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Window Treatments 101 | Roman Shades & Draperies

Did you know curtains have been around since 3rd-century Egypt? Though they were primarily used to separate rooms, these first generation curtains inspired the use of soft window coverings. Becoming popular in 16th-century England, window coverings were commonly made from linen, flax and cotton… just like today’s roman shades and draperies!

Renaissance styled draperies
Renaissance draperies

Roman shades are just as old and date back to- you guessed it- ancient Roman times. But they were originally designed to function horizontally, like an awning. This was to block the hot sun while spectators enjoyed the spectacles at the Colosseum. Now used vertically on our windows and doors, Roman shades still function as they did back then.

We won’t bore you with a full history lesson, but it’s fun to know where our modern fabric window treatments got their start. This month, we’re expanding our Window Treatments 101 series to the most timeless treatments you can put in your home— roman shades and draperies. 

What’s so great about fabric, anyway?

Actually, there’s a lot that’s great about fabric. Insulation, design “wow” factor, softness… to name a few. Taking queues from the ancient Romans, draperies and roman shades can stylishly keep your home cooler in the summer AND warmer in the winter. I get it, insulation may not be the selling feature of fabric treatments for every home. So for those who simply want an elevated, finished home, fabric window treatments fit the bill.

Look back at the classic Renaissance draperies vignette. You’ll see that the design is very intentional, from color to pattern to shape. It’s this intentionality that will take your home’s design to the next level.

Another reason I just love roman shades and draperies is the way they soften the look of a room. With flowing pleats, lush fabrics, and splashes of color, you can take a room from run-of-the-mill to home-sweet-home.

In the living room above, simply adding a set of decorative panel on each window significantly changes the mood. It becomes cozier and more welcoming. With cellular shades only, this room looked empty, unfinished, and cold. The deep color of the draperies also creates extra drama and dimension, too. Even though the style is clearly monochromatic, you can create much more inviting space using deeper shades of your other colors.

Learn how to style cellular shades in our last Window Treatments 101 blog.

Roman Shades vs. Draperies

So far, we’ve seen how draperies OR roman shades can change the environment of your home. But in some instances, roman shades may be better suited. For example, most homes have a window at the kitchen sink and while you can definitely use cafe style curtains, a roman shade would be an even better fit. They’re streamlined and easy to keep out of the way while the sink is in use.

Roman shades are also preferable in a modern home. In modern design, furniture and accessories tend to be much more structured with hard lines and perfect corners. Using roman shades for window treatments in a modern home allow for the softer, warmer feel of fabric while keeping with the straight lines of modern style.

Draperies can be used virtually anywhere, and with most other window treatments. But the generally lend a feeling of luxury and elegance. Which is why they are a great choice if you have a traditional, transitional, or country style home. Draperies can also look very formal and elevate a room, or make a room feel casual. So you have a lot of freedom when choosing (or designing) draperies. Like the Renaissance drapery arrangement we saw earlier, there’s a formality about that set up. You’ll see this combo in many historical homes, especially here in New England.

On the other hand, stand-alone shades or simple linen draperies “dress down” a room. In typical country fashion, the bedroom above uses large-scale decor and furniture. The draperies and roman shades are natural colors with soft folds and billows. They add to the relaxed coziness of the whole space by continuing with large texture.

Can I use fabric window treatments in every room?

Definitely. But there are some things to consider when selecting roman shades or draperies. Moisture, accessibility, and soil level should be the first things you think about. Apron-length or cafe curtains and roman shades are increasingly popular for bathrooms because they provide privacy and you can get creative with patterns and color. However, fabrics can hold moisture in damp environments. The best way to combat this is to use thin, perhaps unlined, synthetic fabric to withstand any moisture.

In many modern homes, vaulted ceilings with impossibly high windows are so common, which means you probably can’t access all of them. Because of this, the best fabric treatment that requires 0 extra effort is decorative panel draperies. They simply outline the height of the window, but can’t be closed. You could also add motorization to the function of roman shades, venetian blinds, or other shades (just be prepared to get up on a ladder every year or so to replace batteries or service the motor). It’s still good to keep in mind that you may have to take down decorative panels (or any fabric treatment) in the event they get dirty, which leads us to the last point to factor into your decision.

Kids, pets, and simply opening and closing your draperies or shades can cause wear and tear. This doesn’t mean you can’t put fabric shades in your home, but you should select good, durable, washable fabrics. Cotton and linen are naturally very dirt resistant AND can be easily hand-washed or machine-washed on a delicate cycle. Delicate silk or satin and any synthetic material (polyester, nylon, etc.) must be dry cleaned, as well as window treatments with a lining. And as much as we love our household pets, they often love to look out the windows, which can cause damage to your fabric treatments. This kind of maintenance isn’t for everyone but worth it if fabric treatments are what you want in your home.

All in all, fabric window treatments are a really great solution to add style and elegance to your home. You can create a formal and classic look or comfortable and casual feel with simply adding soft treatments to your windows.

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