The Art of the Window: A Valance For Every Look, from Country to Glam

Which of these 11 top treatments is right for you?

By  Jess McBride  /  Courtesy of

Although some dismiss them as dated, this collection of valances and their close cousin, cornices, shows that the window highlight is alive and well, and can infuse spaces of any kind with a dose of softness, elegance and charm. Who knows, they could surpass the brass fixture as the ultimate comeback artist.

1. Traditional. Although valances can be an appropriate design choice in any room, many people still associate these top treatments with traditional decor. Indeed, both Mount Vernon and the White House feature the most formal incarnations of this classic window dressing. In general, the more swags, jabots and cascades, the more history and tradition these ornately draped beauties impart on a space. Valances fall into two broad categories: board-mounted, where multiple cuts of fabric are draped and upholstered to a wooden board, and pole-mounted, pictured here. 

Designer tip: When budgeting for valances, don’t forget to factor in the rod and brackets.

2. Contemporary. For those who question whether a valance can work in a contemporary space, here’s a great example. Not only did the designer use a valance, but it’s also a heavily draped and cascading one at that, in a room where the color-blocked flooring and the furniture are anything but dowdy. The treatment’s success hinges on its stylized cascades (the pieces that hang down) and the way the stark orange outline provides contrast and a clean line. A straight cornice board or a kick-pleated valance (boxy in shape) have clean lines too, but the layers of fabric here add softness and dimension.

3. Rustic. A cornice is fundamentally a plank of wood upholstered in fabric. But have you considered dropping the fabric and just staining the wood? Wood valances commonly cover the roller mechanism of woven wood shades, and this has the same appeal. Layer it over woven woods if you like, or let it stand alone or atop drapes as an organic accent in a modern space or a woodsy cabin.

4. Beach bum. Having grown up in chilly Connecticut as an avid Jimmy Buffett fan, I’m a sucker for anything tropical. Naturally, this photo has found its way into my own renovation dreams. The tiki-hut valance graces a child’s room, but I’ll bet some adventurous and playful adults among us wouldn’t hesitate to use this whimsical treatment in a mudroom, bedroom, bar or covered porch — really anywhere a lighthearted vibe is desired.

5. Glam. Maybe it’s the hot pink or the grand swoop of shirred fabric on the valance, but one thing’s certain: This room is the epitome of boudoir glamour. Unapologetically edgy and feminine, the contrast of black and pink is at once energizing and inspiring. I imagine a modern-day Marilyn Monroe sealing love notes with a lacquered kiss, a glass of pink champagne standing by.

6. On the road. Camper and RV windows are rarely large, and since you’re often way out in the wilderness anyway, they don’t always cry out for full coverage. Here, a simple valance in an indoor-outdoor fabric provides the perfect dose of color. If you can’t bear to leave your passion for decorating at home, it’s one of the few places in such tight spaces where you can communicate your design theme.

7. High drama. Dark and sexy, this long cornice packs a punch layered over thick, black drapery panels. In case you weren’t already convinced, here’s proof that top treatments needn’t be dainty or sweet. It’s partly the cornice’s color and streamlined tailoring, and partly the larger context of an already dramatic room, that makes the whole vignette so sleek. But the cornice is the key element that gives the room its intimacy and sense of enclosure. 

Designer tip: If you’d rather not see behind your cornice or valance, it can be made with returns on both sides. A return is a flap of fabric (or a continuation of the cornice) that turns back toward the wall, lending a clean, finished edge.

8. Cottage. Gingham, chintz, buffalo check, polished cotton: When choosing a valance for your cottage-style decor, it’s all about pattern and fabric. Lest you Shabby Chic fans forget, a valance is essentially one big ruffle capping your window — and therefore right for virtually any cottage-y room. 

Designer tip: A rod-pocket valance with a 2-inch header ruffle is about as country as a window treatment can get. Tie-top or button-top valances are also suitable and offer the greatest potential for sneaking multiple fabrics into one treatment, since the buttons and ties can be done in contrasting fabrics for the ultimate Shabby Chic look.

9. French Provincial. A generations-old fascination among decorators, the American interpretation of French country style practically begs for a sweet cafe valance, particularly in the eating and cooking spaces where French country style shines brightest. For many people, the hallmarks of this look are driven home mostly in the fabric choices: textiles from Provence, rooster prints and a Mediterranean palette. You’ll feel as if you’re in Avignon every time you look out your kitchen window.

10. Masculine. Far from being a singularly feminine fancy, a flounce of fabric can dress up a man’s office too. As with many things in decorating, precious few materials, prints, fibers or furnishings are exclusively masculine or feminine (or modern versus traditional, for that matter). Usually, the context of the room and the mix of design elements nudge a space in one direction or another. In this case, the wood and leather combined with the tailored structure of the chocolate brown top treatment make for a man-friendly office.

11. Southern charm. One thing I’ve learned as a Yankee transplant living in Texas is that Southerners approach their home tending as reverently as they do their entertaining. Every last detail is designed for the benefit of their guests, from the lighting to the color scheme in the social areas to the comfort of the chairs. In this room, a polished dining table and stately valances exude the charm of a gracious host, and set a regal tone for elegant dinner parties and charity fundraisers.

More Art of the Window: 11 Shades That Add Style to a Room | 12 Ways to Cover Glass Doors | Drapery Solutions for Difficult Types and Shapes | 10 Ways to Elevate Your Bathroom