A Guide to Types of Window Treatments

What are window treatments, exactly? Whether they are curtains, drapes, shades or blinds: they all collectively fall under the category of “window treatment.” The term “treatment” may be confusing and imply some kind of care or service, but it’s actually factoring in function and style to develop the finished product.

Rarely would you choose the same window treatments for each space in your home. That’s because each room might host a different set of activities requiring varied moods and lighting. For example, in a bedroom you may want to block out early-morning light for sleeping in, whereas a home office calls for invigorating, energizing sources of natural light. Here, we’ll explore the what, when, where and why of choosing window treatments, and explore which types work well for different spaces.

How to Choose Window Treatments

Due to the thousands of options on the market for window treatments—especially if your budget includes room for custom drapery—either you or your designer will need to start by asking a series of questions. This process isn’t that much different than determining lighting needs: it all comes down to personal preference and even knowing whether you are a night owl or a morning person. The goal is to best understand your lifestyle and functional requirements for the space. These questions include: 

  1. What time of day do you expect to use the space?
    This is where function comes in: are you trying to block out light during the day or let it in? Or a combination of both?

  2. What activities do you plan to do in the space?
    An artist in their art studio who craves natural light is different from creating a dark space for your toddler’s afternoon naps, for example.

  3. Will you be entertaining in this space or congregating as a family? Or, perhaps, is it more intended to be a spot for some alone time?
    The curling-up-with-a-book that you envision on a sunny, plant-filled porch does not have the same effect as when everyone clusters around the kitchen island at holiday gatherings.

  4. What is the design scheme for the rest of the room?
    This could be as simple as finding a traditional-style window shade or matching to the bedspread’s cool green hue.

Types of Window Treatments

Now, let’s get into the nitty and gritty about what is a “window treatment,” exactly. The easy answer is that it’s basically anything covering a window (yes, including valances, those pleats, panels or ruffles on the top window that leave open space).

Hard v. Soft Window Treatments

Here comes the distinction between hard and soft window treatments. Just as it sounds, this refers to the materials used. Blinds constructed of horizontal wooden slats are an example of hard window treatments, while billowy linen curtains are considered soft window treatments. The key here is to examine the product’s feel in your palm: is it hard or soft? Vinyl, wood and metal are considered hard while cotton, velvet and linen fall into the soft category.

Thinking in terms of the size of the window you wish to cover can help identify the kind of window treatment you’ll need. For tall windows, curtains are the way to go for a seamless, less clunky aesthetic. For small windows (such as in a bath or kitchen), this can be an excuse to turn to shades or blinds where you have the option of rolling up halfway or opening the slats to let sunlight in.

Layered Window Treatments

Layered window treatments with curtains paired with shades
Layered window treatments with curtains paired with shades

Now that you’re primed in the types of window treatments available to you, you can start to think about layered window treatments — mixing different types of window treatments together. This will result in a layered look comprised of complementary pattern, texture, and color.

One common example of layered window treatments is to pair curtains with shades, so the curtains are closer to your view, with the shades positioned closest to the window pane. This can add a cozy look to a room if, say, you really, really want jade-colored velvet drapes but also want to filter in only some of the light. In this example, the shades can do that work for you while the curtains are tied back during the day. 

Window Treatments by Room

Of course, there’s no universal answer for which window treatments work best in a particular room of the house because you also have to consider the room’s overall design, how you’ll spend time in the space, and the actual window dimensions. But that said, there are general rules of thumb to follow as a guideline.

Kitchen Window Treatments

Kitchen window treatments
Kitchen breakfast nook from Acampora Interiors’ Classic Wellesley Colonial project. Photo: Kate Blanchard.

Kitchen window treatments are the category that varies the most because while the function is the same (to cook, bake and eat), the aesthetic is not. Some like a farmhouse-style look (think white curtains with black piping) while others go for sleek minimalism (a simple roll-up shade may be best). Then there’s the question of the kitchen’s layout and window sizes. Is this in an historic urban brownstone or a modern, sprawling ranch?

Bathroom Window Treatments

Bathroom window treatments shutters

Unless it’s the primary bath of the house, with a picture window framing a view, most baths feature small, square-shaped windows. While classic shades can work well as bathroom window treatments, one of the most functional window treatments for bathrooms are shutters, which our design team has found to work even better than shades due to their versatility and ease of use.

Bedroom Window Treatments

Bedroom window treatments
Master bedroom from Acampora Interiors’ Wellesley New Traditional project. Photo: Acampora Interiors.
Bedroom window treatments
Master bedroom from Acampora Interiors’ Brookline Historic Refresh project. Photo: Acampora Interiors.

Your bedroom is the one area of the house where you know you’re going to sleep. Opting for bedroom window treatments that block out the light when needed — whether that’s blackout curtains or a shade whose fabric is heavy enough (in other words, not a natural woven grass or lightly colored linen) — should do the job of keeping the room free of light.

Living Room Window Treatments

Types of window treatments
Living room from Acampora Interiors’ Concord Carriage House project. Photo: Acampora Interiors.

We’ve saved the most complex for last. A 1920s Craftsman bungalow or 1930s Tudor may be flush with curved windows or leaded-glass you can’t imagine concealing, while the living room of a more modern home might mean that walls of windows that stretch across two stories. 

Unless you are covering a simple bank of windows, you’ll likely need some form of custom curtains or shades for your living room, so be sure to save room in your budget. Or, you may be lucky and find tall drapes that merely need a few inches off the bottom. Some even hang four standard-size drapes (all of the same style and design) on one bank of windows instead of commissioning a custom design that would incorporate only two panels.

Hardware & Accessories

The final step is selecting drapery hooks and a drapery rod—and then installing those pieces so you can hang the treatments. There are also tie-backs you may want to consider, such as tasseled ties or leather cuffs that—during the day—peel the curtain back from the window to coax in natural light.

Wall-mounted metal brackets are another option to hold the curtains in place, for a more formal look. There’s a reason nearly all hooks and rods on the market are crafted from metal: they need to hold the draperies, which can be heavy and—if on a flimsy rod—come crashing to the floor. But at the same time there are as many choices for metal as there are faucets—brass, copper, wrought or cast iron, polished nickel, an espresso-black finish, etc.

If you are opting for a minimalist look then you may only want the rod, while a more formal space may call for a decorative, heavy finial.

Knowing the differences in terminology and being armed with an understanding of how you plan to use your space means the hard work is behind you. Now comes the fun part: searching for the perfect style that speaks to you.

About Kristine Hansen 

Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kristine Hansen also writes about interior design for ArchitecturalDigest.com, Invaluable.com and Milwaukee Magazine. She is the author of Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook: Creamy, Cheesy, Sweet, and Savory Recipes from the State’s Best Creameries, which profiles some of the country’s most acclaimed artisan cheesemakers.