Don't be limited by the size of your windows

  • Courtesy of Room + BoardWindow treatments can make your small room look grand, even if the windows are not.

    Courtesy of Room + BoardWindow treatments can make your small room look grand, even if the windows are not.

By Christine Brun
Posted6/1/2014 12:01 AM

Windows, and how you dress them, can create the illusion of more space. You can use a practical element of architecture and turn it into a design feature that frames what lies beyond in a way that improves the interior. In fact, even in a windowless space you have the ability to craft the impression of a real opening.

The original use of the window was as a slit to let smoke from a fire out. Primitive people seeking dry shelter did not care about a view!


As buildings became more sophisticated, the function of windows gave way to a more frivolous purpose, and we began to see windows as a part of the beauty of a structure. In architectural terms, fenestration is the arrangement and positioning of windows and doors in a building.

We spend money and time in the selection of just the right type of window for our homes. Replacement windows are extremely popular not only because of improved mechanics and energy efficiency, but because they often eliminate unsightly materials on the inside of a home.

I spent a great deal of extra money to increase the height of the sliding door in my master bedroom. In order to get the taller unit, I had to replace the header, which added the extra charges. I approved the additional costs because it afforded the impression that the outside was a part of the room. Instead of a 12-inch space between the slider and the ceiling, there is now just an inch!

While replacing windows is not always possible, there are many tricks to tease a viewer into thinking you have floor-to-ceiling windows.

This photo is an example of a classic solution. The windows are set about 40 inches above the wood floor, but the use of a clean, ripple-fold, floor-to-ceiling drapery disguises this fact. Less attention is paid to the particular sizes of the windows and more paid to the room itself.

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My drapery workroom nearly always recommends that we take fabric right to the ceiling in rooms with only 8 feet of height. A sensation of greater height is made with the extra fabric. This is true for valances, shades and traditional draperies. Avoid the tendency to use a skimpy, off-the-shelf valance. We generally make them between 17 to 22 inches in length.

If your room is blessed with a height of 10 to 14 feet, then you can install your window coverings slightly above the window without making the treatment appear out of scale.

Much has to do with the type of windows you have and whether or not they have attractive casings. Often people desire to see the woodwork for which they've paid extra, and therefore prefer inside mounted operable shades. There are dozens of options, from mini blinds to cellular shades to woven shades. Remember that if you keep the functional shades in the same tone as the casings, then they will tend to disappear. This creates a sense of more space.

White moldings with light shades are more expansive than white moldings and brown shades. You can rely on the "top" treatments -- valances or cornice boxes -- to introduce pattern and color.


Fortunately, new technology has eliminated unsightly control cords for cellular shades and roller shades. This delivers a very trim and tidy look to whatever you are using as your sun control.

Often there is a battle waged between the type of window treatments you like, the physical reality of your room and other practical issues. Wide blade shutters are the Rolls-Royce of window coverings, but they are bulky and can eat up views with frame thicknesses.

Wood blinds are handsome, but in very wide windows they are heavy to operate, and on sliding doors they require a good deal of energy to operate.

The drapes shown here are elegant and might be made out of washable European fabrics, but if you have severe allergies you might not want to embrace the potential problem of dust collecting on the fabric.

• Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at

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