How to Measure and Choose Window Treatments

How to Measure and Choose Window Treatments

Misty Adair
Dec 17, 2009

Are your windows still naked or worse, dressed in your bed sheet, because you are paralyzed with indecision over what to do with them? Rather than settle for mini blinds or ill fitting curtains, we asked Leslye Womack of Best Dressed Windows in Austin to give us a window treatment primer.

Consider this to be a general overview of the most frequently asked questions regarding window treatment selection and the proper measurement of windows.

1. What sort of window treatments work best for large, wide windows, such as picture windows?

Draperies, lined panels of fabric, are a good solution because they can be hung on hardware that extends beyond the window itself to expose the entire window. These look wonderful paired with bamboo shades or wood blinds for a layered effect. The same applies for wide, higher windows that are in many mid-century ranch style houses. The drapes can be simplified at the top, made of more modern fabrics and mounted close to the ceiling (for additional height) to avoid looking too traditional.

2. What window treatments are best for narrow windows?

There are many options that are appropriate. Roman shades and roller shades lend themselves to narrow windows and can be either inside or outside mounted. If the window moldings are especially attractive, hang the shades inside the window frame.

3. What are the most cost effective window treatment options?

In Leslye's opinion, drapery panels are the most affordable if kept simple. The cost of the fabric, any additional trims and the complexity of the pleating makes a difference. A simple panel can be easily made at home by hemming the edges of a width of fabric and then attaching it to the drapery rod with clip rings. Flat Roman shades can also be relatively inexpensive because they require less fabric and are the least complicated shades.

4. Where can semi-custom window treatments be purchased?

A local seamstress like Leslye can make custom window treatments for often less than a full service workroom in a fabric store or design center. Check with the Window Coverings Association of America to find a workroom in your area.

Semi-custom draperies and shades can be ordered from on-line retailers, but the fabric selection will be more limited. Smith + Noble has a wide variety of shades, drapes, valances, blinds and more. The Shade Store also has drapes and shades, including sleek solar shades and sliding panel systems. In addition, they offer modern fabric collections from Dwell and Maharam.

5. What is the proper way to measure windows?

Many windows are not completely level so it is best not to assume anything. Measure vertically on the left and right side of the window inside the window frame. Then measure horizontally at the top, middle and bottom of the window. If the shade will be outside mounted, include the width of the window trim as well.

6. Where should the drapery rods or shades be mounted in relation to the window?

This is a matter of personal preference, but there are general guidelines. Hardware should be installed three to five inches off each corner of the window frame to adequately cover the window. To create the illusion of higher ceilings, install the window treatments close to the ceiling for maximum height. To make a narrow window appear wider, hang drapery panels outside the window so that the leading edge (inside edge of the panel) just touches the side of the window frame. No matter where the hardware is mounted, make sure the panels will hang at the desired level. Longer drapery panels should skim the floor and less formal curtains can be slightly longer than the window ledge.

Window Words

Drapes vs. Curtains: The terms are used interchangeably and very similar. They are both vertically hanging panels of fabric that can be stationary, be split in the middle, or be one panel that opens to the side. The understood difference is that drapes are more substantial and usually pleated at the top. Curtains are generally made of lighter fabric that is simply gathered on a curtain rod.

Valance vs. Cornice: Both are window toppers that can be used alone or in combination with panels or shades. A valance hangs softly from a board or rod and a cornice is an upholstered or wood box that is mounted above the window.

Roman Shade: A single panel of fabric that is flat when it is down and folds into even pleats as it is pulled up, according to Lady Carolyn Wrey in The Complete Book of Curtains and Drapes (1957). In 2009, this is still true but there are many more variations such as hobbled shades, relaxed Romans, and London shades.

Inside Mount vs. Outside Mount : Inside mount window treatments cover only the surface of the window and expose the trim around the window. Outside mount window treatments are installed on the wall beyond the window trim and allow less light to leak in around the edges.

Thanks for the lesson, Leslye!

Want to know more? Have a challenging window dilemma? Let us know what specific issues we can address related to the vast world of window coverings.

Related Links:
How to Make Shades out of Mini Blinds
How to Customize Roller Shades
Before and After: Window Treatments

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