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?

  1. 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!!

  2. Ann-Marie Meyers says:

    How about talking to someone that overdyes draperies? I don’t know how expensive this service is these days, but it might be cheaper than buying new drapes.
    I am about to actually sew drapes for the sliding patio door I replaced my french door with. With a one way pull, it will look like a wall of windows when the drapes are partway and the sheers are closed, because there is a 4 foot area of plain wall to the right of the doorway where the drapes can retract.
    Now all I need is for someone to put the right fabric on Ebay…

  3. Ann-Marie Meyers says:

    I have shades on the huge picture window in my living room. Very nice, except they only go two thirds of the way down. I cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone would feel secure walking around at night letting people drive by watching their legs and feet, but the previous owner of my house did.
    The window, although large is a fairly standard size for its period. I am keeping an eagle eye out for used drapes, or for fabric to make my own.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. Lori D says:

    Thanks, Pam, I will! I could use some help and I keep finding myself coming back to Retro Renovation for inspiration.

  7. Sarah V @ Crafty Waffles says:

    Hey Lori,

    congrats on your new place. Without seeing your space my first thought was that you could add a contrasting colour panel to the bottom of the curtain panels to extend then to the floor and crest a colour block effect. That way you can upcycle the existing curtains and incorporate your own twist (colour, pattern, etc).

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