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

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.

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 SelectBlinds.com. 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 lottelamps.com.
  • And for fun over the fireplace, how about a big starburst mirror from Horchow.com. 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 AllPosters.com would also help spread the red accent color around the room.

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


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. Lori D says:

      Thanks, Leila. Our couch came from Pier 1 about a decade ago. It has an Art Deco style and imhave no idea what its called, sorry. It still looks pretty good-until someone has sat on it for a little while. The cushions and pillows are just foam, basically. It makes it super lightweight. Nice for moving but the cushions and pillows get all mashed. I have to fluff them back up again constantly. We are actually looking to replace it someday soon. I’m glad that you like it, though. It’s served us well all these years.

  4. 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!

  5. 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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