Designer 101: How to Choose Window Treatments

Designer 101: How to Choose Window Treatments

Design expert Kenneth Wingard shares the best way to choose the right window treatments.

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By: Kenneth Wingard

Window treatments, or the absence of them, are an important design element in all rooms. Bridging the gap between the inside and the outside can be a unique element. Not only does it give us a chance to add color and pattern to a room, but also provides the opportunity to add a third dimension to our usually two-dimensional walls.

When deciding on window treatments for a bedroom, you have all of the same considerations that you would for any other room: design, color, texture, style, plus the added challenges of privacy, light and sound.

In order to choose window treatments that will work effectively, you must understand your bedroom’s orientation and any sound and view challenges. Does the room have east-facing windows with bright morning light? Is there street noise in the evening that needs to be muffled? Do you like to sleep in complete darkness? Can people see through the windows? Once you understand these things, you can decide on which window treatments will work best for your scenario.

Curtains or Drapes?
People often use these interchangeably, however, they’re distinctly different. Curtains are unlined and any length, while drapes are more formal, lined and floor length. Drapes should come within 2 inches of the floor or be 3-5 inches too long so they “puddle” on the floor, creating a more romantic effect.

In bedrooms with mismatched or less-than-dramatic windows, hang curtains and drapes from just below the ceiling to create the illusion of extra height and uniformity. Due to their soft fabric construction, either option is great in a bedroom, but it’s best to pair these with sheers, shades, shudders or blinds so that you can maintain some privacy when the panels are open.

Tip: Find all of Kenneth Wingard’s tips and project instructions here.

Blackout Curtains
These curtains are lined with heavy, light and/or noise-canceling fabric to keep out all daylight when closed. They also have the advantage of adding insulation. These are great for someone who needs to sleep during daylight hours or someone who is very light sensitive.

Personally, I enjoy the filtered light coming through non-blackout curtains in the mornings and afternoons, but I can sleep under the noonday sun. The design issues that you must keep in mind with blackout curtains is that they will always read as relatively heavy, so if you want something light and airy, you’ll have to do without the blackout option.

Sheers are very thin, transparent curtains designed to let in daylight while obscuring views. Often paired with drapes, sheers can be left closed during the day while the drapes are open, thus getting light and privacy simultaneously. To use sheers and drapes together, you need a double rod so that both can move independently.


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Shades are a great option for adjusting light and privacy and, to a lesser degree, sound. These come in many styles and configurations so they can work well when paired with most other types of window treatments. The most popular of these are:

  • Roller shades: Fabric, paper or bamboo that is attached to a roller and can work from top down or from bottom up. The latter being useful for upper story windows where you can raise them half way up to maintain privacy but not block light.
  • Roman shades: Flat fabric panels that cover the windows and pull up into even folds when drawn. A very economical use of fabric and useful in a well-tailored environment.
  • Balloon shades: Similar in construction to roman shades, but draw up into loose gathers creating a much more romantic, feminine feel.
  • Cellular and pleated shades: Constructed of rigid paper or fabric, these shades have a very low, clean profile and almost completely disappear from view when drawn. They work well alone in modern spaces but can also be paired with curtains and drapes.

Once in favor and then out of favor, blinds are slowly making a comeback. From stainless steel narrow blinds to solid wood blinds to floor-to-ceiling vertical blinds — there are a lot of options on the market. Narrow, or mini-blinds, work best when paired with lighter curtains. Wood blinds can work alone or when paired with heavier drapes that help visually balance their weight. Vertical blinds work best alone in modern settings.

The real advantage of blinds is their adjustability. When lowered, they can be angled to let in light but block views, keep the view but block the light, or block out both. Finally, they can be pulled up for unobstructed light and views.

Plantation Shudders
These are wooden shutters with operable slats that mount to the interiors of window frames. Due to the moving slats, these shutters can be angled to let in light while still providing privacy. In the right situation they can be used successfully alone, but also pair nicely with curtains or drapes. If pairing them together, be sure to mount the curtain hardware high enough that it does not interfere with the operation of the shutters. The rod should be long enough that the curtains can be pushed out of the way of the shutters.

Choosing Colors
A good way to decide on a color is to choose an accent color from your rug, bedspread or any other favorite item that serves as inspiration for the room. Since this is the bedroom and creating a restful atmosphere is one of the goals, choose one of the background or more subdued colors.

Another designer trick is to take your wall color and go two shades darker or lighter. This creates some subtle depth, but also nice continuity. When the window treatments are closed you have a uniform flow around the walls. If you’re going with wooden shutters or blinds, choose the wood tone of one of the pieces of furniture in the room and then go a shade lighter to keep the windows from becoming overwhelming. All of that being said, the right bright pattern on a picture window in a master bedroom can be a showstopper — just choose wisely!

Once you understand the various options available, you can choose to combine different elements to get the style and functionality that works best depending on the situation. I find that unless you have a very large bedroom, it’s best to stick with one configuration for all of your windows.

Also, the days of the drapes matching the bedspread are long gone. Since window treatments can be quite an investment, I like to go with something slightly neutral and then use my bedspread or throw pillows to bring in a color punch or to update the room seasonally.

Kenneth Wingard attended Princeton University’s School of Architecture and has studied art, sculpture and architecture in Europe, Asia and Africa. It was during these travels he developed an appreciation for the skill of the local craftsmen and began to think about how to combine those talents with his own design sense. He’s worked for Williams-Sonoma and was the Divisional Director of Pottery Barn. His products have been spotted at the New York and San Francisco MOMA, LACMA and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Get to know Kenneth here.

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