A Glossary of Decorative Window Treatments ~ The Best Interior Designers
The Best Interior Designers: A Glossary of Decorative Window Treatments

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