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The Final Curtain Call: Here’s How To Cover The Trickiest Of Windows (A/Cs, Pipes, Radiators & More!)

We’re back with the last installment of what Jess cleverly coined “Curtain Call” (she’s a punny queen, that one). The final Curtain Call, if you will. As I promised in my original post—read that here for context and some helpful curtain rules I laid out—today’s adventure involves window obstructions. We’re talking A/C units, random pipes, radiators, and ceiling slopes.

I’m the first person to tell anyone who asks me that a lot of times, curtain coverings are a personal style choice. If you like something dreamy and dramatic, go with full-length drapes. Want something modern and crisp? Opt for a shade or Roman shade. Interested in something traditional and stately? Plantation shutters might be just the thing. The gist: Go with what you like (and then follow the rules—like these—for each). BUT! Sometimes, you don’t really have much of a choice. Or rather, there is a *right* and (kind of) *wrong* way to go about dressing a window. At least if you’re dealing with some tricky, sticky architectural details and wish for peak function meets form.

If I’m being upfront, two of these reader submissions really stumped me for a bit. Are there maybe some other ways to solve the problems presented? Yeah, sure! And feel free to share those ideas in the comments below. But I do strongly believe that the solutions I’ve offered would work and look pretty good, considering the limitations, and that’s a win for me. 🙂

At this point in these types of posts, I typically share some inspiration photos that directly relate to what I’m going to talk about, but as these are fairly specific situations, I don’t have those today. Will you forgive me? We can all use our imaginations, yes? (And for those asking themselves while they read this why we wouldn’t just Photoshop the suggestions over the photos as I did in this post about filling a blank wall, it’s because I tried and it was…not great. My skills only take me so far, as does AI.) Why don’t we skip to the good stuff?

Bulky, Funky & Barn-Like

From the reader: “I would love some help! The wood blinds I have now give it a hunting cabin look. Challenges are the numerous things blocking the windows – radiators right below, a weird wall AC unit that’s been placed in the window. They’re all south and west facing so I need to block visibility at night but let in enough sunlight during the short winter days.”

OKAY! So, I’ll confess…that A/C unit above the window gave me considerable pause. After taking down all the wooden mini blinds (I have no doubt those were probably expensive and custom for those windows, so maybe try selling or giving away in the scenario where they might work for someone else’s home), what could this homeowner do? The window by the radiator was fairly easy to sort out (shades!), but that funky bottom window…hmmm. At first, I wondered what it might look like to just do a little cafe curtain there. But after I decided the whole room could use the softness and brightness of drapery panels, I concluded that a cafe curtain under full-length curtains was a bit bizarre.

Then I chewed on the idea of doing a small shade there (both Roman and pull-down/solar), but that also was just something my brain couldn’t materialize a photo of, making me think it was also a bit bizarre. It could work, maybe, but it would always be kind of strange. Then I thought, well…why do we need to cover that portion anyway if I’m suggesting adding curtain panels? Maybe some privacy film for a bit of light filtering and privacy during the day would do the trick. Yes! Sure! That’s it!

But then…silly ol’ me forgot that someone might want to run an A/C unit at night, when the shades would be closed on the other windows, and I went right back to the last idea of having a shade there. Frankly, I still don’t love that option, but I think this reader can play around with a few things. I’d start with adding panels, then adding privacy film (maybe a frosted or reeded finish so no one could make out what was happening inside at night, as opposed to a clear film that reflects back sunlight but doesn’t do much after sunset). If that feels too exposed on that one window, then I’d suggest adding a shade to match what was put on the other windows.

Now that that issue is solved, I recommended inside-mounted Roman shades for all the other windows to accommodate the radiator that seems to have a shelf that hits above the baseline of the window molding. Outside mounted shades would help to mask some of the “cabin-like” vibes we’re getting from the brown wood, but it wouldn’t look ideal to have the sill exposed on one side of the room and not the other. As for curtains, it’s hard to get a sense of style or colors in this home/room to confidently recommend something, but I would suggest something in a color or subtle pattern to inch up the decorative styling. As long as they’re hung at least halfway between the top of the window and the crown molding, it’ll add some nice drama to the room and make the smaller windows feel more grand. OH, and you may have noticed I said to add curtains to the window with the radiator. This is just to match the weight of the side of the room with the TV. Those won’t be able to close around the radiator, so they can just sit off to the side of the whole bank of windows.

Window Shopping:

Chambray Blue Roman Shade | Blue & Beige Patterned Curtains | Organic Cotton Roman Shade

As I mention in a few of these, I didn’t have much to go off for style or color palettes so I kept it neutral and color-friendly with a light, denim-y blue Roman or a soft white Roman. As for the drapery, since there would be a handful of them, I wanted something light and not too heavy but with a little impact. I found these great linen-like SUPER affordable panels (seriously, under $50 for a set of two 96-inch length) with a fun pattern that will bring some interest to the fairly neutral room. They would work either with the blue shade or the cream, I think.

Hot Radiator, Cool Window Coverings

From the reader: “I moved this past fall, and my bedroom is still a major work in progress. One of my unsolved problems: my window coverings. My two major considerations: 1. Budget — I moved with next to nothing in the way of furniture and decor, so it’s been a spendy few months trying to fill the space. I’m not looking to splurge on curtains. 2. Blackout — my apartment building has alley lights that stay on 24/7 directly outside my window, so I’m looking for something to block that out. Blackout curtains seem like the best option, but I have a radiator directly in front of my window, so I can’t get floor-length curtains. (The curtain rod is left over from the previous owner.)”

We’ve got ourselves another radiator here, but this time, it’s off-center to a window that’s nearly flush to the corner. Tricky, tricky, my friends. As much as I’d love to say “add draperies!” to make this primary bedroom feel larger and in charge-r, that’s just not going to work for this setup. But that’s okay, because it can still end up feeling lovely, functional, and beautiful. My solution? Surprise, surprise…a Roman shade with a blackout lining since the reader needs to block the alley light. To make the window feel perhaps more stately, I recommend one wide shade hung at least six inches above the window frame. This trick does the same thing as hanging draperies tall and wide: makes the window look bigger and ceilings feel taller. As this requires an outside mount, honestly, I’d just leave the mini blinds for additional light control considering this reader wanted to keep the budget minimal (otherwise, I’d recommend blackout pull-down shades).

And while this is a post about window treatments, I just want to suggest balancing the placement of the window in the room with some art pieces or even a large floor mirror to the left to fill that white space.

Window Shopping:

Navy Room Darkening Cordless Roman Shade | White Blackout Cordless Roman Shade | Bamboo Blackout Roller Shade

I kept things pretty straightforward here, as it sounds like the reader is only just beginning her decorating journey in the space. The walls seem similar to a fleshy putty, kind of like the walls in my old bedroom which I know worked great with blue, white and warm earth tones. These are three affordable options for blackout Roman shades that I think could look great in her space, depending on what direction she takes her style. The bamboo roller is by far the lowest price but doesn’t work as seamlessly as a cordless lift shade, of course. Either way, one of these will bring softness (and light blocking) to her bedroom.

A Not-Too-Young Yet Playful Playroom Solution

From the reader: “This is the bonus room above our garage, though our house is small so we do a lot of living in here. We use it for a playroom for my twin 7-year-olds, as well as a place for the whole family to watch TV and a very occasional guest room when we have a lot of guests over. There are two large windows and I’d like to get rid of the blinds and have something that looks a little nicer and ties together the room. I am challenged by the sloping ceiling by one window which can limit curtain rods. Neighbors recently built a new house on the previously vacant lot to the side of our home, so we’re needing privacy, but also something that can easily let light in (or easily be opened). Since it’s a playroom, I want something fun and safe, but since the whole family uses it, it can’t be too childish.” 

Whew! A straightforward one, thankfully. The second I saw this space, I knew the all-mighty Roman shade would be our hero. There isn’t much else this reader can do for the window on the left considering the angles of the ceiling. Hanging a curtain rod is a fool’s errand and will look dinky. I suggest doing an outside mount for a touch more visual drama, but also because I think a pull-down solar shade mounted on the inside, in place of the mini blinds, would give the reader the privacy *and* light-filtering they’re after. For the cleanest look, do each shade as wide as both windows together in the same framing.

Window Shopping:

Blockprint Custom Roman Shade | Gray Gingham Roman Shade | Striped Roman Shade

This reader mentioned wanting this room’s window coverings to be fun, safe, and not too kid-like. Any florals or shapes or patterns I found started feeling too heavy-handed, so I figured, you know…let’s stick to some classics here. Stripes, gingham, blockprint (and all cordless, as well, because…kid safety). They’ve got some blues, grays, and burgundy happening in the photo which I think would work great with the gingham and striped shades, and for some color palette expansion, this muted green leaf print might just also work nicely.

A/C Unit & Pipe: Meet Your Match

From the reader: “My issue is this is the only window in my apartment and my bedroom is on the other side of the open area on the right of the photo. The current curtains are cheap blackout ones and they feel really heavy and dull. I’d prefer a more layered look with a blackout option but lighter-looking curtains. There’s no spot in the middle to drill into (other than the top windowsill, where you can see my last effort to drill into it, and somehow stripped the screw, so I need to have that removed). I don’t think outside mount works because the pipe at the right is a heating pipe and gets very hot. I also can’t move the window AC. (Lots of very New York problems!)”

I sat and stared at this room for, I kid you not, at least an hour. Trying to find the right advice to give the reader. There’s the issue of the hot pipe, the A/C unit (at least it’s on the bottom part of the window this time!), and being a rental (I think). As the reader mentions, this is her only window, so I want to make it both stately but also not block light as best I can. The curtain panels she has don’t work for a few reasons: They’re mounted on a tension rod *inside* the window, but flow *outside* the window. They also seem to cover what maybe is a radiator at the bottom with the metal grate in front. It might also not be a radiator, but it’s something so…maybe best to keep that uncovered? She knows better than I do, though.

The reader mentioned wanting a layered look with a blackout option, but frankly, I think keeping things simple is going to be the best bet. Curtains are likely never going to work here unless they’re mounted above the window on a traditional rod, but the pipe prevents them from resting on each side. What *could* work, if she really wants panels, is to have the curtain rod be installed wide enough (again, above the window, not inside the window) that two or three panels could rest on the far right of the window instead of flanking it. It’s not often done but I do always love when I see it. That way, she could close the drapes right up until the pipe, but have them look more purposeful when open than they do right now. If that’s not an option, I’d suggest just taking them down altogether.

But she’ll still need some window coverage, and that’s where an inside mount Roman shade comes in. She could either do a blackout option there and keep the curtains light and breezy, or vice versa. The sill seems deep enough that if she installs it close to the edge, it just might be able to cover the A/C unit if she wants to, but it can also rest above it, as well. Two shades give her more flexibility, but one shade would look cleaner. Not to mention, there are so many great no-drill shade options on the market, but the way it would need to attach by pressure to both sides of the interior window frame means she could only do one wide shade, rather than two narrow ones. If she can figure out how to drill overhead, two traditionally mounted shades would work just fine.

Window Shopping:

Blackout Customizable Roman Shade | Light-Filtering Linen Shades | No-Drill Blackout Roman Shade

I didn’t so much mind the idea of white curtains this reader was using, just that it wasn’t the right color for the warmth of her walls. That’s why what I’m suggesting is still neutral (it’s a small space, so don’t want to overwhelm things), but with a bit more creamy yellow undertones to feel soft, glowy and welcoming, rather than stark. I picked a product that installs normally into the sides of the window frame, but also a no-drill solution that might work well for the problems she was having stripping screws. As for the curtains, I love these light-filtering panels with blocks of stripes for some visual interest without feeling like “PATTERN!”

We’ve reached the end here, friends. As I went back through to dot my i’s and cross my t’s, I realized it should just be retitled: Got a tricky window you need covered? Just add a Roman shade! Because yes, okay, almost all instances required one. But they really are just so helpful and versatile. Regardless, I’d love to see if any of the readers I’ve advised on the first or second post of this series, as well as this one, of course. And if any of these helped someone reading, I’d love to hear about that, too!

Now that my DNA makeup is 80% window-covering advice, I can hang up my hat…for now. I hope these posts were beneficial or at the very least fun for you. Whether to look into people’s homes (I get it, I’m a house voyeur, too), or just to get ideas for how to work around design conundrums.

See you next time, likely with more problem-solving. 🙂

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1 month ago

Love the idea of the left-side curtain for the last one! For the blinds, if she got a piece of wood 2 x 2″, set it upright between the two windows, and painted it to match the frame, she could then do two tension rod blinds that pressed against the piece of wood in the middle of the window.

1 month ago

For the first room, I would suggest shades that are able to move from the bottom up and also from the top down. So you are able to cover different parts of the window at different times of the day depending on your needs/sun/exposure/etc. For the window with the A/C unit, the shade is installed normally but the top portion of the window is not covered while the bottom portion is covered. And that way the same shades can be used on all of the windows. The big drawback? Those are pricey. But if this is a forever home, it might be worth it. Good luck!

1 month ago
Reply to  Jodie

That was my thought, too! Great minds…

1 month ago

These are some great solutions, Arlyn! All the homes are really pretty, but I’m totally smitten with the little sticks of books and the furniture in the NYC apartment. Such a great job decorating and making a small space work. Love it!

Meg Bristol
1 month ago

For the first room with the AC unit mounted in the upper window I would consider top down, Bottom up shades mounted on the outside. I’ve used these before to give privacy on the bottom with a pretty view above but full coverage when I want it or full openness if I want it. Extremely versatile and I don’t think enough people know about them.

Jen A
1 month ago

For some awesome inspiration on this topic, go look at EHD’s Velinda Hellen’s living room where she cleverly uses curtain panels to camouflage her AC unit. “How Velinda Furnished Her Living & Dining Rooms Under $4,000 from 9.9.19.

1 month ago

For the NYC apartment I was thinking that Gretchen’s wallfabric option could be a good one. If that one window wall had some interest with a fabric covering, then sort of plain shades that don’t need to stand out but do the job for privacy could work well. And in a small apartment, one fun accent wall might be nice. I always think of accent walls being high contrast, but it wouldn’t have to be. It could still be a lighter toned fabric to add texture without making the space feel closed in (like a darker wall might do).

1 month ago

I missed the call for challenging windows and I think I have the ultimate doozy: A bad plate glass faux palladian window 13 feet up on a vaulted 3rd floor wall above a set of two normal windows. We actually have one on each gable end of the house and the second one is in a living room space, so it’s fine, but the problematic one is in a bedroom and boy, is light control tricky. Currently the top half round is covered with a neat white cardboard cover I made and then we stuck in place with velcro dots. That stays in place all the time. On the bottom (two narrow windows flanking a larger central window) we installed a remote-operated motorized custom roller shade I got for a bargain on Amazon. That works great for now. The problem is that the window has failed; it’s plate glass and is sliding into the side of the house. We’re getting both of them replaced, but plan to install something way more historically appropriate (house is from 1892; this window is from 1994 and looks it, with no trim/muntins/detail on interior or exterior), but if we go to a real palladian… Read more »

1 month ago

What type of curtains do you suggest in a living room & dining room where there are baseboards? Long curtains would sit on the baseboards absorbing the heat. I don’t want to heat the curtains.

1 month ago

As the owner of the in-window AC unit, thanks for these suggestions. I have another window with an AC unit in it in my bedroom too so this gives me lots of options.