Published in: The Wall Street Journal Online
on March 27, 2012
Curtains just got some va-va-va-voom.
Some interior designers are looking for inspiration to women's fashion—specifically to the wispy, sheer blouses and pullovers more women are layering over camisoles and tank tops. The result is a layered, see-through window treatment, whether sheer curtains over half-opened shades, or textured curtains over sheer shades.
The window look? "Sexy," says New York-based interior designer Mindy Miles Greenberg.
Ms. Greenberg recently helped Alyssa Kallenos with window treatments for the master bedroom in her 5,500- square-foot Mediterranean-style house in Hewlett Harbor, N.Y. The 42-year -old physical therapist wanted her bedroom, with three 7-foot windows and a fireplace, to feel "glamorous." "I don't want it to look like a kitchen," Ms. Kallenos says.
Ms. Greenberg steered her to a moss-colored Hunter Douglas Silhouette semi-sheer shade for privacy, with an overlay of sheer, iridescent silk panels that just touch the floor.
"It's like a bra peeking through a shirt," Ms. Greenberg says. Make that a designer bra: The total cost of the bedroom window treatments was $7,500, Ms. Kallenos says.
Translucent, softly layered window treatments are showing up in urban and suburban homes as energy- and cost-efficient alternatives to old-fashioned drapes and blinds. These neutral-toned window treatments feature clean lines and literally no frills—and no puddles, swags, jabots (cascade of ruffles) or lambrequins (decorative valances), either.
The simplified silhouette and color palette mean the look can be executed beautifully without custom fabrics, which is appealing to clients, even in luxury homes, who are still keeping a tight rein on costs, designers say.
"Custom drapery is extremely expensive," says Kim Chapman, whose Chicago firm, Urban Environments, recently designed a bedroom bay window with four roller shades and panels of a sheer polyester for about $4,500. The client could easily have spent twice that much using more-conventional drapery fabric, Ms. Chapman says. "People are staying as minimalist and as cost-effective as they can."
The layered look has evolved alongside a broad trend in home design toward emphasizing windows. "The thinking is all about bringing the outside in, and 'outside living,'" says Laura Larkin, an interior designer in San Rafael, Calif. "You're able to do that with big windows."
Floor-to-ceiling windows can, though, make a room too bright, too hot, too cold or too exposed to nosy neighbors and passersby. Sheer layers as window treatments can provide privacy and energy efficiency yet also preserve the panoramic view or wide-open feel.
The look has few elements to collect dust. But window fabrics, no matter what kind, require dry-cleaning every two-to-five years, says Linda Farahnik, showroom director for Distinctive Window Treatment Plus, a custom fabricator in New York. Periodic light vacuuming helps with dust control.
These are some of the considerations Nancy Crabill, 39, had in mind when addressing the bay window in the master bedroom of the home she and her 8-year-old son moved into last May. Working with Ms. Chapman, the Chicago designer, she placed a cream-colored Juliette sofa next to the window, made up of four 6-foot panes overlooking big trees on a sunny sidewalk. She enjoys reading and sipping coffee there one morning a week. "It's my most uninterrupted time," she says.
Ms. Crabill wanted a sheer layer of drapes overlaying roller shades in a pearl color; she wanted blackout shades for maximum light-control at night. When the shades are up, the drapes filter the daylight softly and billow pleasantly if the windows are open. They look like "a flowy, sexy dress that always makes a woman look amazing," Ms. Crabill says.
Many sheer window treatments incorporate a high-tech layer of protection from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays, which can penetrate regular window glass and damage skin, discolor fabrics and overheat rooms.
A layer of protective film, like the kind once found mainly in cars, is mounted onto the glass window panes. High-performance window film typically is cut to size and professionally installed by a dealer-representative affiliated with a manufacturer such as 3M Corp. or Solar Gard.
The total cost for a 2,500-square-foot home with 30 windows near New York City is approximately $1,500 to $3,000, or $50 to $100 per window, with an estimated 15% annual savings in cooling costs of about $186, according to 3M's online cooling-savings calculator.
Window films generally can cut down glare by more than half and block up to 99.9% of UV rays, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation in New York. (The foundation vets products that claim to be UV-protective and recommends those it believes pass muster, including window films.)
A "solar shade" is frequently used as a sleek second layer of UV protection, even in a traditional window design. Semitransparent when pulled down, solar shades filter UV rays and heat, creating an effect something like putting sunglasses on a window.
Popular for a while in commercial buildings and industrial-looking condos, the shades have been showing up in mainstream residential designs, says Brooke Traeger, associate chair of interior design at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C.
"They replace the old look of vertical blinds with a very clean aesthetic," says Ms. Traeger. Or "you can use them in addition to a soft drapery and you don't even know it's there."
Catalog retailer Smith & Noble last year more than doubled its solar-shade offerings, adding more textures, colors and styles. Solar shades "started very techie-looking and didn't fit into every residential application," says JoEllen Ropele, merchandising manager. Now, though, they are available in soft, fashionable fabrics "that are more acceptable in the residential market," she says.
The final layer is often panels of loose-weave or sheer fabric hanging in soft drapes to the floor. Panels of metallic-link drapes, which have been common in sophisticated restaurants and hotels, were until recently rarely used in residences. One reason may be price: Metal-link drapes on one standard-size window recently cost one of her clients $1,300, Ms. Greenberg says.
Alene Workman, an interior designer in Hollywood, Fla., is using solar shades on the 10-foot floor-to-ceiling windows found in every room of a 10,000-square-foot, 26th-floor penthouse in an ocean-front building in Bal Harbour, Fla. "You can see Cuba on one side and New York on the other," she says.
Her assignment was to design windows with protection from bright light and baking sun while preserving the clean décor, including off-white fabrics, marble floors and contemporary furniture made of stone and honey-toned wood.
The owner had window film applied, followed by white "sheer-weave" motorized solar shades to filter light but leave the view intact. Shades operating by wall-mounted controls disappear into a recessed ceiling pocket when not in use. Sheer, white-wool side panels hang in room corners and "soften the overall effect," Ms. Workman says.
In traditional drapery, the rule of thumb is to measure fabric at three times the window width, resulting in folds of excess fabric known as the "stack." Once, the stack might have covered up to a third of the entire window. "Now, I want to get all the fabric off," says Ms. Larkin, the California designer. Instead of measuring fabric at three times the width, she measures the sheer outer layer at 1½ times the width.
Designers warn that sheer layers can look chintzy if relying solely on inexpensive fabrics. The look can also skew industrial if done with just sleek solar shades and no softening layers, says Ms. Larkin. The trick is to take a little sleek and a little soft, and coordinate, she says.