There's a window treatment to serve every taste and purpose.
Nothing does more for a room than good window treatments.
They add warmth and style. They provide privacy and help lower energy costs in both summer and winter. They can even make ceilings appear higher, windows bigger and spaces brighter.
But choosing the right one can be a daunting task for the average home decorator faced with sorting pinch pleat from fan pleat, swag from cornice, roller shade from roman shade.
"Window treatments are so important, and there are so many choices, people have a really hard time deciding what they want," says Ellen DeLucia of HomeDecInaSec.com, a purveyor of custom window treatments.
"We've seen people so afraid of making a mistake, they spend years living with bare windows," adds Sue Sampson, DeLucia's partner and co-author of "The Window Treatments Idea Book," available soon from Taunton Press ($19.95).
No one deserves to live with stark-naked windows. A few simple guidelines are all you need to get going on dressing them up, the experts say.
The first thing to determine is the look you want for the room, says Julie Morris, manager of custom labor for Calico Corners, which offers window treatments through its more than 100 retail stores.
Is the space formal or informal? Ruffled or tailored? Beachy? Bohemian? Urban loft? It's important to know, because window-treatment styles send certain signals.
Pinch-pleat drapes say traditional, as do swags, cornices and other fancy toppers. Drapery panels hung on rings or with metal grommets take things in a transitional or contemporary direction.
Variety in styles, fabrics
Roman shades can adapt to a variety of environments, depending on the style and fabric. A relaxed roman shade in a toile, for example, is a whole different animal from a flat-fold shade in a crisp stripe.
Natural woven grass and bamboo shades -- one of the hottest window looks today -- are also highly versatile.
"People are using the bamboo shades in all kinds of settings. They're even layering them with traditional silk panels," says designer Cindy O'Reilly, who manages product development for Smith & amp; Noble, the Web and catalog custom-window treatment retailer.
Not quite sure which style you're going for? Clip pictures from magazines of windows that appeal to you, then take a close look at your room.
"Decide what you'll be keeping," says Morris. Maybe it's a painting, a collection of antique plates, an Oriental rug, or some heirloom midcentury modern furniture. You want to make sure the window treatments tie things together.
That means, for example, that a room full of casual furniture would look out of place with windows opulently dressed in shaped cornices and flowing, puddled drapes.
Also, Morris says, "for some people, window treatments are the focal point of a room. They're the star of the show. Others just want window treatments to warm up a room or to serve a certain function, and they want them to recede into the background."
Help from Web site
Function is, indeed, another key to choosing the right window treatment, say Sampson and DeLucia, whose Web site allows customers to glimpse what their panels, valances, swags and shades will look like in any of the company's hundreds of fabric offerings.
Do you need to shade a south-facing family room from the blistering sun?
Do you want to be able to block morning rays in the bedroom and sleep in?
Or do you want to let light in yet screen the room from a busy city street or too-close neighbors?
"If your main goal is privacy, shades are a great option," says O'Reilly. Roller shades, now available in a wide range of fabric choices from many custom shops, are one of the most affordable options.
Want to control the view but still catch a glimpse of the sky? Look for natural woven and roman fabric shades that offer a top-down, bottom-up feature. (Additional options for shades include privacy or blackout linings.)
Wood shutters and blinds are another handsome way to moderate light and views, and they're a good choice for those looking to save on heating and cooling bills, says O'Reilly. She also recommends honeycomb shades, made from a translucent pleated polyester, for their high insulating value.
One thing to remember, designers caution: No single window treatment can fulfill all your style and function desires. Instead, think layers.
Gossamer sheers can be paired with heavy drapes for daytime light and nighttime privacy.
Stationary panels that soften a stark room can be coupled with woven shades or blinds for light control.
A smartly tailored valance or generous swag can add a punch of color and hide a cellular shade when it's pulled up.
For those so inclined, layers are also a surefire way to turn a window into a room's focal point. A recent catalog from Calico Corners shows an elegantly striped, relaxed roman shade under flowered pinch-pleat drapes topped by a shaped, padded cornice covered in a vivid magenta fabric.
No receding into the background for that window.
Clinching their status as the hardest-working tool in the home-decor kit: Smartly designed window treatments can add architectural dimension to an undistinguished room, bring symmetry and hide flaws, say Sampson and DeLucia. In their book, they show shutters cleverly installed over generic sliding patio doors and used to create a mock transom effect on a standard window.
Skimpy windows can be made to look bigger, Sampson says, by installing a rod wider than the window and letting drapery panels stack up on the wall beyond the frame.
To make a low ceiling look higher, mount rods above the window frame at ceiling height. To draw the eye up even more dramatically, add a top treatment, like a cornice.
With window treatments, Sampson says, "You can create so many different illusions in a room."
Custom window treatments aren't cheap, but they can be a great investment, particularly if you plan to stay in your home for a while.
At Calico Corners, for example, a pair of drapery panels to fit a typical window starts at about $160 ($80 for labor, plus six yards of the retailer's lowest-priced fabric at $12.99 per yard). Roman shades start at $178 on the HomeDecInaSec Web site. At Drapery Ever After, a custom shop that is part of a chain that looms its own silk, a pair of silk panels starts at $700.
That's a little less than double what you'd pay for basic drapes at Bed Bath & amp; Beyond or Target, a roman shade from Pottery Barn, or silk drapery panels from Restoration Hardware. But the custom product will be made to fit your windows exactly, in the fabric of your choice.
Off-the-shelf window treatments tend to offer skimpy yardage, lower-quality fabric, and sparse options in terms of color, pattern or size. For blinds, shades or any other kind of window treatment with moving parts you'll be yanking on every day, the operating life for a cheaper product is likely to be limited.
What to do
To get the best price for custom window treatments, shop around and get several quotes to compare, advise Sue Sampson and Ellen DeLucia of HomeDecInaSec.com.
Always get swatches to judge fabric quality and see how the colors look in the room in various types of light. (Some places, including Calico Corners, will even let you take home a whole roll of fabric to get the full effect.)
The rule of thumb on drapes is that, for optimal fullness, they should be 150 percent to 200 percent of your window width.
Remember that silk panels must always be lined to protect them from sun damage.