Window treatments for a wall of windows — Sarah asks for our help

window treatments for a wall of windowsToday, let’s throw it open for ideas and suggestions for window treatments for a wall of windows. Home designs incorporating walls of windows were common in midcentury America, especially in midcentury modern ranch houses. However: How to cover the windows from the spooky black hole of night… from fabric-fading ultaviolet rays… or for simple privacy from the outdoors?

Sarah is grappling with this exact question and has sent photos from 1961 raised ranch in Vancouver, which appears to have been designed for and still features original window treatments — pinch pleat draperies over pinch pleat sheers, both set on traverse rods. And in most parts of the house, the traverse rods seem to be hidden behind wood valances built into the very architecture of the house. Let’s look at Sarah’s house — which I think is pretty typical — and then let’s talk about options.

Sarah writes:

Hi Pam,

We are the proud new owners of a 1961 raised ranch in Vancouver Canada. We have a stunning tongue and groove cedar and white beam clad cathedral ceiling in our livingroom, but I am stumped on what to do about window coverings for the room’s big triangular wall of windows.

Currently we have the previous owners double track of white sheers and “wall coloured” pinch pleat drapes that cut the wall in half (at the standard wall height to match the other windows in the room), which I am not so keen on. Surfing the web has only turned up images of similar rooms with no curtains on this type of window (which is beautiful to look at but according to my DH is not an option for privacy issues- our faces the street!).

As this is such a typical MCM feature, I am hoping that you and/or your lovely readers may have some advise on what to do. Thanks for taking a look at our little dilemma, to give you a little idea of what we are dealing with I’ve attached a few pics

window treatments for a wall of windowsThis photo shows how it was when we toured the house before purchase 6 months ago, all of the window coverings are still there for now except that terrrible little ruffly job at the top of the “triangle”- that went on day 1 of owning the house!

1961 raised ranch in VancouverThis is the front of our “smurf house” (changing the exterior colour is a project for this year), and you can see the wall-o-windows and the sunny deck it leads to.  We are in the middle of a 1961 development in North Vancouver called Westlynn Terrace.

The other three pictures hopefully give you an idea how our living/dining is post move in (still lots to do and lots to buy to better suit our new place).

As you can see, even when the curtains are drawn back, because the triangular window runs right to the corner, the curtains block a pretty big section of the wall.  The adjcsent wall has another big window that runs into the corner that runs almost floor to ceiling, so we lose a lot of the light, and the curtains end up distracting from the amazing design of the living room.

Because we are a corner lot, and the two walls filled with windows are facing roads, leaving them bare is not really an option for my dear hubby.

Any suggestions on how to be true and respectful to the house, but still keep us from exposing ourselves to passersby would be a great help.

GORGEOUS house, Sarah! Yum to that ceiling, especially. Okay, here goes with a long answer — because there are numerous ways to address this issue, with various pros and cons IMHO.

  • But first of all: The Retro Decorating Gods have blessed you with architecture to hide most of the window treatments. Go with this flow, of course.

Option #1: Pinch Pleats over Sheers:

  • Pinch pleats over sheers: This is the “classic” midcentury window treatment. It is generally my all-time favorite, because it is so flexible.
  • Pros: You can open up everything for full light. You can close the sheers for filtered light. You can close the draperies over the sheers for full coverage. The fabric adds softness, and there are thousands of fabric choices for both pinch pleats and sheers. There is pretty much nothing easier than opening and closing with a traverse rod. It’s hard to “break” curtains.
  • Cons: The stackback (the width of the curtains when you must keep them open) takes up wall space. Custom-made pinch pleats — and even “off the rack” — are ridiculously expensive.

Option #2: Sheers only:

  • Use only sheers. Turn on all the lights. Close the sheers only. Go outside and peer in. Can you really see the people inside? If not: Perhaps you can go with only sheers.
  • Pros: you could change these out to match your wall color… get sheers in that color but also with some texture, and they will read soft and neutral but still give you the coverage and privacy you need.
  • Cons: You would not have 100% blackout. You would still have stackback — but I’m guessing it would be less of a visual issue than opaque fabric curtains, and remember, I’m suggesting you get sheers that blend pretty seamlessly, in terms of colors, with your walls. Once you did this, no changing the wall color. You would not have 100% blackout. Cheaper than making new fabric curtains, although, still is gonna cost you.

My office drapes

Nubbly linen-like sheer-ish fabric, lined

Option #2a: Sheer style fabric — lined:

    • This is what I did in my office, shown above.
    • Pros: Kinda best of both worlds, light and sheer looking from inside the house, but no one can see inside.
    • You still get stackback, but if you choose the fabric to match your wall color it will sort of blend in.

Option #3: Vertical blinds:

  • I think that vertical blinds were invented for exactly this situation. While they have kind of a bad reputation today (plenty of *hideous* bombs thrown at them), they certainly would accomplish the functional objective you are seeking.
  • Pros: They are on a rail that’s easy to manipulate… and they store “flat” so you have minimal stackback. I went at looked at the variety of vertical blinds available at Smith & Noble, which has a good website for this kind of research. I was surprised at the diversity of vertical blind options. The image shown above, for example, shows vertical blinds made out of fabric.
  • Cons: Gonna cost you: I did a quick pricing experiment and got to $33 for a 72″ x 60″ window. And you have a lot of windows, dear.  Also, I think that vertical blinds got a bad rap in part because they were so easy to tangle and break. So you are going to have to be more careful with them.
  • Link: Smith & Noble vertical blinds — three styles.


Option #4: Sheer Elegance styles:

  • I think that Hunter Douglas gets the credit for first introducing what Smith & Noble calls their “Sheer Elegance” style, shown above.
  • Pros: Open and close like pinchpleats. These are so lightweight that I believe there is minimal stackback. You can control the amount of light coming in with a wand, and there is a blackout option.
  • Cons: I think these are very expensive.
  • Link: Smith and Noble Sheer Elegance blinds.

Option 4: Vertical Cellulars:

  • Shown above: You can get vertical cellulars, too.
  • Pros: Minimal stackback:
  • Cons: Lordy, one bump and these would be over. Expensive, too, I’m betting. Too much cellular for my blood.
  • Link: Smith & Noble vertical cellulars.

What I would not do:

  • I would not do anything that needs to be raised and lowered horizontally. That is not a good solution for wide, floor-to-ceiling windows. People, traverse rods, rock.

What would Pammy do:

  • Fabric drapery choices are so personal — like wallpaper — that I can understand why you want the drapes that are there, out. I would probably feel the same. Even so: Yours look pretty darn neutral. Draperies cost a Fortune. Are you sure you can’t learn to love them???
  • If it were me, and I could not live with the drapes that came with the home, I would probably try Option #2 — Sheers only or #2a, sheer linen-look lined, like my office draperies. If the existing sheers do work, in terms of providing enough privacy at night, and if they are aesthetically pleasing, I would try and keep them. I am cheap. But, I also know that, if the exiting sheers did not cut it, I would likely be very picky about getting a design that were “just right” for creating the look I wanted. So, I’d start searching for fabrics. While I did this, I would also be scoping for price. A few years ago, when I had some curtains made for my house — including my office drapes — a fabric outlet that also had a sewing shop was able to make them for me at an exceptionally reasonable price. They closed up a few years ago.

1384 words so far. Sorry.

Readers — what do you think of these options?
Are there more?
Which path would you take?

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Comments

  1. says

    i am with the vertical blind idea for the living room.
    for the neutral colored pinch pleats in the dining area, to jazz up the existing window treatment, think about doing a painted stencil pattern on them in a complimentary color. if it was me, i would probably use a turquoise color to match the lamps.

  2. Kersten says

    I can’t tell from the pictures if there is enough wall space for the stack back to be pulled away from the corner. We have 2 huge picture windows that meet at a corner (each about 11′ wide). When we moved in, the curtains did a center split from each window. This meant that when the curtains were open, the stack back in the corner where the windows meet ended up taking a lot of space. We bought euro rods and mounted them to the ceiling, and the curtains now pull away from the cornered window, allowing for much more window exposure. This photo kind of shows what I’m trying to explain:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/90638496@N00/3286415736/in/photostream
    Is there enough wall space to pull your curtains all to the left of the windows (the one with the patio outside.) On the other wall, can you pull your stack back (love this term!) to the wall with the 4 mirrored panels? Then, the next set of windows could have the curtains all pull to the right again? (The one way traverse rods that Pam talked about.) Seems this would allow for the most window exposure. We really like the fact that our curtains aren’t bunched up in the corner anymore. Looks much more open, and does let in considerably more light! I love having the entire window showing when the curtains are open. Our stack back takes about 2 feet of the wall.
    On an unrelated note, that is one serious wine rack! The heat and light isn’t destroying your collection, I hope! ;-)

    • says

      hahah, the wine rack is actually a champange riddling rack from France which is used to get the sediment out of champagne- it was a gift from my DH. The wine on it is all the “drinking wine” so it is rotated pretty frequently ;) all the “good stuff” (aka the collection of my DH which will never get drunk) is stored safely in the basement.

      We could have the big wall’s stack back go to the left, but the way it’s currently designed the track ends at the edge of the window so the stack back would be huuuge – and I don’t know if pushing the track out into the regular part of the wall to the left would look “ok”.

      • Kersten says

        HA! Sarah– I figured someone with that big of a wine rack had it all under control! Love being educated about the riddling rack! Way cool!

    • Michael says

      I just creeped ALL of your house photos– what a gorgeous place! I love your living room and your sunroom especially. Terrific furniture finds! And I have a 3-light pole lamp identical to the the 2-light lamp in your kitchen. Oh– and that patio furniture (especially the chaise) is *fantastic*!

  3. Sally M. says

    Hello. I’m enjoying all the options. I’m in favor of the window films as my parents placed UV protection film on their skylight in the kitchen. It was amazing how you could still enjoy seeing the clouds go by but it significantly cut the heat build up in the summer. The films do come in a variety of patterns, visibility, and privacy levels. I would recommend at least some UV protection film for the upper trapezoid of windows to protect furniture and other sun damage.

    On another topic, I love your free standing wine holder. However, your wine quality will deteriorate in the sun and increased heat near all those windows, even if you install heavy curtains. If in direct sun, the bottles will heat up and explode. I saw that happen at a wedding on a sunny, hot July day when every table outside had a “specially bottled for the occasion” wine bottle. One by one at almost the same time, each upright bottle blew its’ cork and the wine flowed like lava all over ! It was a sight and a sound to remember !

  4. MrsPItcher says

    I have “window walls” in both my living room and dining room. I got rid of the floor-to-ceiling pinch pleats that were there and made straight panel drapes. They hang on black rods just at the top of the window to the floor. I chose a pattern that was similar to a classic mid-century print that coordinated with my furniture and walls. Black is my accent color. Muted mustard and butter yellows, a light-medium blue and various shades of green. I would do some custom blinds for the angles on the top above, I know that’s going to be expensive. I wanted a classic traditional look with a touch of modern flair. If you keep the drapes, have fun cleaning them. Beautiful house! Love your site, Pam! :D

  5. Jason says

    Love the house Sarah!

    Pinch Pleats, and traverse rods are expensive – especially custom sized like you have -it’s an asset! What you have now is period and beautiful. I agree that if you can leave the triangle without curtains and some UV film that is a great option for that portion.

    As for the pinch pleats and the stack back – the rods can be converted to “one way” pull. When you operate them the curtains will stack to one side – this would open your corner but give you more stack back on each end. You can have one wall open to the left and the other to the right. I have a corner window in my living room and this is what I’m going to.

    Trust me – I didn’t buy pinch pleats and traverse rod to begin with and I have regretted it – it’s impossible to open the curtains across a long rod unobstructed – or even open and close them and have them look right manually. Don’t make my mistake – you are blessed to have everything right there. I tried to make sheers on a rod work behind curtains on a rod – sort of the same look – work, but it’s not close enough to work well! It was cheaper at the time though – but a waste because I have to pay to replace it all and patch holes – hang new rods, etc.

    You can easily change the opening direction and dye the curtains as suggested previously if you wish. Also, you have your measurements and sometime can get another set made for changing out at different times of the year.

    My grandmother sold her last house in 1998 with all the custom curtains for her huge windows sold as well at her downsizing auction – she only left one set – the now 2 owners later still have the sets she left on each window because they haven’t had the money or cared enough to spend money on that project to get new ones made! Be glad you have them in hand. Make friends with your dry cleaner:)

    I can’t wait to get my own pinch pleats – trust me it’s a hot topic to anyone who will listen about my house. When growing up at Mommom’s we only had 1 traverse with a fixed sheer rod – she didn’t prefer to open the sheers. Even though I like the fixed sheer gathered casually on a plain rod better than pleated sheers I’m still going to get pleated and a double traverse for the opening ease – I like to have the window treatments open to the glass sometimes. Of course right now I can’t open the regular curtains easily – let alone the sheers:)

    • Jason says

      Sarah – me again!

      In reply to a few things you mentioned above – traverse rods can be hung with seperate rod for the sheers or they come with a built in rod that is just for a pocket sheer or a built in traverse for the sheers, i.e. double traverse – so I doubt it is any kind of rig job from the previous owner – they like my Mommom may have just preferred sheers that are gathered and didn’t plan to open them much.

      Secondly – it is absolutely fine and usually anticipated to have your “stack back” over the wall or part of it- at least if that is what you wish to get the glass to be as uncovered as possible – this would be fine to do and also appropriate. You would probably just have to add a few extra carriers for the extra distance onto the rod – and more hooks and you may find you need to add a bit to the drapes depending.

      Traverse rods adjust like any other rod – there may be enough there to extend it on the wall – if the wall is not even with the wall where the rod is hung now – they sometimes use a block as a spacer so the rod can be hung evenly. Kirsch is a popular brand of rod if you want to google them.

      • says

        I’ll have to check out the rod when I get home to see it I can extend it further onto the wall. I still think it will look funny with the curtain stopping half way up the wall, but it would certainly be the cheapest solution.

    • says

      The thought to use just sheers in the summer and save the thicker “wall coloured” drapes for winter has crossed my mind. I know my Grandma always did that in their 60’s split level in the UK, and it was a nice way to change things up for different seasons. Not sure what the hubby with think… I’ll need to do the sheer panel at night test someone else suggested before I can get his buy in.

  6. daniel says

    i would leave the top triangular section of the window uncovered all of the time. unless you have a tall apartment building right next door, no one’s going to see in, but you can see the stars outside on a romantic evening.

    the thing i love about this style is it’s like a modern log cabin almost— it has that country woodsy feel with a huge dose of funky. i think you need something to reflect that funkiness while keeping the log cabin country style.

    i think you should consider blinds or curtains that go vertical. here are some ideas i had:

    http://blinds.homedepot.com/index.php?category=509&item=10182&moreinfo=true&formname=moreinfo

    http://www.faber.com/Files/Billeder/Contract/3.3.jpg

    also note that they do make vertical blinds out of cloth and textured materials— you don’t have to get big old vinyl strips.

  7. efftee says

    Depending on how much you were looking to spend, I would consider using something like “smart glass” for the windows. When they’re turned off, the glass is clear and when turned on, the glass becomes frosted. I’d leave the triangle as regular, clear glass and just do the large main windows.
    Check it out:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_glass

  8. June Cahill says

    Well, I’m “jumping in” way down the line here, but I agree with pam and others – sheer pinchpleats. I had a gaggle of windows in my Tucson home too – they originally had vertical blinds and cornice boxes. I kept the cornice boxes and had pinchpleats (sheer) made- they were very PRICEY. (and, Jason, I totally agree with you – Sara’s lucky to have the pinchpleats – and options!) I keep my drapes open all the time – NEVER CLOSE THEM. I love the way they look – 1963 all the way – (or maybe, 1961???) And if you DO close them, I think they’d ‘screen’ much more than you’d think. And, what i learned from my artist Mom, “Live with it first…” give yourself about a year. You’ll learn how light performs through your windows during the different seasons. Only after LIVING with something, will you be able to make a totally informed decision. You’ve got an awesome home.

    • pam kueber says

      yes yes yes, live with it a year is always a pretty good lesson, unless there are safety, environmental or functional issue at play

  9. bepsf says

    Those upper triangular windows were never meant to be covered – and sheers (especially those balloon sheers!) are so dated.

    Keep your pinch pleats on the lower windows – or better yet, select a beautiful Green & Blue MCM print or a large Brown & Beige plaid for new retro pinch pleats. Use this fabric for your draperies and also for reupholstery of a chair and some throw pillows: Repeating fabric throughout a room was a typical luxe MCM touch.

    BTW – If you hate wine, that corner is the perfect place for your winerack. Wine should always be kept in a cool, dark, dry place – Not out in front of the windows.

    • says

      Yes the winerack is not in the ideal place, or probably fit for the room, but for sentimental reasons it stays. Unfortunately with the window and fireplace placement in our living/dining room, the only “safe place” in the winter is in that corner…. in the Summer I plan to move it to near the fireplace to keep the vino outta the suns way.

  10. Cathleen says

    I love your house! Ugh – I have modern house envy. I have a 50s townhouse and have not found my dream ranch.
    Someone said to do plantings tall enough to shield you from the street. While that sounds nice from the inside, I think you would lose your curb appeal.
    Sheers “doubled” might add more privacy than a single layer. It would really help to know what your furniture and decoarting style is. I am one of those females who is not “frilly” and I just don’t like traditional drapery per se. I have a Danish Modern, minimalist style and my windows have Smith and Noble roller shades in a light linen look. They blend in with my walls so they disappear and my furnishings take center stage. I just don’t like fuss.
    If I were lucky enough to buy a house like yours, I would not cover the upper windows. As someone else said, unless you have a high rise across the street these were never meant to be covered. Then I would find a way to add on to the track and take the run off onto the wall to the left. You could place a lounge chair in front of that wall and the “drapes” could tuck in behind it. I might use either a mid-century modern closeout material from a place like this: http://www.modern-fabrics.com/store/store.php?pg1-cid48.html
    and have a local seamstress sew for drapes for me. Or if that was too expensive, I would buy panels from IKEA.
    Whatever you decide, post your pics! :-)

    • says

      Thanks for the house love, we love it too! I’m also not a frilly kinda gal – I’d say our style is vintage modern. We are trying to strike the balance of period quality but keeping things contemporary. A lot of our furniture is Art Deco which is one of my fav periods in design thanks to all the clean lines, and our time in belgium gave us the opportunity to pick those pieces up for a song! we are planning to get a more 60’s inspired sofa to try and find a better balance for the room as well as playing with the furniture layout to find the right fit for the large L shaped space.

  11. Rocket Doc says

    I am not a big fan of pinch pleats, although they are authentic. Grommet tops are not authentic, but if the rods are concealed behind valences anyway, panels with sufficient fullness of number can give a similar rippled appearance, but stack more compactly when open (unless the fabric is very heavy in which case it will be no worse than pinch pleats in that regard). If the valence is deep enough for double rods and two layers of folded tops, the sheers can also be grommet-topped.

    Penney’s has a lot of grommeted panels, sheer and opaque, and some of the fabrics have a midcentury vibe–I have Studio Focus (random circles and ovals in contrasting color) in Jadestone/Orion Blue. My only regret is that they are unlined, while some of the alternatives are. But if you can sew straight seams, you can buy grommets and make curtains from almost any fabric, just as you can with pleating tape.

  12. Leeann says

    Keep the drapes! Pam is right-they look pretty neutral. Try color matching paint a shade lighter. And here’s what might happen, as you begin to swap out your heavy furniture for lighter, more scaled down MCM pieces, the draperies won’t seem to be consuming so much space. My living room was overwhelmed with my Pottery Barn giant furniture, but a few estate/garage sale modern pieces and a new couch put everything into a more appropriate scale, and now my pinch pleats seem to “fit”.

    • says

      great point Leeann,

      we’ve been playing around with furniture placement and have our eyes on a period inspired sofa, so findgers crossed the room will start to “gel”.

  13. Stacia says

    I would consider trying something outside. I like the idea that someone mentioned about plants on the deck. I think that could add to the curb appeal, not take away from it, plus give lots of privacy. Another option would be to construct a lattice-like barrier where the railing for the deck is. This is very mid-century and could be constructed many different ways. But that might be a bigger thing than you want to take on.

    Also, would it be possible to take down one side of the curtains/sheers for each window? You could have them just in the corner. They stretch out almost flat when you have them closed. That is what I did at my house. Takes away some of the bulkiness.

  14. lisa says

    How about a combination of using the existing sheers and putting some planters outside? I think it would be very odd to block off the whole deck with planters or lattice, but maybe two-three large strategically-placed pots would offer a little additional shielding along with the sheer panels. Bamboo would look very pretty. Unfortunately large planters are expensive and you’d have to make sure the deck is up for that kind of weight.

  15. Steve says

    Some technical glitch must have prevented my earlier post from appearing, but I highly recommend roller shades. They’re the best option for providing day-time UV protection (when necessary), privacy after dark, and otherwise getting clear out of the way — zero stack-back.thus maximizing daylight. Good luck!

      • Joel Riehl says

        No doubt. But it’s my style ;-) At any rate, it may be something they hadn’t thought of. There was a fair amount of Pacific influence (naturally) here on the West Coast. They’re in Vancouver. Here in the Seattle area, I knew more than a few homes sporting shoji back in my childhood, including the house 3 doors up from where I grew up. To the extent that this type of modernism has its roots in the “discovery” of timber-framed Japanese architecture in the late 19th century, they are harmonious with the style.

  16. Supriya says

    Hi Sarah,
    I have a similar problem with the triangle windows in my ranch house. In my case, they are in my master bedroom. My husband cannot sleep if there is even a little bit of light in the room. He has taken to wearing eye masks every night. We want the triangle windows covered ASAP. The lower (regular shaped) windows have blinds on them already and we are planning on investing in sheers and curtain when we can afford it.(Hopefully soon! :-D)
    Would love some solutions. I like the Japanese sooji screen film idea. Some of our neighbors have removed the windows and I am totally against the idea. Any other suggestions would help.

    Thanks in advance and do post pictures of whatever solutions you came up with. Thanks in advance.

    Love you page and have bookmarked it!!

  17. Gerry says

    I recently priced some lovely verticals encased in sheers (similar to Hunter Douglas Luminettes) to the tune of about $ 2200.00 for 1 large window and a patio slider. Whoa. I am looking into fabric verticals now but still not sold on them but I do like the small stackback. A few Interwebz searches landed me at the following site and this woman has an innovative way to change verticals into wave drapes for $ 30.00 of fabric and grommets. I am going to look for some old vinyl verticals at the Restore and see if I can save some money.
    http://www.sassysanctuary.com/2010/02/vertical-blinds-alternative.html

  18. Lori D says

    My husband and I just bought a 1949 flat roofed house in CT. It and many of the houses in the ‘hood were an experimental design project by an architect and his friends. It has huge, South facing windows in the open living/dining area. Right now, there are short, pinch pleat curtains that are hung below the upper, fixed transom style windows. They just cover the picture window to the sill. I think the short curtains look silly and would like longer ones but it will cost a fortune to replace them. Sigh, what to do. The house in the article above is gorgeous-love those ceilings!

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