Retro Design Dilemma: Window treatments for Lori’s mid century modern living room

If you’d like to see the complete and uncensored version, click here.
window treatments mid century modern houseIn this week’s Retro Design Dilemma, reader Lori has asked for ideas about window treatments for the living room in her 1949 mid century modern house — which she just moved into, she begs pardon for all the boxes. Hey, we wall understand. Read on to see more of Lori’s living room — and to hear about her window treatment design dilemma.


And again this week, Pam and I will be hosting a Live Google Hangout today at noon Eastern to reveal ideas for Lori’s room — you can come right back here to the blog to watch it, it will be showing live at the top of this story. Leave your comments below… we’ll add some to our discussion. Or hey: Join the Hangout yourself and be a co-star (we can have up to 10 folks on the Hangout).

ranch-house-exteriorLori writes:

Thank you, Pam, for inviting me to present my retro design dilemma. Some background on the house first, it’s a 1949 flat roof ranch house. It is on a cul de sac of about 8 houses, 6 of which were built at the same time by the same architect and his friends as an experimental project. They wanted to live near each other as they often entertained together. Most of the houses, like mine, have South facing windows to take advantage of passive solar heat, radiant floor heat and there is a community pocket park for the residents.

blinds-closedOur house came with a wall of windows on the South side. It gets blasted with light during the daytime. This is in our open living and dining area. There are 4 windows in the area, 3 of them being large picture windows. All the windows have short, pinch pleat drapes in a faux silk slub fabric. The drapes only come to the bottom of the sills. I think that this looks a little odd. I don’t mind the color, which is ivory, or the pinch pleats but I’m not keen on the length.

I love the clean lines of our house. The windows are really what makes this simple house special. I’d like to find a way to get privacy and protection from the sun’s glare while not hiding the awesome windows.

Lori's-living-roomMy husband and I are not into fussy patterns or designs. We tend to like clean lines, bold stripes or color blocking. We have used pleated shades in other houses, but I’m not sure if this would be sacrilege in this house or not. We absolutely love our views of our woodsy yard and the evening sunsets through our huge windows. I’d saw our style is modern with natural elements and colors.

Getting new pinch pleat drapes is going to be cost prohibitive, I think. The largest picture window is 5×8 ft, add the side windows to that and it’s 12 ft of glass. I’ve thought about adding fabric to the drapes to make them longer but wonder if that’s going to be too difficult.

Thank you for considering my questions! Sorry that our room isn’t tidy, we just moved in 2 weeks ago.


What a gorgeous house, Lori, and your neighborhood sounds terrific. For the record, be sure to check our entire category of stories about window treatments for midcentury homes. And, Pam did this story, too, outlining 11 key ideas for curtains, shades, blinds and more.

mid century neutral living room

Pam here. I chose the items for the “natural colors” mood board:

  • Do I think it is “sacrilege” to use pleated shades in a mid century modern living room? No, I don’t!  Pleated shades can be purchased very cost effectively, they are easy to operate, and they get the job done. I found these simple pleated shades on I actually had been looking for pleated shades myself — for my office — and after poking around the internet doing comparison shopping for as long as I could stand it, landed on this site. Looked to me like they have pretty good prices — and be sure to watch for the coupon deals, which can help save even more. When I buy a pleated shade, I usually choose something neutral, so that I can live with it a long time. This color is Cottonwood. We thought Lori could paint the walls to match. If she ever wants to soften the blinds and the window, she can easily add some fabric panels in front. Finally, I really prefer it if you can mount the shades “inside.”
  • For color and gravitas (“weight” to balance with those tile floors), I found a stoneware lamp in rich green from
  • And for fun over the fireplace, how about a big starburst mirror from I like the gold of the mirror — it picks up the gold in the fireplace screen, the gold tones of the vintage mid century credenza, and the gold in Lori’s beautiful oriental rugs.

mid century colorful living room

Kate here:

For my take on Lori’s blinds, I chose the IKEA KVARTAL curtain rail system — a helpful guide to planning your KVARTAL system can be found here. The KVARTAL curtain rods are relatively easy to put up and can be configured for panel curtains or as tracks for fabric panels. You can make your own panels out of fabric, paper or other like material or you can buy premade panels from IKEA like the MALIN TRAD curtain panels that I chose for the room. The pattern on this curtain panel is not overly “fussy” or loud — and reads almost like a texture from across the room — while up close they coordinate with many of the colors that already exist in the room. The grey ties in with the flooring, the green with her plants and plant table, the red goes well with her rug and the bluish grey could be used as a wall color — which would help visually cool down Lori’s room. To add more red to the room, the Jonathan Adler table lamp from Lamps Plus and the playful, simplistic Kandinsky print from would also help spread the red accent color around the room.

So, dear readers, what do you think Lori should do?

Come back at noon to hear our ideas and chit chat during our live Google Hangout,
We’ll post our mood boards then, too.


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  1. says

    Hi there,
    We have a 1965 MCM with floor to ceiling windows on the south and east sides of our great room. We inherited un-lined off-white pinch pleat drapes that reach the floor and I love them. They are on traverse rods and it makes them super easy to close in the summer when the sun heats up the house. We live in Rochester, NY and we actually like the sun to heat up the house in the winter so we keep them open in the winter. Keeping them closed in the summer makes a HUGE difference for keeping our house cool. So you may want to live in the house awhile to see how much you need them to be functional–operability may be a large consideration for you. Traverse rods are great for making curtains easy to open and close. Otherwise, I really like the clean look of some of the roller shades that I’ve seen at The Shade Store and Smith + Noble if more contemporary is your style. I have a blog and a house tour from when we purchased the house if you are interested in seeing our drapes.

    • Diane in CO says

      Now you’re talkin’ — that is awesome, Jac. I was just reading the comments and thinking that they could use floor length drapery panels on either side of the windows (that don’t close) with grass shades on the windows for privacy and light modulation. (But I like what I see in your photo and short panels would work also.)

      Grass shades are reminiscent of MCM grasscloth wall covering. I love my Conrad natural grass shades in my sunroom because you can “see” through them when they are down but offer nighttime privacy to a great degree. HAPPILY, there are much much less expensive grass shades available now (try Graber).

      Lori, I love your home. You will have fun figuring it all out!

  2. Katie says

    I like the look of the existing window treatments a lot. Adding some sheers to filter the light, might help. If that doesn’t work, you might consider using landscaping to shade that window during the part of the day when the light is the brightest. Maybe shutters or external blinds of some kind.

  3. says

    I think that besides the floppy pleats, they look pretty great. I agree that you might learn to really like them if you live with them a while. Pam is right about those longer, fuller drapery pins being just the thing to make those pleats stand at attention at the top.

    Here is the link to the Window Covering Safety Council if anyone needs it. You can get all of the hardware that you’ll need to make your blinds, curtains and shades safer for FREE on their site:

  4. says

    I like the sill length for flexibility of furniture arrangements and it seems to fit with the feel of your house. Here’s some mesh roller blinds that keep out UV but allows you to see the view of the woods and sunsets.

  5. says

    Pam and Kate-I just watched the Google Hangout and it was great! I learned so much about window treatments–thanks for doing that. Thanks for such a great site.

    • pam kueber says

      Thank you! We do get chatty! This is only our second hangout. I get worried when they run so long, but then, yes, there’s a lot of info to cover. The way we’re going to handle these going forward, I think, is that the original live version WILL be as long as we feel like we need to or want to talk. Then, we will “cut” a shorter version, as short as we can make it without losing the basics.

      I think that in this way, we have an “Uncensored” version for folks who really truly want to get into the nitty gritty weeds. And, a shorter version for folks who just want to dip in.

      Also, I am learning I really need to make better notes ahead of time! Kate already does a great job, she’s better organized than I am. We’re learning. It’s FUN! Thank you for your feedback, it really means a lot to us!!!!!

  6. Louisa says

    I agree with living with it for a bit. When you first move in you have so many big and little decisions to make!
    The lines of your house are low and horizontal. Sill length works well with the horizontal, and very tailored pinch pleats compliment the straight lines of your house.
    I do also like the idea of shades that disappear when open,with nothing impeding the view. And shades also give privacy and insulation when closed. I used Bali Perfect Pleat ivory crepe shades from Home Depot, and they have been great.

  7. Lori D says

    I just want to give thanks to Retro Renovation and all of the commenters for the input on my drapery Design Dilemma! I really appreciate the safety info as I do have a toddler crawling and climbing around.That’s why I don’t have more table lamps right now, actually.I love the ones suggested by Pam and Kate. Someday!

    I assure you all that we aren’t going to rush into changing the current drapes. I’m just gathering advice so I can mull it over for a while. After reading these comments and watching the Hangout I may just keep the short pinch pleats. Pam, you mentioned valances toward the end of the video and it gave me ideas. I’m now leaning toward making some simple box valances covered in a cool fabric to give the windows a bit of interest. I like this idea a lot! I painted the walls a creamy white because we have a lot of art with color (that’s what’s in all those boxes under the window). With the creamy colored curtains it’s a lot of cream. Colorful valances would be fun, I think. Definitely, red and blue/gray are accent colors for us as pointed out on the mood boards. And, oh how I’d love a sunburst mirror! My grandparents had one but its gone now :(

    I do like those Ikea track panels. I was just eyeing them at the store last week. The ones that Kate chose are right up our alley. I think for now, though, that we will keep the pinch pleats and make valances. We can always change them later. Thanks so much, again!

    • pam kueber says

      Very cool, Lori D — this was a fun one! Yes, I think it would be relatively easy to make valences like the ones you describe — a fun and very gratifying project!!! P.S. We have another story coming shortly on your “other” question ;)

  8. says

    Ok, I’m completely fixated on the sunburst mirror now that I see how great it would look on the brick. I think I’ll make one since I’m a mosaic artist and fairly handy. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

  9. Barb S. says

    Lori, if you decide you want to live with those drapes for a little bit, I think I have those drapery hooks Pam mentioned. I have a HUGE bag of them, and I think they are mostly 4 prongs, which will hold those babies straight up! I am so envious of those huge windows. I have a 50s ranch with high awning windows and a big overhang outside. It’s so dark in my house.

  10. Bill says

    Agree with living with them for a year. I like longer curtains, but with the windows you have, the shorter version looks current.

  11. Jim says

    Before changing anything, try to appreciate the perfect simplicity of the current window treatments. Simplicity is what mid-century was all about. The curtains are not fussy in any way, there’s only as much fabric as is actually needed. Such a liberating modern concept. And the space under the windows… so perfect for a long book case with assorted plants on top. Or a daybed or to display art. Lots of possibilities.

  12. Leila LaSpisa says

    Luv the house! I have bought lots of draperies at estate sales for cheap. I found sheers and textured neutral drapes ( that go all the way to the floor) for my BF’s house to cover his 12′ picture window- for $17. They look great! I also purchased 3 sets of draperies at an estate sale for my own home that go right to the sill for my dining room. They do not look odd at all because they don’t go all the way to the floor, they are beautiful and at $40 for 6 panels, I grabbed them. I like your current drapes, and I think if you paint the walls behind them a different color, you will appreciate them more.

    Also, I like what little I see of your sofa. It looks like it has a retro look to it, but very comfortable. Would you mind sharing the make and model and where you bought it? Thank you and good luck in your beautiful new home.

  13. says

    I too agree with living with the draperies for a while before doing anything major. (Remember my metal cabinets which initially I was going to rip out, but now I love them!).. Also, years ago I lived in a dormitory where the pinch pleats were too short, so I simply moved the hooks (regular hooks, no need to get new ones) up as far to the top of the drapery panel as possible. This will make your draperies hang a little longer and straighter, since the weight will now fall off the very top, and you won’t have the fall over which Pam mentioned. I wish I were there to help you. Try it and see what you think. I hope I have explained it clearly, but I think Pam will know what I mean. Good luck!

  14. Kvanlee says

    I would have some fun looking at fabric, ribbons, iron on tape etc to brainstorm the idea of lengthening the drapes. I would also visit thrift stores as these are a great source for inexpensive retro drapes factoring in dry-cleaning costs. If you purchased what used to be called “venetian blinds” you could layer a sheer fabric over that; maybe something with a geometric design. Check out Ikea, Pier One, World Market and the like and ask when their sales are. You might flank the drapes on the sides if you used blinds underneath and get away with much less fabric than if you were to cover the entire window. The most creative part of decorating is generating ideas.( You knew that, huh.)

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