By Design

A history of window coverings, from function to design

by Patricia M. Cove
Posted 6/1/23

Windows have always played an important role in any room’s design. 

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By Design

A history of window coverings, from function to design


Windows have always played an important role in any room’s design.  Historically, they played a very “heavy” role, with their function being to keep out the cold or let in the light. They were always treated with as much relevance as the most significant furnishings.  Swags, jabots, valances and lambrequins were de rigueur for any residence starting in the 1600s and earlier.  Roman shades were used during the Roman Empire to keep out dust kicked up by horse carriages.  Historians credit Persians with inventing the Venetian blind, which exploded in popularity throughout the 1700s.

At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, roller shades appeared in Holland, and the first roller shade patents were filed in 1855 to include a spring mechanism that made them so much easier to operate.  By the time Queen Victoria came to rule, emphasizing the relationship between political influences and styles, windows became covered in layers of tall, festooned draperies, in an over-the-top style.

But as with all movements, the 1920s saw a shift from Victorian ruffles to more geometric styles reflecting the Art Deco period.  Boxy valences incorporating sleek lines sat above windows to help disguise the newly invented traverse drapery rod.  The décor of the early 1940s saw a return to the more simple treatments, as rationing limited the availability of supplies and fabrics.  Neutral and pastel colors were popular, while busy patterns started to disappear.

Things remained more subtle until the 1960s and 70s when a range of funky colors, including avocado green and burnt orange were used on mini blinds and roller shades.  Vertical blinds also hit the market.  They were perfect for the popular sliding glass door and quickly became all the rage.  Following the fashion styles of big shoulders, big skirts, and oversized coats, the 1980s also saw a resurgence of big window treatments.  Large floral prints also made a comeback, and rooms took on the style of voluminous English Country, a style that I made my own, and still love today.

But alas, as the late 1990s approached, and style mavens were tuned into HGTV, the DIY trend took over, and with it came a much simpler, scaled-back approach to dressing windows.  The economic collapse of 2008, sealed the deal, and we have been in a window treatment desert ever since then. Following the trend of clean-lined simple furnishings, windows are now considered to be “dressed” with just a  Roman shade, wooden blind, or two simply pleated stationary panels.  Interest can still be obtained with a textural fabric selection or smooth linen in a smashing solid color.  But the point remains, simplicity is the key.  Swag and jabots are nowhere to be seen unless you are a Colonial purist, at which point, I say go for it!

I do miss those billowing draperies with their tassel tie-backs and fringe trims when windows looked like ball gowns in anticipation of a quadrille.  But I don’t see them returning any time soon.  So, order those blinds or flat Roman shades, and rest assured you will be in style for at least several more years…..or at least until the economy of the 1980s returns!

Patricia Cove is the principal of Architectural Interiors and Design and can be reached through her website: