11 window treatments for midcentury homes

aluminum window blinds openWITH SO MUCH RESEARCH on resources for a retro renovation accumulating, I’ve started pulling together mega-posts. So following my recent window treatment blitz, here are my 11 main posts on vintage style curtains, drapes, pinch pleats, blinds and roller shades. (I’ll also transform this into a new Fast & Easy page.)

Window treatments are something that scare a lot of people… we always procrastinate on this… Me, too. They’re intimidating.  Yet, once you follow through with a plan, great window treatments can make a huge difference in pulling the room together — giving it that last little bit of design polish. I am very pro-window treatments, even for homes where big windows that bring in the outdoors are a big selling feature. They dress the window, can block out the heat or cold, and are great at night to block out the abyss. Keep that bogeyman away! Good feng shui!

Still intimidated? Another rule of my thumb: If it’s expensive, choose conservatively. If it’s less expensive, take a risk – try something bold or out of your comfort zone. For example: New 2″ aluminum blinds made to measure can be costly. So choose a color that’s neutral. But, it’s not too hard to find vintage barkcloth pinch pleats to fit or rework to fit over the horizontal blinds. So have some fun with that barkcloth. If it doesn’t work, you’re not out too much. (Guess what: The first valence I made for my kitchen was totally wrong. I only got the Melinamade atomic stuff on my second try!) On the other hand, if you are having someone make custom pinch pleats for a big room — that can cost thousands. I have to admit, I’d be pretty conservative on a purchase like that…

What are the other options for windows? I’ve gone through my archives and here are my classic posts, researched to help you to create authentic, midcentury-style window treatments:

  • 2″ horizontal blinds… in aluminum… a classic window treatment for your midcentury home. There is just something about the scale of these 2″ blinds that suits the profile of our homes and their windows. I have horizontal blinds in my kitchen, and one bathroom… and could easily see them on other windows as well. I’m a big fan of Hunter-Douglas. Pricey — but I’ve always experienced great quality — and we open and close these guys every single day, so quality counts.
  • Vintage valences… If you use horizontal blinds on a wide window, you might want to hide the assembly under a vintage pinch pleat valence like this. If you watch and wait, you can find these on ebay at great prices.
  • Homemade valences… I made the valence in my kitchen myself with just one yard of expensive barkcloth by (1) piecing the fabric together including creating a few carefully positioned pleats to hide the seams and also give the piece some design flair (2) stapling the assembly to an 8-foot-long piece of 1″x2″ piece of wood from the hardware store and (3) then screwing the whole thing to the ceiling, attaching to studs. Ok, it will be hard to remove and clean but it’s not near the stove – so far so good 2+ years in.
  • Pinch-pleat draperies… Embrace your inner traverse rod. I am a pinch pleat proselytizer. Pinch pleats can be found vintage – that’s how I got mine, really big ones, too. You can piece vintage panels together. Or, you can make your own from scratch.
  • Spray paint your traverse rod… Tip: You can spray paint your traverse rod to blend with your wall color. Just extend the traverse rod to the proper length (including stackback) first to minimize scratching after the paint is on.
  • Reproduction barkcloth… You know I love Full Swing textiles barkcloth, if you can swing the cost. This fabric would be great for pinch pleat draperies in virtually any room. If you’re looking for a repro barkcloth that’s lower in cost, readers have suggested several other sources in the Comment section.
  • Vintage barkcloth… You can also watch for vintage barkcloth on ebay. Mind you, you need a lot to make full-length pinch pleat draperies – you might find enough online to make two pairs of sash-length drapes for a bedroom…
  • Online fabricators… Reader California Kathy shared these sources for pinch pleats with us. The second site mentioned might work well for custom-sized sheers — which I love to see underneath printed or woven-fabric pinch pleats.
  • Roller shadesRoller shades are also an authentic choice for any number of windows – I have them in two bedrooms. You can also put a cloth valence over these, if you like.
  • How make your own fabric roller shades – It’s not too hard and readers have good suggestions, too.
  • And woven wood shadesWoven wood shades can still be found new, or vintage. Pom poms – like the ones below in a fantastic time capsule home – optional, of course!

Other posts with design ideas and inspiration:

  1. Sweetbriar says:

    I’ve given up on full length curtains in my 1959 little ranch. Other than the floor to ceiling picture window in the living room, all the other windows tend to be short but set very high or the full length curtains take up way too much floor space in a small house. I’m searching the www all over now to find pictures of how long a short, wall anchored curtain should hang below the window sill. I can tell many are just standard length curtains that hang where they will, but what was the ideal? Just enough to cover the window trim, or +6″ or +12″? Pattern or design books for the home sewer of the era? I’m about to shorten some full length drapes in my bedroom, then use the cut portion for the high short window.

  2. Maureen Bajeyt says:

    I’ve discovered that I’m not a big fan of curtains. I live in a very dusty area, and drapes or curtains can look tired if not washed often. Mine touch the floor – and I have to make sure to move them out of the way when I vacuum. We finally decided on plantation shutters. I’m not sure how retro or vintage that idea is, but our house is Cape Cod style, so I guess it will look “style appropriate”.

  3. Sarah V says:

    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. I am more than happy to provide pictures if that’s a help.

  4. Another fab place to buy reproduction barkcloth that is identical to the originals… melinamadefabrics.com

    I adore her fabric and use them all the time for my pillow covers…very popular designs!

  5. Rebecca Prichard says:

    I know this is an old post, but. . .
    Does anyone have an opinion on what looks best for bay windows? Maybe roller shades, but it’s awfully cold here and I can’t see them being very insulating.

    1. pam kueber says:

      Pinch pleats, Rebecca? All the way to the ceiling and all the way to the floor – in order to lock in the cold air from the window. For energy conservation, you want to make sure that you don’t allow hot air that rises within the room to rush to the top of the window treatment then behind it along the cold window further condensing cooling the air tha then drops to floor and out again into the room … repeating in endless loops. I need to draw this out, I know it’s probably confusing.

  6. Jeanne says:

    Nice summary! I’m excited to receive my two pair of barkcloth pinch pleats that I bought on ebay Tuesday. They are going to look perfect in my light wood paneled second bedroom, which we use for our computer room/office. The whole room (carpet and wood paneled walls) are a light carmel-color and the drapes I bought have the same carmel brown color along with greens and ivory. I’m researching for traverse rods right now, and your idea of spray painting the rods sounds great! I found some on the JCPenney site.

    1. pam kueber says:

      Jeanne, your barkcloths sound great! In my experience you can get traverse rods at Home Depot. I’m presuming Lowe’s, too. (I live in the sticks, no Lowe’s here.) Kirsch, as I recall, is the main company. They are just fine and dandy.

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