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Design

We Answer 6 Readers’ Curtain Calls For Help: Bay Windows, Clerestories, Arches + More

Hey EHD friends. For anyone following along, this is my third post in what has become a bit of a curtains-how-to installment. The first post was more of a whole home cheat sheet and the second showcased real reader homes with real reader problems.

Today is a continuation of the last post because we received far too many reader submissions that we thought would be helpful for others to see and had to keep going on the subject. And guess what, there’s one more after this, too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s focus on the here and now, which involves how to dress bay windows (with and without seats), working with transom arches (and giant windows to boot), corner windows, and clerestory windows.

In the last post, I included some information that could be useful to anyone trying to cover their windows. Here’s the TLDR:

  • South-facing windows: Get the most light, all day long. Can be intense at times and bring in a lot of warmth, especially in the summer.
  •  North-facing windows: Get the least amount of light. Can keep a room cooler.
  •  West-facing windows: Get the most amount of direct light in the afternoons/early evenings.
  •  East-facing windows: Gets the most amount of direct light in the morning (good in kitchens, bad in bedrooms).

This is, of course, just a quick summary of the basics. These conditions can change depending on what hemisphere you’re in, whether it’s summer or winter, and what you have going on outside your window, like an overhang, a porch, a building that blocks light, big trees, etc.

The direction of the window you have can (but doesn’t always) determine how you cover it. For instance, if you have a north-facing window, you can get away with sheers or light-filtering curtains. If you have an east-facing window in your bedroom, most people opt for something with a black-out lining unless they don’t mind waking up with the sun.

But it’s not just about sunlight, is it? It’s also about privacy (and well, aesthetics). Maybe your front living room window faces a bustling sidewalk, and you want light to come in but you don’t want people knowing the color of your bathrobe, necessarily. Or your dining room is open to a backyard that butts up against a wall of trees. Or perhaps you’re like my husband who could have a bank of windows looking out to a wall and would still want them covered at night because it freaks him out otherwise.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t exactly a “too long, didn’t read” summary, but I guess you’re all here for information anyway, so I won’t make apologies.

A Few Good Examples

design by emily henderson | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: living room update – again – our new sofa, my dream floral chaise and the pop of red i always wanted in my life

Alright, so, as we typically do around here, let’s explore some images of rooms that illustrate good solutions for some of the problems we’re going to dive into today. This one above, of Emily’s old LA living room, is a great example of how to tackle a bay window, as these can leave people scratching their heads for a while (I have personal experience with delayed problem-solving for something like this). I love how clean and understated the Roman shades are here. I recommend something similar if you keep reading.

design by julie rose for EHD | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: a refresh of our favorite “child client’s” – bedroom 8 years later

To dress this corner window pairing, Julie opted for curtain panels hung with a corner curtain rod. This usually involves a joint in the middle point so you can avoid having to try to hang two rods right next to each other and keeps it more streamlined. A panel (or two) in the middle is good for hiding those pivot points but also adding more softness. I’ll show you two examples of corner windows, neither of which felt right for this particular application.

styled by emily bowser | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: how to design your bedroom for the best night sleep (+ introducing target’s new casaluna line)

Clerestory windows, usually over a bed, can be tricky. They seem so small, you have no clue what makes sense to use to cover them. I know some people who just don’t even bother since the light doesn’t bother them, and, being so high above eye level, there’s no need for additional privacy. I’ll almost always suggest a shade of some sort for these, unless—like in our reader’s room below—there’s an additional element like a dresser or other piece of furniture that could support something more.

design and styling by emily henderson and brady tolbert | photos by sara ligorria-tramp | from: 14 rules for how we style the perfect bedroom + 3 reveals

Just another quick, pretty example of a transom covering. Mostly because I sadly don’t have examples from the EHD archives of how we would approach stacked windows, windows with arches, or windows with tall transoms.

Okay, let’s get into some real reader homes. Let’s go!

Keeping the Sun & Onlookers at *Bay*

From our reader: “Help! I have struggled with the best solution for this window for 2 years. The HVAC registers right where curtains fall means we cannot have curtains pool at the floor and it is NOT the look I’m going for.”

Ahh the good ol’ bay window. Another quick story (promise it will be fast this time): Before I knew much about anything interiors, my sister and I spent the better part of a year trying to figure out how to put curtains in the bay window of her breakfast nook. Hers was fairly straightforward, not like this reader’s. There was no seat, and no A/C registers along the baseboards. We eventually stumbled upon corner brackets made specifically for bay windows and once we did, we couldn’t believe that such an obvious answer was out there and we were blind to it.

But that’s not this reader’s issue. She doesn’t like the look of her window coverings, and they’re a bit short too as not to interfere with the A/C vents, so I have another idea for her. One that I think is the best option and another idea just in case.

My advice is to take down the panels and the curtain rod, and instead, opt for Roman shades on each of the windows. It’s hard to tell how much sill clearance there is so I can’t necessarily say whether they should be inside or outside mounted, but I think that would be a much more intentional look than what she has right now.

A second way to go about it is cafe curtains. She could hang them about 3/4 of the way up (to intersect the second window of the grid down) to provide enough privacy from the street, but light would still be let in from that top 1/4.

Before moving on, I wanted to share an additional reader with bay window woes, since hers is more common, albeit with a weird additional window situation. Here’s what she said:

From our reader: “We moved in two years ago and have been living with the horrible (and broken) blinds in our bedroom while waiting out the contractors (finally) changing a door-to-nowhere for a window, on the right. Maybe curtains help with that balance, but also, how do we do that with this bay window situation? Do we mix some curtains with some shades? It’s east-facing and I sleep facing these windows, so I’d love some ability to filter light for sleep’s sake, but still love the light streaming in most of the day.”

Once I get over the fact that a builder had a door where that far right window is now…with nowhere to open it boggles my mind. Why??? But now it’s fixed, and this reader needs a solution! I get why she’s tripped up by it. It’s a funny little situation. She likely wants to cover all the windows the same way, but what needs to happen is two treatments: panels hung using a curtain rod specifically for bay windows, and then some shades to replace the broken mini blinds and to also cover that new extra window. I specified Roman because it feels like the elegance of that style would work with the decor in the room already, but a pull-down shade in a simple textural neutral would also be nice.

I edited out the part of the reader’s email where she noted not liking the trim around the window, so in theory, she could mount the shades on the outside to cover it, but I think the inside mount would look much cleaner here. For the panels, I’d hang 6 total: two for every window (one on each side).

Blinded By the Light…From These Arched Windows

From our reader: “I have large windows with an arched top in a room that feels spacious because it has a high ceiling but isn’t actually that large. It is south-facing, so in the morning the light is really intense; we have to wear sunglasses sometimes! The strong light comes in at the top of the arch, so cafe curtains won’t work. I worry that floor-to-ceiling drapes will overwhelm the space because of how tall they would be, and also expensive because it would take so many yards of fabric. We can’t do a Roman shade because of the arch. I’m stumped. Right now, I have a cafe curtain on one window for privacy from the neighbor’s home, which is close on that side. The back windows don’t need privacy or blackout drapes, just a little light filtering.”

Oh man, the transom…that’s also an arch. This is a double hitter of difficulty, especially when they face a direction that lets in so much light, you need to find a way to block them (not to mention this reader mentioned the height and the room size is another hurdle). Typically, if you don’t need to block the light, I’d recommend just hanging window coverings (either panels or shades or even shutters) below the arch/transom so you don’t need miles of fabric, but this reader specifically stated needing to block the light from the top.

Now, she didn’t specify window height here, so it’s hard to know how tall these are, but I can play a little game of guessing to come close: The French doors on the left are probably close to the standard height of 80 inches and the transom above looks to be at least half that height (though probably a little more). On the low end, that total vertical span is 120 inches or 10 feet. That doesn’t include any additional space above for hanging curtain rods, and I’ve frankly never seen a ready-made, off-the-shelf curtain longer than 120 inches, and even those are very hard to find.

I’m going to suspend the idea of cost here because I’m sorry to say that this reader, no matter what they opt for, is going to have a bit of sticker shock. She can go the custom route for a tailored finished product, but she can expect to spend $1,000-$4,000 per window depending on fabric, lining, layering, etc. She can also opt to sew some things herself as she mentioned being open to that in another part of her email, but that’s a massive amount of yardage for the width and height of 4 windows.

So like I said, let’s take cost out of the equation in case she happens to have a spare $12,000 lying around and wants the best solution. In that case, I’d go with light-filtering pull-down shades installed inside the window frame starting right below the transom with some light linens or even sheers as panels hung above the arch. That way, morning light can still come in, but the intensity will be dialed down (no more sunglasses inside the house!), and privacy can be provided on the window that looks out to the neighbors. A light, flowing curtain in a neutral to complement the wall color would make the room feel larger and likely not be too overwhelming, which is what the reader was concerned with.

One additional thought for drapery panels that don’t cost thousands is to buy the tallest curtains you can find (again, likely 120…check out Half Priced Drapes), and then add on to them with another fabric. Often when I see this, the additional fabric will line up with something in the room such as the bottom of the window sill to feel purposeful and not hodgepodge.

Don’t Cut Corners With Your Corner Windows

From our reader: “These are the windows of my living room. They are big and west-facing. I love the light but in the summer we are unable to open them…the sun is sharp and so bright. Also, the TV is right on the opposite wall, hence no watching it when the sun is setting, which is amazing for me but not the kids. Also, the corner is very tricky. I want to keep it organic but not too heavy, yet lots of texture.” 

Remember how in my last post, I was so jazzed about ripple fold curtains? THEY’RE BACK, BABY! Okay, so, while this reader could technically use a new drapery rod system that includes a corner bracket (like this one), I think the style of these windows and home might be better suited for a ceiling track so they can move the panels fully across the whole track and not get tripped up by support brackets or corner brackets. I would love to see a thin linen curtain and have them all nested to the far right side of the picture window when open.

In addition, a modern pull-down light-filtering shade would help provide privacy but also thwart some of that intense afternoon light they’re getting through their western windows. A large one to span all three windows on the main window wall would be sleek, with the addition of another one on the smaller window on the left. If they want to skip the pull-down shade, they could also do a double-track system that includes sheer curtain panels behind regular drapery.

Another reader was also struggling with corner windows, but these had transoms plus a French door, so I wanted to walk through how I would tackle it. Let’s take a look:

From our reader: “We are in desperate need of window treatments in this corner of our primary bedroom. We especially feel this during the winter months in Chicago when all the trees are bare and our natural privacy goes away. We also have a set of French doors which would be great to add privacy to as well. I don’t know where to begin!”

There are a few things here to take into consideration: To hang above or below the transom? Does she do drapery all the way across? Maybe just shades? Does it matter if she covers the light switch?

With window coverings, there are so many possible solutions, so I could see this in a few different ways. But what I think would be best, considering this is a primary bedroom, is two Roman shades mounted outside and above the transom on the corner windows, then a curtain rod with panels hung at the same height as the Roman shades to cover the door. Being that the window to the left of the door is very close, and there’s a light switch in between, grommet-top curtains will probably be best since they can fold up fairly small, rather than something with a clip that needs more room to collect. She will likely run into the problem of having to reach behind a curtain to access the light switch, but it’s kind of the lesser of all evils, tbh.

Oh, and I just left a quick suggestion on the photo to shift the plants and chair a little forward to let the fabric breathe once she puts up window coverings. That’s it!

Clearing Up What to Do With Clerestories

From our reader: “I recently moved into my dad’s 1960s ranch in Northern California. My boyfriend and I plan on living here for about 2 years until we buy our own place. After that, the home will return to being a rental. We want something neutral colored, clean, and allows for lots of daytime light. One window faces the street and there is a street light so having shades that can be light filtering or blackout would be awesome but we will take all your suggestions. We’d like something that is renter-friendly, as well.” 

And finally! Clerestory windows. These are so common in bedrooms, especially in homes from the ’60s and ’70s. They bring in light but protect your privacy. Genius…right? Well…not if you are someone who likes looking out a window. Nope, sorry! But that’s a fight for another day.

In this reader’s room, I’m going to recommend a neutral, durable pull-down (or motorized) shade or even a Roman over both windows. Something neutral means it would work with any renter that occupies this space next. As for the window on the right, I also think centering that dresser under the window and then adding draperies to the left and right would make the room feel so soft and grand. Curtains aren’t easy to close behind furniture, but that’s where the shade comes in.

Let’s Go Shopping

So, I decided to approach the shopping portion of these types of posts a little differently today. Typically, I’ll offer 2-3 products for each reader but I decided to put them all together this time instead as an easy reference point for anyone looking for solutions to tricky windows, particularly when it comes to hardware.

Top Row, Left to Right: Hinged Elbow Connector | Drapery Pivot Corner Bracket | Steel Adjustable Single Curtain Rod
Middle Row, Left to Right: Adjustable Overall Width Bay Window Single Curtain Rod | 4-Sided Bay Window Curtain Rod | Single Traverse Curtain Rod Bottom Row, Left to Right: Flexible Ceiling Curtain Track | VIDGA Single Track Set | Ceiling or Wall Mounted LORA Track Kit

In the first row, you’ll find corner window options, if you don’t want to go the Roman shade route as I suggested in some of the reader prompts. You can either buy a rod specifically for a corner, or you can just buy a bracket to attach to whatever rod you’re considering buying. Be sure you look at measurements here, because these brackets are sold by diameter to match rods.

Second are some bay window-specific rods. I like the first one because it has a bit of a return rod (meaning, the end of the rod returns back to the wall so the curtain can fully wrap around). The middle rod shows a 4-section rod, because I wanted to show that they sell these with as many as six (or even more) sections, if needed. Not all bays only have three windows, after all.

And from the far right option on the middle row to the last three, we have some traverse rods. That first one is more decorative if you still like the look of a curtain rod, but the other three are your more traditional track systems that can either be mounted on the wall or on the ceiling (or *in* the ceiling if you’re in the planning stages of a room design and can have that built-in). The flexible track would be great for corners!

Top Row, Left to Right: Classic Cordless Top Down Bottom Up Woven Woods | Custom Roman Shades – Everhem | Riviera Striped Linen Cotton Cordless Roman Blackout Shade
Bottom Row, Left to Right: Emery Linen Grommet Blackout Curtain | Parchment Cream Italian Faux Linen Curtain 120″ | Solar Shades

Aaaaaand a few shopping options! I shared a lot in my last post, as well, but some of these are specific to my recommendations. For instance, the custom Roman shades for those extra-wide clerestory windows (or even transoms); the grommet-top curtains, which, as a reminder, can fold up very thin at the edges of a window or door if needed; the extra-tall curtains for anyone needing a 120-inch panel without taking out a second mortgage on their home. Oh, and a pretty wood Roman that operates top down, bottom up, which is a great option for someone wanting that look with flexibility.

So that’s it! We did it! We helped solve not four, but SIX more reader conundrums. Of course, it feels like every window is its own individual issue, so not all my solutions work for homes that have a similar situation. But what’s that they say about skinning a cat (gruesome, I know)? More ways than one, friends.

Regardless, I’ll be back in a few weeks with the third and final installment that covers all things obstructions (A/C units, radiators, vents, ceilings, etc.). If you can’t wait that long and are hankering for more window advice, be sure to go read this older EHD article from Ginny on dressing awkward windows. There’s a lot of gold in there!

Until next time,

Arlyn

Opening image credits: Photo by Ryan Liebe | From: Our Updated Living Room + Shop the Look

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Bryn
3 months ago

Another chance to submit for Fix It Friday on Instagram:

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Bryn
3 months ago
Reply to  Bryn

Here’s the second Fix It Friday slide:

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Quin
3 months ago

My great curtain-related find from Amazon is Ezy Glide Tape (or maybe it’s Ezyglide Tape). It applies to the top of your curtain rods and stops curtain rings from catching on the rod cracks. Bonus: it makes opening/closing them quieter too.

Julie
3 months ago

For the French doors, I think it would look cleaner and be more functional to add door-mounted shades – I don’t know what they’re called but grew up in a house with them! Attaching a pic for reference.

Arlyn, we love you and love these posts!

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Stephanie
3 months ago
Reply to  Julie

I work at an upholstery shop and we make these all day long and they have really cute outside mount cafe curtain rods that work perfect for these (at the top and bottom) and you can use a regular curtain for this (just hem the bottom) and if you avoid the ruffle in that inspo photo, I think they look super clean and chic! The more fabric you have on the rod, the more old school it’ll look (so ymmv!)

WS
3 months ago

I look forward to these types of posts! May I suggest something? A mock-up visual would make it even more helpful, just a simple sketch over the photo would answer some questions that remain after reading through the post (like would curtains wrap onto an adjoining wall for a bay window that dies quickly into a corner?)
As an alternative/addition to window coverings, I suggest UV window film. We have professionally-installed film on our east-facing two story windows. We’ve also self-installed film from the big box stores on smaller windows, but the product isn’t quiiiiite as clear and we have a couple of bubbles, nothing you would notice from afar. I’d recommend professional film and installation on your more formal, pubic facing rooms.

Kelly
3 months ago
Reply to  WS

Yes! Mock-up visuals (sketch or otherwise) would be very helpful, if possible! Love these posts!

Ali
3 months ago
Reply to  WS

I was checking the comments to see if anyone had already mentioned window film. I suggest film for the arched transom windows with other treatments below. Be aware that UV film will tint the window somewhat. Privacy film is usually colorless but might not provide as much sun filtering.

Lisa
3 months ago
Reply to  WS

We have a room where we have uv film on two of four windows. There is no darkening with the film we are using, and it took the room from way-too-hot in summer to comfortable year round. It is a good option.

Stacey
3 months ago

For readers who need to buy a lot of curtain panels and are worried about the price – Ikea is a great option, especially if you are willing to hem them. We have very large sliding doors (Southwest facing) that required 8 curtain panels. I found that Ikea’s options were affordable and looked great, esp. the non-grommet ones as there are multiple ways to hang them.

Bryn
3 months ago

Here’s a no-sew Ikea curtain hack to make 15 foot long auto open/close curtains: https://youtu.be/GF2bTwgHcNM.

Grace
3 months ago
Reply to  Stacey

Came here to say this! I’ve bought Ikea curtains to make other curtains out of because it’s such a good price for the fabric. They are also fairly long and even have a few (too few!) double width options. For the arched transom windows a few suggestions if you can’t afford custom… Google colorblock or two-tone curtains to see good examples about how to lengthen off-the-shelf and have it look intentional. For ease, I suggest EITHER contrasting fabrics in the same colorway (ie linen or velvet + silk) OR same fabrics in contrasting colorway. The accent fabric can be at the top (ie transom line) or bottom (ie window sill). Another neutral option that might work in your room would be two simple fabrics (like linen) in the same colour but one has a subtle pinstripe or grid pattern. A good dry cleaner/tailor can be an inexpensive way to get some sewing done if you are not up to the task yourself (or don’t have room to sew 1000 yards of fabric lol) and far less expensive than custom – not to the same standard but likely better than DIY. Same goes for sewing a few panels together to get… Read more »

Jen A
3 months ago
Reply to  Grace

This is such a helpful suggestion for how to combine panels to look intentional. Arlyn mentioned where to plan the divide as you’ve suggested (transom/sill) but I was exactly wondering how to select the fabrics and your suggestion for how to combine makes so much sense. I have a situation like this with very large windows in an old home – which are WONDERFUL and we love our high ceilings. But, wow, window treatment budget is like, do I cover the windows, or buy a sofa? LOL. So this is a great option to consider as I like to sew. Thank you!

Anne
3 months ago

What is “TLDR”?

Sally
3 months ago

When I lived in the UK, I saw a lot of Victorian homes with bay windows. Most of them had solid shutters which I had never seen before but they were very practical. In the day, they fold back so you can’t even see them, but close out night to allow privacy.

ashley
3 months ago

I had a miles-high transom over sliding door situation with blasty daylight in my condo, and it was a multilayered solution. I had long (and yes, expensive) drapes that were hung over the transom, then I had bamboo woven shades that hung above the sliding doors. One on each side, so I could lower/raise the blind for the open door only. BUT what I came here to say was that the previous owner had installed exterior sunshades, which rolled down. They were red (?) which was admittedly not my color choice, but they did a great job at filtering the light at its most blasty-ness. Perhaps a solution for the arches? And a note on drapes: with this much sun, really look for something in fabric that won’t fade (or else a lighter color) and that has a lining. I had a lot of luck on eBay finding discontinued/new in package PB drapes at a discount.

Lisa
3 months ago

Curtain rods add up fast. I needed a rod for the triple window in my bedroom. I was hanging Pottery Barn pinch pleat linen drapes. The cost of a pottery barn rod and rings was more than I expected. In my tv room, I needed custom rods, and had them made by Hanover Forge. I was surprised to find that for the triple window, there wasn’t much difference between the Pottery Barn rod and rings vs the Hanover Forge. I was able to get the Hanover Forge rod without a center support, which I preferred. Compare. You never know.

Another tip. The Pottery Barn linen drapes arrived as a wrinkled mess. The work room that made custom drapes for me for other rooms ironed them, and folded them to train the pleats. (for a fee, of course) They look great now, but I don’t think the look would be as good without the extra step of training the pleats.

Grace
3 months ago

Yay Arlyn! Such thoughtful advice as always!

Jodie
3 months ago

What about a tinted window film for the arched transoms?? I mean I think that would at least cut down on the glare of the sunlight. And it won’t break the bank.
Love the post!

Jessica
3 months ago

Here in sunny Texas, our first house 25 years ago we had floor to ceiling southern exposure windows and we were blinded by how much hot sunlight came in. We finally got relief when we added solar shade screens to those windows – they mount on the exterior of the window much like a bug screen, have privacy where no one could see in from outside but we had a clear view out. They were perfect. I don’t see them as much anymore now that newer windows are better at light & UV filtering,but a quick internet search pulled up a few companies still manufacturing them.

Lynn W
3 months ago
Reply to  Jessica

We have those on every window in our AZ home. What a difference they make with the temp inside our home when it is 110 and up outside 🥵

krkrkrkr
3 months ago

For the “blinded by the light” arched transom windows reader, they should consider adding something outside their house to shade their living room from the southern exposure. A pergola or awning painted white and in a similar style to their deck would look great while adding value to their house (examples below). Yes, it would be expensive, but far more worth it than 12k in curtains. Also, what were 90’s/early 2000’s houses thinking? Why did they do this to us??

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krkrkrkr
3 months ago
Reply to  krkrkrkr

Awning example below!

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Lia
3 months ago

In the latest issue of Architectural Digest, there is a house done up by Commune design, and the bedroom windows have paired inset Roman blinds with over set Roman blinds, which is really interesting to me. I’ve never seen that done before, but it looks like a good solution in many cases.

Cleo
3 months ago
Reply to  Lia

And that stained glass screen in the bathroom is clever!

Noelle
3 months ago

Hello, Miss Arlyn. 🙂 Here’s a great replacement for the “skinning the cat” analogy–I didn’t come up with it, though: There’s more than one way to peel a potato. Isn’t that wonderful? 🙂
And if anyone is interested, here’s a few more:
Feed a fed horse. (instead of beating a dead one)
Feed two birds with one scone. (I think this one is obvious ;> )

LJ
3 months ago

Are there companies that make coordinating drapes and Roman shades for situations that need drapes on one window and shades on another window? Trying to avoid true custom.