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Windows That Wow

Dealing with bare windows can create decorating angst: so many choices, so many chances for expensive mistakes. But a new approach to window treatments is slipping into design, with an emphasis on simplicity. Elaborate valences, heavy tied-back draperies, and fussy balloon shades are yielding to lightweight fabric panels, trim woven blinds, and tailored shades.

The freshest-looking window treatments are often the simplest: for a dining room, sheer white panels printed with large silver circles hung over pale blue silk; for a bathroom, translucent green sari cloth weighted down with a silver-beaded bottom edge; for an upstairs sitting room, matchstick blinds the same deep red as the walls.

New York City interior designer Matthew Patrick Smyth borrowed from the fashion world - — "cuffs" augmented with silk lattice-work and small pearls - — to add appeal to subtle silk curtains in the dining room of the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club Decorators Show House.

"We're using prettier fabrics in simpler ways," says interior designer Richard Round of Round & Gillis in San Angelo, Texas. "Instead of heavy chintz and velvet, we've been using a lot of silk and taffeta for draperies — solids, stripes, and even plaids. On a recent job we used a silk plaid of red, peach, dull green, and gold, edged with narrow fringe and hung from gilded hardware: rings, poles, and finials. Sometimes we cover the rods with the same fabric as the draperies, even covering ball-shaped finials."

Sheer fabrics are a natural window treatment choice to help create a light and airy look. "Sheers provide privacy without blocking light," San Francisco interior designer Randall Koll says, "and layering can create striking effects. Try pairing a botanical-patterned sheer with a solid colored under-curtain, or choose a striped sheer and hang one layer with the stripes running horizontally and a second with the stripes going vertically to create a subtle suggestion of plaid."

Lightweight fabric panels and layers of sheers are not the only fresh approaches to window treatments. For a crisp, classic look, designers are making extensive use of matchstick blinds, blinds interwoven with fabric, and true Venetian blinds (with wood slats suspended between cloth tape). A wooden blind interwoven with fabric is a good choice for a large window with a built-in seat; coordinate the fabric woven into the blind with the fabrics used for the seat cushions to create a harmonious look.

Pretty fabrics in simple, straightforward treatments or tailored blinds and shades work well in many instances, but, inevitably, some rooms feature problem windows — asymmetrical pairings, odd sizes, or awkward placements. To solve the dilemma of a corner window, Round suggests using a Roman shade at the top and setting closed shutters beneath the window, all the way to the floor. Your eye will read the area as a French door — a less-awkward look than a corner window.

When two windows are too close together to allow separate curtains on each, Koll likes to panel the middle space with a mirror and then treat the area as a single, large window. Mirrors applied above and below a too-tiny window also will create the illusion of a larger opening and make the window easier to treat, he says.

In a contemporary space with windows that encompass entire walls, mount the drapery rods to the ceiling. A narrow track holding tiny rings is barely visible when ceiling-mounted and allows for a graceful, easily adjustable drape of fabric.

In the battle to maintain the fresh, clean look of your new window treatments, the vacuum cleaner and the feather duster should be your weapons of choice. Vacuum fabric draperies and shades occasionally so dust doesn't develop into grime; regular care can prevent the need for dry cleaning, which too often results in shrinkage. Both Venetian and mini-blinds need frequent attention. "Run a feather duster over them every two weeks from the minute you get them," Koll says. If not, you may find yourself with a daunting cleaning challenge. "I've seen blinds quickly get so grungy that eventually only Herculean cleaning efforts could salvage them," he says. "Dusting takes only a minute, but it has to be consistent."

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