Ask any regular homeowner uninitiated to the world of interior design what the most confusing part of decorating is, and window treatments will be a prominent answer. Curtains, shades, and blinds have been boggling the minds of people everywhere, and it’s not hard to see why. From measuring to hardware style, fabrics, and types of pleating—the decisions that come with dressing a window are seemingly endless. What’s more—if you put more than a little thought into it, it can be a significant investment.
To shed light on the world of window treatments once and for all, we asked our go-to interior design expert, Nate Berkus. With over 20 years of design experience, a flawless sense of style, and a new line of fabrics for The Shade Store, we could think of no better person for the task. We tackled everything from fabrics to patterns and from hardware to types of mounts to make your window treatment decision-making a breeze—even though the designer himself and his husband, interior designer Jeremiah Brent, don’t always agree.
Don’t plan your window treatments without reading this. Whether you’re renting or in your forever home, there’s a solution for everyone.
Think Architecture First
MYDOMAINE: First things first, what’s your preference—curtains, shades, or blinds?
NATE BERKUS: It’s completely dependent on the architecture of the space. Because I’m a huge fan of symmetry, when you have a window that sort of dies into the corner of a room, it requires you to do a shade, as opposed to floor-to-ceiling draperies. If you have symmetrical windows, you should have equal distance from the window to the wall, and it’s completely fair game—you can do whatever you want.
My go-to is typically a shade mixed with flat drapery panels that skim the floor. But I tend to create interiors that are a little simpler and a little less ornate. I don’t really reach for fussy window coverings as a general rule.
Subtlety Is Key
MD: In terms of colors and fabrics, what are your go-tos?
NB: For draperies, I tend to lean toward natural materials like linen and cotton. In terms of patterns for draperies, I think micro patterns are really beautiful: ticking stripe, subtle stripe…I prefer a lot of texture, as opposed to color or bold geometrics.
For roller shades, the reason I was excited to work on this collection with The Shade Store was that I felt like roller shades are such an overlooked category. The idea of creating custom patterns for The Shade Store that blended in and gave people another opportunity to express their personality when they’re layering their window treatments was something that I thought was really appealing. So obviously I like the patterns that I’ve created—smaller in scale, slightly more subtle in coloration, but still, something that adds a bit of life and a bit of story to a space.
The Shade Store Nate Berkus Raffi Fabric (price on request)
Take a Modern Classic Approach
Unless you live in Versailles, I'm not interested in seeing these massively overblown, scalloped, overly pleated stories on every window.
MD: What window treatments would you like to see go away?
NB: It’s interesting. A long time ago, the window industry was just about expanding the scale. Remember those weird bulks of fabric that people would roll over a rod? A lot of people still live with that because they spent a lot of money on it—but unless you live in Versailles, I’m not interested in seeing these massively overblown, scalloped, overly pleated stories on every window. Some more traditional designers have created beautiful spaces using ornate window treatments. For me, it’s never been something that I’ve reached for.
I tend to err on the side of things that are a little bit more simplistic.
MD: What is your preference for drapery?
NB: I’m shockingly a little more traditional when it comes to draperies, so I prefer a rod and rings, but I prefer simple hardware, simple finials…something clean. I like the idea of something that feels relaxed and less formal. For me, that means typically a simple pleat or a soft ripple fold, and something that skims the floor, as opposed to puddling. Jeremiah and I fight about this for the draperies in our living room in our home. He likes that sort of Belgian piled linen on the floor, and I may or may not be coming around to it.
I’ll let you know.
MD: What type of window hardware do you go for?
NB: For hardware, there’s a language. It’s blackened iron, brass—both matte and shiny—and silver metals, whether it’s nickel or chrome—again matte or shiny—and I’ve always loved mixing metals in a space. I think I also tend to reach for things that aren’t necessarily modern but are definitely very clean. So that for me means simple—whether it’s a ball or an end cap. I’ve never specified a big end cap on a drapery rod, ever. But I like to see the hardware—I like to see the rings and the rod—so I guess in that way I lean more toward a traditional application.
Fake Your Windows
MD: Let’s move on to window shades. Do you prefer an inside mount or an outside mount?
NB: I think it’s a cleaner look to do an inside mount, but if you don’t like the quality of the moldings or the trim around your window, then an outside mount is probably the right decision. I also use an outside mount when the height of the windows doesn’t match. You can cheat the look of a room and transform the feeling of a space when you use an outside mount roller shade mounted at the ceiling line because if you have them down to an inch below the window frame, it looks as though the window goes all the way to the ceiling.
You’re hiding the dry wall between the window and the ceiling with the shade, so it gives the appearance that you have these massively tall windows.
I did this in my bedroom in New York City two apartments ago, because the windows were at an awkward height, sort of at the middle of the room, and I used roller shades with outside mount framed by two drapery panels. I started the whole measurement at the ceiling height—and it looks as if it was this massively grand scale. It’s a trick of the trade that I’ve always done. But typically, I use an inside mount because I like to see the frame of the window.
Build it Over Time
MD: What are the most common mistakes that you see other people make with their window treatments?
NB: I think the most common mistake is that people think it’s an afterthought. People decorate and then they think oh, I’m going to save money and not address the windows. I understand the mentality behind that—obviously you need somewhere to sit first, but the truth is that a good interior and a good room should feel assembled and layered over time, and part of that layering process is addressing the windows. There’s the practical side of it—privacy, light filtering, or room darkening—but there’s also the fact that the room doesn’t feel done unless you’ve addressed the windows in some way.
MD: What are some ways that people can save money when shopping for window treatments but still get that custom look?
NB: Roller shades are the most affordable option, which is why I wanted to create this collection with different patterns. Even though you’re using something that’s economical and truly utilitarian, you still have the opportunity to introduce pattern and texture into your space without feeling like oh, this was an afterthought, and I don’t have the money to do what I want.
So I would say: Start with a roller shade, and if you want to add drapery panels or a roman shade on top of that, eventually you can.
Ask Yourself the Right Questions
MD: What are some questions homeowners should ask themselves before planning for window treatments?
NB: I think that they should first and foremost take a good look at the architecture of their space. That’s one of the reasons I rely fairly heavily on The Shade Store—because [the experts] come out and measure for you—it’s a difficult process to measure for custom window treatments correctly, so I prefer to have the professionals responsible for that, even though I’ve been doing it for 25 years.
Once you have an understanding of the architecture—Are your windows symmetrical? Can you go from ceiling to floor? Are there issues with radiator covers and A/C units?—all those questions that are built into your space, and then start asking yourself: What would be the style of window treatments that would be the most complementary to the way I want to live? Do you love midcentury furniture? Is your home a mix of modern and antiques? Is there an opportunity to do something interesting in the space?
Do you simply need it to function in a commercial space, for instance?
I think the question is not dissimilar to how you approach the design and the decisions you make with every other element in your room: What is my personality, and what is going to make me happy every day when I look at it? If that’s a tailored, clean feeling in a simple textile, that’s great. If you tend to like things that feel a little more layered, then figure out how you can introduce pattern and color into the space. You kind of have to put yourself through the same thing you’d put yourself through when you’re picking out a throw pillow.
The Shade Store Nate Berkus Avenue Stripe Fabric (price on request)
And now, don’t make these mistakes when renovating your kitchen, says Nate Berkus.