Monday, June 7, 2010

A Glossary of Decorative Window Treatments

by Jan Gunn Interior Architecture and Design

There are many types of treatments that can decorate the top of a window.

Swags and Jabots
The most formal, traditional, and elegant windows are often draped with swags and jabots at the top of the window.  A single swag might be draped across the top of a shorter window, or multiple swags might be draped across the top of a longer window or a group of windows.  The soft, gathered swoops of the swag might be accentuated with passementerie (gimp, cord, beads, fringe or braid), or crowned at each point along the top with fabric rosettes or another detail.  The jabots, which are the tails that cascade down on each side, frame the window with S-shaped or zigzag folds.  Often, the jabots are lined with contrasting fabric, or are edged with passementerie for greater emphasis.

Valences are the soft fabric treatments at the top of a window.  Valances serve the practical purpose of concealing the mechanical hardware on the window treatments.  Valances can extend the height of a window, filling the awkward space below the ceiling and above the window.  The height of the valances should be in proportion with the window height and the ceiling height.  A good guideline is to start with a standard valance height of 14 inches, and to adjust the proportions from there.  If the window is wide, making the valences larger will make the ceiling look lower.   If the room is long and narrow, making the valences wider than the windows, so that the curtains pull all the way back to the window jambs, will make the room look wider.

Like valances, cornices conceal the drapery hardware, and provide a decorative element at the top of windows that gives them a more finished appearance.  While valances are soft, essentially a short curtain, cornices are hard.  Cornices are usually made from wood that is painted or covered with fabric, or from fabric that is stiffened with buckram.  Buckram is a coarse cotton that has been stiffened with glue or sizing.  Cornices are usually rectangular, although they might also have a shaped edge, which adds a more architectural element.

Like cornices, lambrequins are often made from a firm board covered with fabric.  In addition to a shaped edge, lambrequins have "tails" that extend partway down the sides of the window.

There are many types of pleats, so depending on the style, the effect can be either formal or casual. Essentially, the pleats add fullness to the drapery panels.  A good guideline is for the total width of the fabric to be 2 1/2 to 3 times greater than the width of the area to be covered.

photographs and drawings courtesy of Southern Accents Magazine

A Drapery Treatise

by Jan Gunn Interior Architecture and Design

Fabric is the single most important element in a drapery's overall appearance, construction and style.  It is essential to choose a fabric that will drape well, that will hold its shape, and is the right weight for the desired style.  In a period or traditional room, it is often nice to also use an under drapery, which adds another layer of pattern or texture.  Or, you could use a faux under drapery, attached to each side panel.

Although sunlight filtering through unlined curtains can be pretty, most draperies, with the exception of sheers, should be lined to protect the fabric, to block light when desired, to help retain the shape, and to extend the life.  Use a lightweight lining for draperies that puddle at the bottom.  For a billowy look, use a lightweight lining and only attach it at the sides, and not at the bottom, so it will fill with air and move. Specialty linings, such as blackout lining, provide complete darkness when desired.

Sheers without lining

Silk draperies with cotton lining

It is important that the weight of the interlining be suitable for the weight of the face fabric and the style of the drapery.  Designers of thick, luxurious draperies often use bump, which is a heavier, blanket-like cotton or flannel interlining that also provides insulation.  An interior designer can advise you regarding the fabric, lining, and interlining that is best suited to your style of draperies.

White linen draperies with heavier cotton interlining

When should you use tiebacks or holdbacks, and when should drapery panels hang straight?  It depends on the overall look you're trying to achieve, how much of the window and the view you want to see, and the amount of space available on either side of the window for the drapery panels to stack when they are open. Tiebacks are often used in more formal or traditional settings, or conversely, for country-style draperies.  Straight panels look right in a cleaner, more modern setting.  Both new and old houses often have very pretty windows that homeowners don't want to obscure, so tiebacks can be used to reveal more of the glass.

Tiebacks in the same fabric as the draperies

A tassel tieback

A metal holdback

photographs and fabric chart courtesy of Window Fashions Magazine