"Dressing windows is one of the most impactful ways to give any space a designer edge," says Brian Patrick Flynn, an interior designer and founder of decordemon.com.
The freshest looks now, according to Flynn and interior designers Betsy Burnham and Mallory Mathison, are all about simplicity, softness and fuss-free design.
"The skinnier the rod, the fresher the room will look," says Burnham, founder of Burnham Design in Los Angeles. "Just a skinny rod with tiny rings is all you need. It's very graceful. ... When I see 2-inch and 3-inch wooden rods and clunky rings now, it looks so dated."
Mathison, who is based in Atlanta, agrees: "People are moving away from window treatments with cornices and valances." With a basic curtain or Roman shade, she says, you don't need to worry about "anything collecting dust or dirt, or kids wrapping themselves up in bunches of fabric."
SHEERS AND NATURALS
Mathison increasingly prefers to use sheer curtains on their own, rather than pairing them with thicker draperies.
Adding a thin, organic cotton lining to a sheer curtain panel adds a bit of privacy, but keeps "that sort of flowy, gauzy look," she says. "It's a soft little frame for the window and there's no distraction with it being a heavy fabric."
ONLY THE FABRIC YOU NEED
A few years ago, Burnham says, many designers favoured piling on fabric to create dramatic windows. Today, there's a spare approach.
"We're not swagging. There's no puddling of fabric on the floor anymore," she says. Now, it's best for fabric to "just kiss the floor."
The same rule goes for Roman shades: "A simple, pleated style, not too much fabric" has become more popular than billowing shades.
And phoney curtains are definitely out: "Don't put up two panels that don't actually close," Burnham advises.
CUSTOM LOOK FOR LESS
It's increasingly easy to get the look of made-to-order window treatments without the cost. All three designers suggest buying pre-packaged curtain panels, then having them custom lined and hemmed to fit your windows.
"I stick with linen and cotton," says Flynn, "then drop them off to a seamstress to be lined so they hang nicely. Next, I have the tops sewn 'soft top' style, which is a straight stitch that gives a casual, relaxed look. Then drapery hooks are added. The cost is anywhere from $25 to $125 per panel, depending on the type of pleat and liner used."
Or buy several yards of fabric (look for sales and online coupons for local fabric stores) and have a seamstress make simple panels, rather than having curtains done by a custom window treatment retailer. "The difference in cost, if you have the work done by someone who normally tailors clothing, is going to be noticeable," Burnham says.
If you prefer shades to curtains, Mathison says to apply the same strategy: Buy a plain white cotton Roman shade, she says, then attach a flat ribbon trim across the bottom border or even a cotton pompom fringe for a child's room. The look is simple and clean, and the expense minimal, but you've added a dash of colour and texture.
Patterns aren't out of style, but these designers suggest deploying them strategically. One approach is using a pattern done all in one colour.
"There are a lot of sheers now that have a subtle pattern in them, a tone-on-tone stripe or wavy design that addsa little bit of interest," Mathison says, but still "looks simple and light."
Burnham sometimes favours that approach, bringing in pattern through texture rather than colour: "It's nice to find a rougher linen, just not a plain flat cotton," she says. "So you get a little texture in your solid colour drape, and that's adding more dimension to your wall."
Subtler patterns work especially well in a bedroom, Burnham says, "where it's nice to have something calmer. In your dining room you can indulge your alter ego, and go a little crazier."
Furniture also matters: "In rooms with mostly solid decor," Flynn says, "I turn to window dressing to add pattern."
If you're using a print, "always think of how far away you will be from your window treatments," he advises. "Tiny rooms like powder rooms are ideal for small patterns since the eye will never be far enough away from the pattern for it to become busy or hard to read."
"Medium and larger patterns give the most bang for the buck," he says. But if the design "is very large, this means you need way more fabric" to appreciate it. That, he points out, will add to the cost.
DON'T FORGET STRATEGY
For all their decorating value, window treatments of course have practical purposes.
Draperies and shades can mask old windows that look weathered, buying you time before you need to replace the windows.
They can also block excess light, keep warmth from escaping through drafty windows and block sound from outdoors. In spaces where you want quiet, such as a home office or baby's bedroom, Flynn says the right window treatment can make all the difference.