Window dressing: historic treatments vs current trends

by Patricia M. Cove
Posted 7/14/22

Windows are an integral part of any piece of architecture.

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Window dressing: historic treatments vs current trends


Windows are an integral part of any piece of architecture. They provide air circulation, sunlight, and most of all a view of the outdoors. These architectural features come in all shapes, sizes, patterns and designs. Historically it was considered necessary to embellish them in some way, not just for decorative purposes, but for privacy and also warmth.

The treatment of window interiors probably reached its zenith during Victorian times, when windows were not just covered, but sheathed in layers of velvets, damasks and brocades. A window would not be considered appropriately dressed unless it sported not only heavy, movable panels, but cornices, valences, swags and jabots, that would be placed atop intricate lace under panels. These lavish treatments were works of art within themselves, and they certainly would assist in keeping rooms draft free. Passers-by could not see in, but that also meant that those inside could not see out. They were the perfect complement to the flocked wallpapers, rich colors and moire patterns of the day.

Today, windows are still extremely important elements within any space. They are still necessary for air circulation, but over the years, they have also taken on new and more intrinsic purposes. Along with drastic changes to our lifestyles, the simplification of interior spaces with cleaner, brighter surroundings, combined with the love of the outdoors, the purpose of windows has shifted. We are not so much concerned any more with outsiders’ inability to see in, but more with our own ability to see out. We have also experienced how the sun’s light can affect a room in the most positive of ways.

Window treatment companies offer so many simple yet decorative and functional methods to enhance any window. The use of shutters is still one of my favorites. They allow for air circulation, privacy when needed, and are appropriate for both traditional and more modern interiors.

Roman shades made of natural woven woods are a more contemporary treatment that can work well on a larger expanse of glass, while still offering color and texture within a room. Those same shades can also be made of a fabric of your choice to complement colors and patterns elsewhere in the space.

Wooden blinds are still an architectural favorite no matter the architectural style of a room. Stained, they are terrific in a library or den. Painted, they are perfect for a living room, bedroom or kitchen.

If you want to add a fabric treatment, stick to simple panels on each side of a window. These can be stationary panels, not meant to be closed, and can give a finished appearance to the window opening.

Depending on the available space on each side, the panels can also be made to close, giving you some warmth during the winter months.

If you are adverse to any sort of interior window treatment, you can embellish your windows with architectural elements that take the place of any extraneous treatments. Second story spaces or rooms that do not require a high level of privacy are perfect for architectural treatments. Windows with divided lights, meaning smaller divided panes of glass, work best with more decorative trims.

Capped, fluted columns combined with a continuous lintel, architrave and frieze and cornice, make up the entablature. When you incorporate classic architectural features to a window surround, there is no need for additional embellishments. Why would you want to hide such striking features?

So, if you are considering how to treat those unadorned windows, consider all the options available. Window treatment companies like Smith & Noble or The Shade Store offer more simple and modern styles. Design firms can provide more customized treatments that work together with elements already existing within your space, creating a more unified interior, or one that is more specific to the architecture of your home and individual interior style. If your windows are already trimmed with interesting moldings, consider just leaving them alone so you can enjoy the garden outside, as well as the sun shining in!

Patricia Cove is Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design, and can be reached through her website: www.patriciacove.som