An A-to-Z guide to shades, drapes, swags and valances—all the tips you need to see your way clear to truly dapper window decorating

MY WINDOW treatments give me—to use the patois of the internet—the Sads. The thick, faux-wood blinds evoke side-walk grates when they’re open and an armadillo’s flinty hide when shut. They came with the midcentury house my husband and I purchased last year in suburban Denver and, on the long to-do list I’ve been working through, replacing them ranks pretty much last. Only one thing softens my shame: We’re clearly not the only folks who don’t see any treat in window treatments.

“People don’t think they’re that important,” said Ellen Fisher, dean of the New York School of Interior Design and author of “Home: The Foundations of Enduring Spaces” (Clarkson Potter). Unlike a fireplace mantel, which most people see as a decorat- ing opportunity, windows aren’t perceived as a place “where a room comes alive,” Ms. Fisher said. But they can be.

For tutelage in constructing this A-to-Z guide, we turned to design pros, who fell into two camps. The first champions simplicity: These designers might install sheer Roman shades that merely soften light and obscure subpar views. They might even leave windows bald, especially those that look out on balming nature. “Often light is the magic ingredient in an interior,” said Ray Booth, a principal at Nashville-based architecture and design firm McAlpine. “We strive to keep drapery gauzy and fresh. Heavy drapery treatment is like a person in need of a eyelid lift.” Some designers even discreetly hide curtain hardware in the ceiling or behind woodwork. Worth nothing: Simplicity needn’t look meager. Some in this cohort approve of elegantly pleated panels that cascade from ceiling to floor, as polished as Jackie Kennedy in a shift dress.

The opposing, maximalist camp embraces pattern, layers and ornament. “We used to only do single-fabric, French-pleated draperies or simple Roman shades,” said New York designer Kati Curtis, who recently finished off an interior by installing teal cashmere sheers be-decked in embroidered trim and pompom fringe. “We haven’t done things like this since the 1980s and ’90s.” Designer Kirill Istomin, who splits his time between New York and Moscow, extols the over-the-top and considers window treatments “an opportunity to frame a room with something unique and fun.” One of his tricks: topping a window with a squared-off, mirrored “pelmet” (a valance variant) to conceal drapery hardware, an idea he stole from a 1920s room created by Rose Cumming, Marlene Dietrich’s decorator.

Both sides of the curtain divide, however, value innovation. Blackout roller shades, once grimly plain and dense, can now be printed with patterns so charming you’d never guess the material was brawny enough to block light. Curtain panels that absorb sound now come in implausibly gossamer sheers. And motorized shades and drapes bring wizardry to décor. Said Chicago designer Christopher Kent, “It’s almost like a ‘mini reveal’ every morning.”
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