designed to bring light into a room, frame a view, allow for cross ventilation and finally in the event of an emergency provide an escape.  When selecting the appropriate treatments, it should be noted that light comes in the top 1/3 of your window.  Other Architectural features to be considered would be the casings and sills around the window or lack of, radiators, window seats and surrounding mill work like flanking bookcases. How the window opens should also be the window a double hung, a slider, an awning or casement type.  Does it open in/out or is it fixed.

2.  The views to the outside: 
The use of window treatments could be used to block unpleasant views or block unwanted glaring light. They can also frame views and harness the power and brightness of the sun.

3.  The views from the outside in:
(I know my mother taught me this one.)  Take a walk around the neighborhood and look at the windows treatments selected by the neighbors from the outside.  To create a uniform look from the outside looking in will give your home a regal look from the street.   This can be achieved by starting with a base level in every window like a thin sheer or or white shade.  Building like the Seagram Building on Park Avenue, in New York City by Mies Van de Rohe have it in their lease agreement that  the window shades can only be in one of three positions, all the way up, half way down or all the way down and the window shades may not we altered or changed...not a bad rule for your own home.  Another reason for this walk is to see what the neighbors are seeing.  I was surprised to learn that the difference from the street level to my first floor windows was actually significant enough that the sight lines into the house only allowed a view of the heads and shoulders of those taller than about 5'-2".  That angle while giving me a full view of those on the street, did not allow anyone to see in.  In cases like this a sheer cafe rod may make you feel not as exposed psychologically. Landscaping can also aid in privacy while giving you an open feel in your home.

So, now that we have hit on the considerations, I have what I consider my top ten tips, tricks and rules of thumb...again many learned over the years from my Mother Mary.

Top 10 Tips and Tricks

  1. Sheers on spring rods are a good next step if you can't take the paper any more.
  2. To achieve a fullness when gathered on the rod, curtains and sheers should measure 2.5 to 3 times the width of the window.  This creates those luxurious folds when they hang. If you are using panels or allowing for the sheers to be split in the center and pulled back to each side, you will want to have each panel be 1.25 to 1.5 times the width.
  3. If you want to enhance the size of window and call attention to it, select a rod that extends past the window 8-10 inches on each side so that the drapes when pushed to the sides are not covering any part of the glass view.
  4. Mounting heights:  To achieve a grander space  making the ceiling seem taller place the Rod or Valance as high as possible . 
  5. This leads us to length:  If your drapes or panels are purely decorative and do not move, they should touch the floor at a minimum or break 1/2" to 1 " on the floor.  If the curtains to not seem to be weighted enough on the bottom to hold the pleats or folds, sliding pennies or washers into the hem can be used to weight them down nicely.
  6. Another detail that adds richness to drapes and is often a tell tale sign between store bought and custom is the depth of the hem. Curtains and Sheers should have at least a solid 4 inch hem. Mary would tell you to finish them by hand as well. If lined, the lining should be 1/2" shorter and have a 3-1/2" hem.  Now, for that professional look, the side hems should also be finished by hand if you want your drapes to look their this is at eye level and one would have to get down on their hands and knees to check out the bottom hem on the floor.
  7. Linings and inner linings also tend to have a more luxurious feel and look. The use of a black out lining on the back of drapes are nice in bedrooms and again if done in a white or neutral will give that uniform appearance from the street when closed.
  8. Trims like fringe and tassels not only add cost but style and drama.  So, if you are going to park a couch in front of it, consider trimming  just the Valance or the edge of a pull down shade.  Remember to consider the formality of the room.  It may be a little much.
  9. Touching on price again...If you can not afford custom drapes, stock curtains equal a single width of your window.  To achieve a more luxurious custom look, you may need to buy an extra panel to get the desired fullness and then enhance them with some trim or a custom Valance or nicer rod.
  10. There is a difference between stock curtains and custom...and it is usually the same as a suit.  Custom tailored and lined always look and feel better...but is not necessary in every situation.  If you buy stock curtains just do yourself a favor and at least iron them. 

    ...and for a bonus
  11. If you have Radiators under the window, book cases and or window seats you may want to considered  the use of interior shutters or shades and a Valence.

And in closing.... You may be saying I am not so crafty and neither is my mother...or I wish I could sew...consider the fact that most drapes require you to be able to cut and sew in a straight line. Some friends have taken a class at the South Orange Maplewood Adult School on How to Sew Curtains and have created some amazing window treatments. There are also quite a few DIY websites and books with no sew curtains ideas that are quite clever as well.

So, break a leg. If you use a few of these tips and tricks you are sure to get a standing ovation.