Problem windows, which might be called “special cases,” have become more prevalent in recent years because of trends in the building industry. Today's residential and contract architecture often includes soaring, open spaces, thereby giving architects and builders opportunity to put real pizzazz into their work—and often means big, breathtaking, architecturally significant windows.
It is also true that for the last few centuries in Europe and America, where grand spaces have been designed by architects, that many see the architecture as the end all and be all. Architects have, and sometimes still do, view interior decorators as "inferior desecrators" whenever a decorator does anything to detract from or compete with the window structure or to draw attention to the grandeur of the interior furnishings.
Hence, there is a somewhat adversarial relationship between those who design the spaces and those who try to make those spaces livable; the first being somewhat shortsighted as to what living in a space on a daily basis entails, and the latter often insensitive to the architectural bones of a building in favor of their own decorator stamp. Both sides are often justified in criticizing the other.
HOW WE LIVE HAS CHANGED
Another factor, besides ego, in the creation of problem windows is the genuine shift in American tastes, lifestyles, expectations and family interaction—in short, we’ve changed how we live. In the October 14, 2002, issue of Time magazine, there is an article about the “Home of the Future.” Actually, nothing in the article was new as trends are clearly established years before they become so mainstream that they are newsworthy. Some of these trends concerning home building include the following: Lifestyles have changed, as has the way we expect our homes to serve us. No longer compartmentalized, today’s new homes and remodeling projects employ fewer walls, higher ceilings and open spaces where multifaceted tasks and interactive living take place. The kitchen is firmly a part of the great room where nearly any family or entertaining activity can take place. It has become the command center for the home where the brains and the heart co-exist. And command centers often receive a lion’s share of the money—translate that into expansive windows with upscale moldings, expensive appliances, luxury cabinets, big screen televisions, over-scaled fireplaces and furnishings. It is a place where work and a bit of showing off take place. In general, homes are bigger than ever—more square footage and more cubic footage with soaring, vaulted ceilings. New homes typically have multiple unusually shaped windows. These include angled or arched windows often placed high in the wall. Recent statistics show that one in seven new homes incorporate three to four arched windows and one in four homeowners who remodel their homes install between one and two arched windows. These windows accomplish two things: add architectural interest to an already too-large exterior, today referred to as the McMansion; and they frame a view. Views—whether they be of the mountains in Colorado, an ocean, lakefront property, or one’s own landscaped yard—are a two-edged sword. Grand scale windows do indeed make a home or building special, but they often pose real problems. For example, large windows admit such a large amount of light that the intensity accompanied with glare can make spaces unbearable. Occupants who buy homes with expansive windows often find themselves realizing their furnishing have permanently faded or are becoming irrevocably damaged from UV rays and heat needing sunglasses just to read the newspaper getting headaches from the excessive brightness feeling malaise, general unwellness, irritability or fatigue experiencing insecurity, even being frightened at night when daytime vistas become black voids with no real or emotional security realizing the lack of privacy poses threats to their lifestyle from intruders, attackers and thieves.
These all are serious considerations. Solving window treatment problems need not be too complex if the solutions are categorized. Basically there are two solutions: structural and decorative.
Structural treatments become a part of the architecture or they are installed so they attract no attention—they can stack into very small spaces either at the top of the window or to the side. Following are some examples:
1. Where no concerns for daytime or nighttime privacy exist, then window film is a great choice. Professionally installed, high-tech window films can cut down on close to 100 percent of the glare, clarify and dramatically enhance the view, temper the heat, strengthen the glass and create more even interior temperature. Having lived with this product, I add my testimony that it is a simple, effective solution and one every window treatment specialist should consider for their product offerings.
2. Blinds or shades on lower windows give immediate privacy as well as glare, heat and directional light control. For tall windows, the top-down, bottom-up option has great merit, giving a view of sky or distance and privacy and glare control below.
3. Blinds, cellular shades and a few other alternative window treatments can be installed in sections on large windows and provided in specialty shapes that are permanent or operable with options such as remote control.
4. Shutters can be custom manufactured to the shape of the angle or rounded window or as a separate fanlight shutter section. Specialty shutters are sold as furniture for the window, as they are considered high-end in cost, quality and permanence. (See the month’s Shutter Supplement beginning on page 51.)
5. Vertical louvers fit nicely into angled windows, but traversing the blinds to stack to the side can be accomplished only to the longer side and results in a cascade-like angle along the bottom of the stacked treatment. If the slats usually are rotated to allow in light and rarely are opened fully, this solution makes the most sense.
When the window treatment solutions listed above are installed inside the architectural moldings, the treatment will enhance, or at least not detract from, the architecture (no desecration here!). Where the client is concerned about keeping the view and not covering up the architecture, this simple, clean approach is sufficient.
These solutions are considered structural solutions. They should be addressed whether or not the client wishes to pursue decorative treatments beyond that. If the client has immediate heat, light or glare control needs, the plan could be a two-step approach: First, address the basic needs. Then, second, make the window treatment beautiful. This can be accomplished in one sales call, or be scheduled as a callback to provide a long-term master plan of furnishings and decor.
Here are some tried-and-true possibilities for softening the architecture and adding custom constructed treatments for oversized, unusually shaped windows.
1. Frame the window with lengths of fabric on decorative scarf holders, rods or tieback holders dressed and arranged by the installer. I know an interior decorator who does this herself, charging more than $100 per hour for her work. Each one is a unique work of art.
2. Custom fabricate to exact dimensions top treatments such as swags, cascades, jabots, tabs and rosettes complete with appropriate trimmings, lining and contrast fabrics as leading edges or custom lining. This will result in a formal, elegant, upscale and costly appearance and is a great way to match the fabric to other installations such as upholstery, slipcovers, bedding, table covers and pillows.
3. Custom shades such as Roman, pouf/cloud, Austrian, or Parisian—a looser, less constructed Austrian shade—can be custom manufactured to fit special windows. The down side is stacking space.
4. Draperies can be a good solution for covering the lower portions of larger windows, and also can be automated with remote control or wall switches. The same principle applies to angled windows here as did for vertical louvers; drawing the draperies must be done to the longer side, which creates a cascade, angled line. Some customers may find this objectionable.
5. Angled and rounded windows can have customized permanent treatments such as shirred fanlight or sunburst treatments on specialty rodding. This works well where no light or view is desired, and where the look of shirred fabric from the exterior is desirable to the client.
6. Unique top treatments, upholstered cornices, lambrequins or cantonnieres (cornices that extend down the sides of the window part or all the way) are other options.
In these categories of solutions, as you ponder very decorative options, it is wise to ask yourself: “Am I being an inferior desecrator?” Window treatments themselves get criticized by professionals in the architectural industry as being one of the prime ways the architecture gets swallowed up in favor of excessive decoration. When this happens, good taste and good design usually have been sacrificed.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Remember, think in stages. Your job first is to provide the basics, and when the list of needs are fulfilled, then turn your attention to something decorative that is well-proportioned, aesthetically coordinated and warrants becoming a significant decorative element and perhaps the focal point in the room.
One final word: consult with your suppliers. Really know what your options are. Attend training seminars offered by the alternative treatment manufacturers, and spend time with your custom fabricator so you are thoroughly versed in what can be done reasonably and effectively. Knowledge is power!
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.