Window Dressing

by Pamela Hughes

We’ve talked about many elements of interior design in previous articles, and we have a few more to go!  One very important component of a great space is windows.  They are in every room, they control light and air, and they give us an opportunity to add decoration, so this article is dedicated to them.

First, let’s talk about the reasons why we treat windows.  There is obviously the decorative element:  draperies and fabrics add a softness to a room and an opportunity to coordinate other elements and fabrics in a decor. 

But there are practical reasons as well.  One is solar control.  Draperies can be closed to darken a room, blocking out light and the damaging, fading rays of the sun.  In addition, closing the draperies assists in reducing heat gain into a room and thereby lessening the need for air conditioning. 

Many of our friends and clients are here for the season and then travel or return to their other places for weeks or months at a time.  In order to help protect furnishings and artwork it is important to keep the rooms as dark as possible when you are not in residence. Only ceramic tile and most stone floorings are impervious to the bleaching rays of the sun.  Wood floors, carpets, furniture and almost all fabrics suffer from even indirect sunlight in a bright room.  Silk fabrics are particularly susceptible to sun exposure and must be protected with durable lining to preserve them.

Secondly, there is the measure of privacy that certain fabrics and treatments can provide.  Opaque fabrics add quite a bit of privacy, of course, but you have to be wary of sheers.  They provide a wonderful tempering of the light and some privacy, but only on the brighter side of the window.  For instance, if you are on a sunny street, looking at or into a window with sheers, the fabric blocks your vision into the room, but someone in the room can see fairly well to the outside.

However, at night the condition is reversed.  When a room is bright and it is night, someone outside the room can see fairly clearly into the room, while someone in the room can only see the surface of the sheer.  So be aware of the fallacy of privacy when using sheer draperies. 

Sheers do assist at night however in the reduction of expanses of glass turning into unattractive black mirrors.  If you have a view to the bay or downtown, there are the lights and reflections to provide even a nighttime view.  But if you are facing onto a golf course or the water, you have only a black window.  Sheers are a fine answer to providing a decorative and pleasant treatment of nighttime windows.

And then there is the issue of providing a darkened room for better sleeping.  One of the ways of providing this is to install “blackout lining” on the draperies.  This is quite common and is quite effective in darkening a room.  But there will still be light leaks at the bottom, since the fabric hangs loose, and the sides need to be tightly sealed at the edges of to prevent these light leaks.

One of the tools we have to assist with room darkening are solar shades.  These are roller shades and may be either manually or electronically controlled.  With our large projects and houses with many rooms and windows, it is desirable to have a motorized system installed so that when one departs for a period of time, or returns from an absence, the house can be closed or opened with the touch of a single button. 

These systems are both remarkable and complicated - but provide the possibility of almost infinite controls that can answer some challenging requests.  Different times of day require differing positions of open or shaded windows, which vary as the sun moves around a house.  They can provide automatic controls which are based on the time of day and the exposure of the house.  They take some thought to plan and design, but in the end, provide a wonderfully responsive and controlled interior environment.

Back to the shades themselves.  It is possible to have shades that are room darkening or ones that are woven or perforated to allow some or very little vision to the outside.  They come in a variety of tones to blend with any decor.  They are not as decorative as sheers, but often can provide a more tailored look to suit contemporary interiors and can work in combination with decorative draperies.

Other elements in our palette are venetian blinds.  This technology is over 200 years old - it was prevalent in Europe and America even during our revolution!  And in the right places, we still think blinds look impressive and fresh.  They are also adept at being easily controllable, can allow breezes to pass through the semi-open vanes and still allow a certain degree of privacy.  They come in many colors and finishes to blend with many design schemes. 

Another solar device is the plantation shutter - well named for its use in the tropics.  These interior shutters provide a substantial look for interiors.  Their scale, and the size of the blades, provides a strong element to a window treatment.  They can be moveable or fixed, and we often use them in places where a more permanent effect is desired, and sometimes to screen an unwanted view.  They are very useful as window treatments in powder rooms and other places where privacy is an issue.

Windows are always an opportunity to add design to a room, and if properly planned, are extremely functional.

Hughes Design Associates