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Window Treatments 101: What You Need to Know

Window Treatments 101: What You Need to Know
4 min. read
Window Treatments

Image: Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com

When it comes to picking new window treatments, you might think you have a choice between blinds or curtains. But there’s actually so much more to the world of window coverings than meets the eye. There are different types of window treatments for different windows and varying light intensities and privacy levels. And of course, you also have to consider the style of your home decor.

To kick off your window covering education, let’s start by breaking down the different options available. You might be surprised at just how many choices you have when it comes to window treatments.

Curtains and Drapes

While they are very similar, there are actually a few subtle differences between curtains and drapes. Curtains can extend to the windowsill or just above the floor and are sometimes installed over another window treatment. They are typically made from lighter fabrics (but can have different levels of light filtration).

On the other hand, drapes are more formal and will extend all the way to the floor, sometimes even pooling on the floor. They are made from heavier fabrics and are often pleated to add to their classic style. Drapes will usually have a liner, so there’s no need to layer them.


Sheers are technically a type of curtain, but they are made from a very thin and transparent material. These gauzy curtains are designed to let the light in while still offering some privacy inside.  They are most often plain white but can also be found in colors or patterns. Sheers are usually layered with curtains for privacy at night.


Liners can accompany curtains to provide additional light blocking. They are usually hung on a second curtain rod that sits behind the curtains. But liners are less common than they used to be since many curtains have the liners built-in now.

Café Curtains

Café curtains are short curtains that cover just the bottom half of a window.  They are hung on a rod that sits at the middle of the window and sometimes have a matching valance.

Window Scarf or Swag

Window scarves (also called swags) are more for decoration than function. They are long pieces of fabric that are draped over the curtain rod rather than hung on the rod. As a result, they don’t actually block light or increase privacy, but they do add style and softness. Swags can be hung alone or in combination with curtains or blinds and can stop at the windowsill or extend all the way to the floor.


A valance is a short curtain that runs across just the top of a window. Depending on the style, they can be ruffled, scalloped, ruched, pleated or smooth. Due to their small size, valances are for decorative purposes and do not offer privacy or shade.


A cornice is a box-style valance made from a frame covered with fabric. In older and more traditional homes, you may find wood or painted valances that are not covered. The frame is mounted across the top of the window, creating a narrow band that wraps around the window’s top and sides. A cornice can be used alone or combined with softer window treatments such as shades or curtains.

Blinds and Shades

Although many people use the terms blinds and shades interchangeably, they are actually different. Blinds are made of vertical or horizontal slats, while shades are made with a solid material. There are many different variations of shades, including Roman, roll-up, bamboo and cellular shades. Blinds and shades usually fit inside the window frame and are mainly for light blocking purposes.


When you think of shutters, you probably imagine them on the outside of the house. But shutters are indoor window treatments too. Shutters are made from wood or a composite wood-like material, making them very solid and durable. They feature an outer frame with slats inside that open and close to let in light or increase privacy. Because they are usually custom made, shutters are generally more expensive than other window treatments.

Now that you’ve got the low-down on all the different types of window treatments, you’re ready to start decorating! Stay tuned for how to hang your window coverings like a pro.

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