'Stained glass' static cling decal, which stays in place with the mere addition of water

'Stained glass' static cling decal, which stays in place with the mere addition of water

Windows are wonderful but they are also problems to solve. Why? Because we need so many different things from them. We need them to let us look out on the world, without the world looking in on us. We need them to let in the light, except when we need it to be dark. We want to keep out the weather, and we want to let in the scents of spring, summer, and autumn, while we want no draughts in winter. The treatments we choose for our windows must take all that into account. Choosing the right ones can be difficult.

Some people are content to stick with blinds on all the windows (especially in the American South), perhaps with a valance across the top to soften the look. Others, in more northerly climates, will stay with standard curtains, most of which draw across the window for a treatment that is all or nothing: full exposure, or a complete blanketing of the space. But there are many interesting ways to cover or set off a window, depending on the need for privacy, ventilation, sun protection, decoration, and a beautiful view. Here are some of my favourites.

1.  Roman Blinds / Roman Shades

Roman blind fully retracted, with Venetian blind beneath.

Roman blind fully retracted, with Venetian blind beneath.

For a softer look, pull the blind down a little so more fabric shows. This one has a ‘built-in’ valance bordered by a broad navy stripe.

For a softer look, pull the blind down a little so more fabric shows. This one has a ‘built-in’ valance bordered by a broad navy stripe.

Cordless roman blind without ‘valence’ (all one length of fabric).

Cordless roman blind without ‘valence’ (all one length of fabric).

I name this first because in many ways I like this treatment best. It’s even more versatile than the Venetian blind, though it can’t be used to filter sunlight. This blind is composed of a length of lined fabric that is attached to battens and can be manually raised in horizontal folds (by means of strings) or self-wound on a spring: you tug on the bottom handle, and up the blind goes. An ingenious way to cover a window when you want complete privacy or — in the case of double-lined blinds — a night-time blackout for a very dark room. A Roman blind may be minimalistic and masculine, or it can feature scalloped edges and other more ornamental features.


Black-out material is attached to the back, and a pull-handle hides underneath, as well.

Black-out material is attached to the back, and a pull-handle hides underneath, as well.

  • Easy to operate, especially in the automatic versions.

  • Can block both street lights and cold coming off window for a darker, warmer room.

  • Lifts up from the lower part of a window completely, allowing daylight and an unobstructed view.

  • Comes in many patterns, styles, and colours: not as ‘severe’ as a roller blind.


  • Can be heavy, especially automatic and weighted Roman blinds. This means that secure installation requires studs in the wall, which may affect placement. May need to hire a professional to do a secure job.

  • These blinds are all-or-nothing, so another window covering may be needed underneath for privacy on a street-facing window, or for light-screening in a sunny or lamplit one.

2. Static-cling film and decals

Imagine being able to apply a stained-glass panel to a normal window, but then have the ability to take it away at any time so that the clear, clean window remains. That’s what you get with static-cling panels, which come in either coloured or translucent patterns, and which can be cut to size with scissors. (The stiffer vinyl applications tend to be easier to cut precisely.) These treatments can be put up on their own or under existing blinds or curtains. They let varying degrees of light through the window, while also obscuring the view indoors from the other side. They are an especially good treatment for an overly sunny window, or a window with a lot of passing traffic — for example, in a bathroom by a shared driveway, or a room that is right off a public pavement. They are also a clever choice for a window with an unattractive view (or none to speak of).

3.  String lights, bunting, and strung decorations

String lights are cheerful and festive, especially at night.

Let’s say you’re in a rental where you can’t do much about the window coverings. Or perhaps you’re happy enough with them as they are, but they’re merely functional and rather dull. Sometimes nothing more is needed than to add pops of colour on a string. These could be anything from string lights, as in the picture at right: white lights fitted with origami paper lanterns, which look lovely by day and even more special at night. Alternatively, one could buy bunting — nautical flags for a child’s bedroom, for instance — or hang objects such as the tissue-paper flower in the picture above left. The investment is small and the window coverings remain the same, but the visual effect is dramatic. 

4. Plantation shutters 

me, shutters .jpg

These shutters come in a crisp white-painted wood, or in brown, in thick wide slats or in petite half-sizes with slatting to match. They look more elegant than other blinds, though they work on the same principle. (The slats are controlled by the attached wand that runs down the middle of each panel.) They can be paired with curtains in windows of rooms that require a softer, warmer feel at night. Because they are set into window frames, they provide a sort of 'architectural' look, and they don't take up wall or floor space where such space is restricted. Hence they are ideal for the office, seen at right. Being set in hinged frames, they can be be pulled right away from the window for a more open look at times, or for window-cleaning. They are extremely useful for wide expanses of window such as in the room seen at left. And for bedrooms in warm climates, they are my top choice: the slightly overlapping slats keep out streetlamp light very well (better than Venetians blinds do), but the lower slats can be lifted independently to allow air in through an open window. This is always the challenge for urban dwellers in bright-night environments who also want fresh air: how to block out the light while letting in the air. But even country dwellers could find a use for these: I remember being distracted and kept awake at a summer rental, deep in the Smoky Mountains, because the moon was full and it shone in glaringly through the unvalanced arch window!



5. Voile and net curtains

Ah. You’ve got a big 'picture' window, but it doesn’t look out to anything the least picturesque. And you’d like a bit of opacity because it’s near a bathroom, or it overlooks a park or public footpath. On the other hand, you may have a huge picture window with a wonderful view, which blinds or thick swags of curtain material would only obscure or partially hide. Depending on your privacy needs, a net curtain could be ideal. Voile is a kind of net fabric, almost sheer and extremely light, in a plain weave, made from various raw materials, usually cotton. Feather-light, it can hang almost anywhere from anything: in the windowed door shown at left, for example, the voile curtain has been threaded with wire secured by two unseen screws in the  lintel. In the other example, the curtains hang on the slender back rod of a double rod, which could hold additional curtains if desired.

6. Café or tier curtains

These curtains let the breeze in and are easily removed for laundering.

For small spaces and for ornamental delicacy, I like these curtains. They are usually quite short — a drop of 24” or 36” is usual — and that’s because they are meant to cover the ‘nosy parker’ section of a window while leaving the higher reaches uncovered, or else covered less completely, for example with Venetian blinds. Typically a valance in the same material is placed over the top of the window, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, I think that a valance can often be overkill. Café curtains provide privacy but they can be lacy and thin, allowing plenty of daylight and fresh air through. 

7. Floating mirrors and stained glass panels

Sometimes the best thing for a private window is to leave it plain, with only an eye-catching item suspended in it. I once visited a gorgeous house in which a window was directly over a bathroom sink: the window was provided with an oval mirror that hung by a wire, and the effect was fabulous (as well as being highly practical!). The picture here shows a hanging stained glass panel, which seems to float in the window — the copper picture wire being nearly invisible.

8. Roller blinds and cellular blinds

Roller blinds are similar to roman blinds but they don’t fold: they are a single length of material, patterned or plain, with a pull-cord in the middle of the lower edge. These basic blinds work well for windows that you want fully exposed for most of the day. Cellular blinds are more ingenious, in that they stretch out their vertical or horizontal folds to cover a window, from side to side or top to bottom, and then they accordion back to a narrow column when the window is uncovered again. Roller blinds work especially well over single doors with a lot of glass, while cellular blinds work best for French or sliding doors, which have an even greater expanse. They are both excellent treatments for windows that you really want to see through, just as they are and without obstruction.

9. Floor-length curtains

Almost any room can be elevated and dignified by floor-length curtains, if the windows are long enough to permit them. I like curtains that puddle somewhat on the floor. My favourite fabrics for such curtains are velvet or velour on the one hand (warm, thick, great for bedrooms) and silk on the other (light, sweeping, balloony) — and both take rich colours and are lustrous. Curtains that are rarely drawn or that are on the long side for your particular windows may do best being threaded directly through the pole: no rings. Curtains that are often drawn or that are on the short side for your windows may do best being hung from rings. Heavy fabrics such as velvet will probably hang more securely on large rings that are hooked onto curtain hooks, while light fabrics such as silk, linen, and cotton may work just as well with rings that clip their tops.

10. Fabric swags

sarong window.JPG

Soften a window with a scarf, a light throw -- even, in this case, a sarong edged with pom-poms -- and you don't need a curtain or valance.