Types of Window Treatments

Semi-Sheer Window Coverings

Newly installed Semi-Sheer window treatments.

A common space such as a family room or living room may not require total privacy, but it may need light control with some privacy. Natural light helps brighten a living room and a semi-sheer fabric window treatment allows this light through, diffuses it through the room, and adds subtle privacy. Semi-sheer fabric is the midway point of light control between sheer and opaque fabric.

Tip: Choose layers for controlling light and privacy. Inside mount cellular shades for total privacy; add a sheer for light diffusing, and wrap it all up with a lined, insulated blackout curtain for heat loss.


Blackout curtains in a living room.

Getting baby to sleep in the middle of the day can prove difficult with the sun blaring in — but not with blackout shades. Cellular shades, pleated shades and rollers are available as blackout treatments and blackout lining is available for drapery. Be aware of the edge gap on inside-mounted treatments may be very distracting.

Tip: For absolute darkness, install floor-to-ceiling drapes which also extend 18 inches past each side of the window. This will ensure that as little light as possible seeps in through cracks.


Newly installed Shades.

People often refer to blinds and shades interchangeably and while the two have much in common, they also have some important differences. Both types of window treatments can add privacy and block out light, but shades can be the less expensive option between the two. The biggest difference, however, is that shades do not have slats or vanes. They are made of a continuous piece of fabric that rolls or folds up.

Tip: Unless the shade is totally opaque, there will be view-through from the outside in. Period.

Pleated Shades

Newly installed Pleated Shades.

Pleated shades are made of a single piece of fabric, accented by crisp horizontal folds. They come in a variety of fabrics and colors and opacity.

Tip: Pleated shades draw up and lower via cords which run through the pleats. The guide holes can be quite noticeable on lowered shades with a blackout backing.

Cellular/Honeycomb Shades

Newly installed Honeycomb Shades.

Cellular shades offer both maximum insulation and privacy; a top-down-bottom-up shade allows you to cover the bottom of the window while leaving the top section exposed. (Abbreviated as “TDBU”.)

In cross section, cellular shades are honeycomb-shaped pockets which are very energy efficient; the pockets trap air, reducing heat loss in the winter and keeping your rooms cool in the summer. Available in small (⅓-inch) to large (2-inch) honeycombs, with either 1, 2, 3 or more layers, these are the best insulating shades available.

Tip: Ask the seller for the R-value of your cell shade. It might be as high as R-7.

Roman Shades

Newly installed Roman Shades.

Roman Shades are fabric units which raise and lower via a cord or spring system. They can present a flat, or folded surface when lowered, and they can be manufactured from sheer fabric, light-diffusing fabric, or heavily lined for high energy-efficiency.

Tip: Corded window coverings are subject to stringent limitations by the WCAA (Window Covering Association of America). Look for their guidelines before purchasing corded coverings.

Roller Shades

Newly installed Roller Shades.

As a full sunblock, vinyl roller shades fit snugly into most window frames, are not overly expensive and are a quick fix to privacy if you choose opaque fabric. Roller shades can be spring operated, motorized or operate with a continuous chain.

Tip: Be aware that the light gap on the outside edges of an inside mounted roller or solar shade can be up to one inch.

Solar Shades

Newly installed Solar Shades.

These are a roller shade in operation; the difference is the fabric. Choose solar shades to reduce glare and harmful UV rays -- these are the rays that damage your floors, furniture and drapery and heat up the room.

Tip: Quality Solar shades will have the openness factor listed. The higher the number, the more light will pass through the shade. For high sun areas, choose an openness factor of 5 to 7%.

Stained Glass

A newly installed stained glass window.

If you have windows on or around your front door but want a little privacy, consider installing stained glass. This will turn your foyer into a focal point and prevent passersby from getting a full look into your home.

Tip: A similar effect can be created with adhesive vinyl available through paint stores. Or consider painting the glass.


A set of newly installed blinds.

Blinds are slats operating on cord systems; wood, composite materials, aluminum or vinyl available in a variety of thicknesses and widths. Blinds offer great versatility in terms of light blocking; they can be completely opened or closed, partially opened or closed, or tilted to let light filter in where and when you want it.

Tip: Some blinds are available with the cord holes concealed by snappy construction. This is a bonus because it prevents light bleed through the blinds when in the down position. Ask your seller for this feature if light control is an issue for you.

Vertical Blinds

Newly installed Vertical Blinds.

They’ve been around a long time and for good reason. There are places where vertical blinds are one of the best window treatments available. Such as a patio door. Available in fabric, vinyl and wood, you are sure to find a color and material that meets the needs of your space.

Tip: Be aware of the noise of verticals, and also be aware that the chains which run along the bottom connecting the slats can be a child and pet hazard.


Newly installed Shutters.

Shutters can be expected to last up to 20 years. That’s quite a commitment to your window treatment, so it pays to make sure that shutters are the right decision for you. In addition to being sturdier than either shades or blinds, shutters also come with a higher price tag. However, given that you can expect your shutters to last for years to come and that they are a snap to care for once installed, shutters can be an excellent long-term window treatment.

When choosing your shutters, you’ll want to understand the differences between the major categories of interior shutters and that you will be choosing from wood, composite, or vinyl. More colors and finishes are available than ever before, so you can customize your shutters to an unprecedented degree.

Shutters are one of the most expensive window treatments because they must be custom-made to ensure reliable operation. They offer a very particular design style and are best used all on their own. Not great for blackout, OK for light filtering and privacy. Unless you are a competent wood-worker, this isn’t DIY project.

Tip: Plan how you will wash the windows with shutters in place; make sure they can be opened for cleaning. And be aware that with the slats tilted open, the view-through may be limited to about 25% of the actual window.


Newly installed Valances.

A valance is a little bit of fabric that does a big job. It hangs across the top of a window, adding softness, color, and pattern to a hard architectural element. They also conceal blind or shade mechanisms and the whole shade when the shade or blind is up. A valance helps enhance a room's theme and contributes to the mood and feel of the space.

Tip: Don’t install a valance less than 12 inches in length; it will look skimpy. A good rule of thumb is: the length of the valance should be at least 1/5th of the window height - or perceived window height. If your window is 40 inches high, 1/5th is 8 inches, which breaks the 12-inch guideline. So mount the valance 4 inches above the window and make it a minimum length of 12-13 inches. Your window will look bigger, too.

Box-Pleated Valances

Box-Pleated Valance for a window in the kitchen.

This tailored treatment is a natural in rooms where you want a formal air, such as a living room, dining room, or master bedroom. The stationary treatment's crisp pleats lie flat against a mounting board, which is typically attached to the wall with simple L-shape brackets.

The box-pleated design is easily duplicated on furnishings such as table coverings, slipcovers, or bed skirts to unify a room.

Tip: Don’t skimp on the amount of fabric in each pleat. A good rule of thumb is three times the width of the valance for the full flat width; this creates pleats which meet in the back and creates a flat top edge on the valance board.

Simple Swags

Newly installed Simple Swags.

Sometimes a simply knotted scarf worn around the neck is the perfect accent for an outfit; a simple swag on a window dresses up a room the same way. A loosely slung fabric strip, unlined or lined, draped over a decorative rod or wound over a tieback at each top corner of a window frame can add an abundance of style. The middle of the fabric strip acts as a valance; the ends, whether cut into opposing diagonals or simply hemmed, softly hang down the sides of the window.

Casual swags can be made of luxurious fabrics to fit formal decor or dressed down in cottons befitting a cottage or country home. The beauty of this style is its simplicity, so it's most appropriate used alone on windows where privacy is not an issue.

Tip: Unstructured swags will look cheap and skimpy if you use less than 54-inch wide fabric; for sheers you need at least 80-inch wide fabric.

Structured Swags

Newly installed Structured Swags.

These are the most formal window accessory you choose. The fabric swoops into swags across the window width; embellishment is critical and it’s not unusual to find several layers of drapery, sheers, swags, jabots with trim, and elaborate tie-backs.

Tip: Structured swags are a very particular design style and require a highly skilled drapery maker to get it right.

Tie-up Shades

Newly installed Tie-up Shades.

Simplicity is the name of the game with tie-up shades. Sometimes called a stagecoach-style shade, this economical treatment features fabric which hangs flat from a rod or mounting board. The bottom edge is hand-rolled or folded to the desired position. Fabric ties, ribbons, or cords hold the rolls or folds in place. Consider using it where you're likely to leave the shade down to hide an unsightly view or open in a room where privacy or sunlight aren't issues.

Tip: Adjusting the shade requires untying and re-rolling it by hand, making this treatment more decorative than functional.


A picture of a newly installed Cornice.

A cornice is a four-sided wood box, padded, upholstered and mounted to the wall above a window. Like a valance, a cornice can appear alone or be teamed with another treatment. Because it is a structured design, a cornice benefits from being paired with a soft treatment, such as a curtain or fabric shade, to temper the hard lines. But cornices can be embellished with swags or pleated fabric and the bottom edge can be shaped to mirror a design element in the room.

Tip: Follow the valance guidelines for the length of your cornice. If in doubt go longer and mount the box higher.

Curtains & Drapes

A new set of Curtains and Drapes.

Fun or formal, curtains and drapes are often the unsung heroes of window dressing and interior design. Not only do they filter out harsh light and the gaze of your nosey neighbor, but they can set the mood and tone of a room. Whether you seek a gauzy, romantic look that lets in the breeze from your deck, or something with some serious light-blocking ability, you will be able to find a solution that suits your needs.

When considering curtain style, it’s important to think about both form and function: First, consider any problems that you require your curtains to solve. Too much light? Trying to save energy? You will need a heavier or lined curtain rather than something on the sheer end of the spectrum. Are you looking to dress up a formal living or dining room? Then velvet or heavy silk might be the ticket. Households with kids or pets may want to consider washable cotton or cotton/polyester blends. Floral curtains work well in country-styled rooms.

Before you make a selection, you’ll want to make sure you have carefully considered all of the following: color, fabric, type of hardware needed to mount the curtains, and the shape and size of your windows. All of these different options will play into the selection.

Fabric adds design warmth as well as actual insulation. Layering the treatment gives many options for light and heat control and there are few design styles which can’t be met with fabric drapery.

Tip: Curtains are single-layer, draperies are fabric with one or more linings and interlinings.


Newly installed Panels.

Pre-made single width panels, meant as stationary drapery, meant for hanging at the sides of windows, work well with blinds or shades. Ideal for living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms, panels look best on larger windows and sliding glass or French doors. They are best hung at least ⅔ of the distance from the top of the window to the ceiling. Available in many colors and styles, panels can suit styles from a casual family room to a formal dining room.

When choosing your hardware, remember to consider the mood of your room: A heavier curtain rod will look more formal and dramatic, while a lighter rod will look breezier. A good rule of thumb? If your curtains have a fairly busy pattern, lean towards a less adorned curtain rod so as not to overwhelm your window.

Tip: Choose pre-made panels carefully; the quality of construction is very much in line with the price. Varying lengths and uneven hems and side seams are all too common on the low-end versions.

Thermal or Blackout Curtains

Newly installed Thermal (aka Blackout) curtains.

Blackout curtains are fabric with a blackout property woven into the fabric, thermal curtains have a foam-like product adhered to the window-side of the fabric. Both are designed to be energy efficient and light blocking. Use your thermal curtains to cool a space when you close them during the heat of the day, or to warm the space when the winter sun is scarce. Blackout curtains are the answer to the daytime nap conundrum (for adults and kids alike) or can be used to convert your living room into a media room.

Tip: Thermal and blackout curtains are one layer of fabric and because the blackout or thermal is part of the fabric, cleaning instructions may be strict. Check the label.


Newly installed Sheers.

Sheers are very versatile, crossing all design styles, and can appear alone or paired with more substantial fabric as the main drapery, and with valances to up the style quotient. Using sheer curtains underneath heavier drapes or curtains allows you flexibility in terms of how much light and privacy you have. Closing the drapes creates total privacy, while opening the drapes and closing the sheers lets in some light without making you feel exposed.

Tip: Don’t skimp on the fullness of your sheers if you want soft privacy when they are closed. Sheers are typically 3 times fullness whereas drapery is 2.5 times fullness. (If your window is 10 inches wide, at 3 times fullness your curtains will have 30 inches of fabric gathered onto the rod. At 2.5 times fullness you will have 25 inches).

Rod-Pocket Panels

Newly installed Rod-Pocket Panels.

Of the many ways to attach a drapery panel to a rod, few match the ease of the rod pocket. In this treatment, the curtain rod simply slips through a channel sewn into the panel's top edge. The tighter the fit, the more dramatic the shirring. For a ruffled header, sew a pocket a few inches down from the top edge; when the rod is pushed through, the fabric above it fans out to form a ruffle.

Rod-pocket panels are commonly made of lightweight fabrics and left unlined for a casual look. But don't overlook this style for more formal decor. For a sumptuous style statement, consider plush velvet panels shirred tightly on a substantial rod. Because panels don't slide easily on a rod, especially when tightly gathered, use them as stationary treatments, don’t plan on opening and closing them.

Tip: If you are using these as decorative side panels only, prevent the leading edge from creeping along the rod with adhesive hook-and-loop tape attached to the top of the rod, just under top of the leading edge. Or, hold it in place with a push-pin through the fabric and wood rod on the window side.

Panels with Rings

Newly installed Panels with Rings.

Wood or metal rings that slide along a pole allow you to put hardware in a starring role, complementing virtually any style of drapery. Besides being fashionable, panels with rings are easy to open and close and offer an alternative to anyone who dislikes the cord-and-pulley system of traverse rods.

Tip: Spray some fabric silicone spray on a cloth and apply it to the top of the rod; the rings will glide along much easier.

Pleated Panels

Newly installed Pleated Panels.

In the world of window treatments, pleated drapery panels are the classics. They withstand the whims of window fashion, adding elegance and sophistication to any room. There are several styles of pleats, all of which are sewn into a panel's top edge to create a decorative header. The fullness of the drapery is controlled by the size and placement of the pleats; they keep their fullness moving across the rod evenly when the treatment is closed.

Tip: Choose a pleat to fit your design style: the classic 3-finger pleat fits any style, the Euro-pleat works well with a more modern style. If the panels are stationary, a back-box pleat is current and suits a contemporary room. Goblet pleats fit old-world. Shabby Chic and French Country styles.

Tab-Top Panels

Newly installed Tab-Top Panels.

The unpretentious look of tab-top panels makes them a natural for country and cottage decorating. There are many variations, but standard tabs are simply loops of fabric sewn into or onto the valance's top seam. The panel hangs relatively flat from these tabs, providing a good opportunity to showcase interesting fabric prints.

Because the curtain rod is visible between the tabs, you can add decorative rods and finials for more impact. To maintain the fuss-free feel this style evokes, use cotton or linen fabrics in simple checks, stripes, plaids, or florals.

Tip: These are not meant to be opened and closed; leave them in one position.

Grommet Panels

Newly installed Grommet Panels.

Grommet panels have become one of the most popular ‘instant’ window treatments. The rod slides through a large grommet, creating a deep fold forward into the room-- and an opposing pleat backward toward the wall. Available from low budget to top of the line custom pricing, in almost any fabric weight or style imaginable, these have become a mainstay for the home decorator. They are best suited to a casual, country, modern or transitional style and are not meant to be opened and closed; they are meant to be left stationary. However, most users of these panels want to be able to open and close them, requiring dressing of each fold each time they are moved. A drapery specialist can fix this problem for you.

Tip: If the panels are not hung far enough in front of the wall, the back fold may drag along the wall when being closed. Check measurements and make sure the bracket is adjustable.


Most custom window covering companies offer motorization. This can operate on direct current, requiring an electrician for install, or on battery or even solar energy banks included with a simple installation; some companies can retrofit existing window coverings. If cordless and ease of operation are at the top of your wish-list, think motorization.


An amount equal to 5% or more of the value of your home is a good benchmark for the price of window coverings. Of course you can do it for a lot less if you’re a DIY’er, or a lot more if you go to top of the line custom.

Cord Control

Cordless operation of window treatments is essential to household safety. Every window covering is available, somewhere, as a cordless model.

Width & Length

Be aware that the width of a window treatment is the distance from left to right. The length is the distance from the top to the bottom. As is a window. Think of how much grief you will have if you order the blind 60x40 instead of 40x60. This is a universal standard; it’s a good one to learn.

A curtain rod length is the distance it spans and correlates to the width of the window treatment. A 60-inch long rod fits a 60-inch wide window.