Top picks from Architectural Digest for blinds, shades, curtains, and more (pictures by Barnel’s).
“Why choose?” asks Jonathan Adler in response to whether he prefers shades or drapes. “I like to layer window treatments for dimension and texture.” There are, he says, also practical reasons to spring for multiple window treatments—such as greater control over the light and more privacy—but for many of us, Step 1 is simply to get a grip on what options are out there before selecting one (or more) of them. Blinds, shades, panels—what’s the difference? And is neutral the way to go, or is this a good time to spring for pattern and color? What about installation, embellishments? And, of course: How much will I have to spend?
Read on for pretty much everything you need to know to get set up with window treatments, from the most reliable styles to shopping links to tips for installation, and more.
Blinds vs. Shades
While technically “blinds” are any slatted window-coverage option and “shades” are made of fabric; at this point, shoppers seem to use the two terms interchangeably. Some of our favorite styles are roller shades (“great because they are tailored and clean,” says Jonathan Adler), bamboo blinds (which we love for being so dang inexpensive but also expressive), venetian blinds (for anyone who doesn’t want to totally block the view), and roman shades (“fab because they combine the softness of drapery with the functionality of shades,” says Adler, though you’d have to have them custom-made. “It’s worth it. You’re worth it.”).
Typically you find blinds and shades in neutrals and whites, but recently we’ve seen a trend toward more color and pattern in these styles.
When selecting a set of blinds or shades, the first step is to measure the width of your window: either the distance inside the frame (if that is how you want them hung) or the distance from one outside edge of the trim to the other (so they cover this woodwork when unfurled). Some shades and blinds come in standard window widths, but if you’re going to order them from a professional source, you’ll be able to precisely specify measurements to fit your needs. Oh, and here’show to clean them.
Getting Set Up With Curtains
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got curtains (or “drapes,” which are often lined, pleated, and more formal), which offer a more traditional window-treatment look and an even greater opportunity to add height, color, texture, and pattern.
To hang them, you’ll need to first install a curtain rod—we recommend placing it as close to the ceiling as you can get it, to heighten the feel of a room—and then thread your panels onto it using curtain rings or grommets, if your curtains have them. “I love that grommets are seamlessly incorporated within the fabric for a modern look,” says Adler, who prefers them to curtain rings, which are typically rendered invisible on the back of a panel.
The important measurement when it comes to curtains is length rather than width: How long do they need to be to barely kiss the floor when hung? (Or how long do they need to be to pool dramatically, if you’re into a more romantic look and, yes, comfortable with cleaning them semiregularly). Technically you can select short curtain lengths that end right where the window ends, but in our opinion those always look like they got an unfortunate haircut. Long is better! Here’s how to hang them.
If you enjoy the idea of curtains but not the idea of seeing a rod exposed up top, you might consider having some window valances made to cap them. Yes, really—the key here is to go for a boxy, whimsical shape rather than frilly, swooping swags. These are also great for topping off a window that’s outfitted with both shades (for controlling the light) and curtains (for height and texture), one of the better ways we know to complete the layered look.
Somewhere between traditional blinds, shades, and curtains is another category: partial-coverage window treatments. Café curtains (half-height, often featuring frills and eyelets) are perhaps the most obvious choice, but we also love indoor shutters and indoor shades.
Another sleeper-pick window treatment that Adler recommends: vertical blinds. “[They’ve] always gotten a bad rap—they swing back and forth, they clack, they’re plastic,” he says. “But now there are some great updated versions that are so much more chic . . .” For wide windows especially (here’s looking at you, all-glass sliding door to the backyard), these can be a much more practical option.