The Art of the Window: Sheer Madness

A sheer curtain billowing in the breeze often conjures up images of tropical paradises, and while we wouldn’t want to dispel that fantasy, we think these other uses for the diaphanous panels just may blow you away.

1. Accent the architecture. Sheers aren’t just for highlighting windows. Desk nooks, window seats and other alcoves can feel even more special with a little enclosure. The added privacy is especially welcome if the space does double duty as makeshift sleeping quarters for guests. Sheers achieve the effect without sealing off the space from the rest of the room.

2. Surround the tub. This elegant bathroom owes its charms to a white-on-white palette and the flowing fabric that cascades down around the bathtub. I’m a firm believer that unexpected touches (like draperies encasing a tub or an elegant chandelier in a utilitarian space) breathe magic into our daily activities and prove that luxury needn’t cost much.

3. Lend privacy without sacrificing light. Studio dwellers come up with some of the most inventive ways to divide their spaces. A floor-to-ceiling wall here would’ve chopped the layout into dark cells. Instead, the sheers (and the glass blocks) help separate the living area from the bedroom and bath while allowing light to pass through.
4. Try them in color. We usually call upon sheers to set a light and airy tone, but a swath of chic gray material casts an entirely different glow over this living room, elevated by fine art and black furniture. Anything too dark at the window would seem melodramatic or even somber, yet white could undo the sense of drama and maturity. Right in the middle, a sultry gray does the trick.

5. Surprise with black. Here’s eye candy that defies any stereotype you’ve ever held about sheers. There’s no rule that says they must be white and floaty. Sometimes they’re the opposite: black and grounded.

6. Add pattern. Not only do sheers come in a range of colors, but they come in a plethora of patterns too. Billowy white sheers are the most familiar image in our collective imagination, but there’s a world of possibility beyond them. Robert Allen is one of my favorite sources for sheers of all kinds.

7. Put a fabric band below. The unexpected duality of a sheer fabric joined with an opaque one creates an enchanting look but comes with caveats. First, make sure both fabrics are of a similar weight to avoid undue stress at the seams. (That goes for any drapery with multiple fabrics.) Second. since you won’t be lining these, forget about using silk, which requires multiple layers of lining to protect the fabric. The 100 percent linen here works well.

8. Put a fabric band above. The opaque band at the top of these window treatments acts as a valance to the translucent fabric below.

9. Layer under drapes. Sheers are at their most versatile when paired with fully lined treatments. Together, they offer more privacy and light control than each layer can individually. A common way to achieve this flexibility is by mounting sheers underneath another drapery.

Designer tip: To hang two treatments on top of each other, have the sheer layer made with standard 3½-inch returns and the heavier layer made with at least 5½-inch returns to ensure that both can move independently without any friction. As for hardware, you’ll need a double rod and double brackets.

10. Go to great lengths. When there’s no bold pattern or color to quickly tire of, a sheer is an excellent candidate for a wall-length treatment. By diffusing light and obscuring objects, it adds subtle mystery to the space and drives us to venture deeper into the room to explore what lies behind the curtain.

11. Divide a room. Many people call the traverse or zip rod that’s holding these draperies a “hospital track” because it looks like the ones used to section off hospital rooms to accommodate multiple patients. Our open floor plans can benefit from this flexibility as well when sheers are used to temporarily divide rooms without eliminating the sense of spaciousness.

12. Double up. Two layers of sheers grace these arched windows to create an ethereal cloister with a meditative quality. Although you may not think to use sheers alone in your large common areas, they can offer a surprising level of privacy when fabricated to be extra full. Two layers of full sheers will nearly obscure the activities of those inside (though, naturally, silhouettes will still be seen at night when the room is brightly lit).

Designer tip: “Fullness” refers to the amount of fabric used to cover a given stretch of window. I recommend “three times fullness” for sheers. This means that for every inch of window, you need 3 inches of fabric. It’s the resulting gathers in the material that obscure those inside the home.

13. Bring them to bed. A canopy bed, while exquisite, chews up a lot of real estate and can overpower a room when combined with a heavy bedscape. Since, to me, half the point of having a canopy bed is to dress it in layers to create a little haven, I look to sheers to achieve the coziness without weighing down a small space.

14. Create a headboard. Sheers and canopies aren’t only for four-poster beds, however. Even on the tightest budget, you can string up some unhemmed gauzy fabric to create a headboard-like backdrop behind the bed and even a little canopy above.

15. Soften industrial edges. I can scarcely imagine a better window treatment for this loft, with its exposed brick and beams. Draping casement fabrics everywhere adds delicacy without changing the character of these architectural features. This bedroom gushes romantic simplicity and takes full advantage of the high ceilings from which the bed canopy and draperies tumble like gossamer spiderwebs.

Designer tip: Sheers are especially divine as a bed or daybed canopy in tropical-style rooms, where they mimic the mosquito nets that are so ubiquitous (and practical) in those lower latitudes.

16. Stand in for a wall. We saw above how sheers can create movable walls to divide a large space. Here, they’re hung to form a fluid partition that allows the bed to be placed in a position that may not otherwise make sense: smack in the center of the room.

17. Provide a finishing touch. A style truism attributed to Coco Chanel is that “elegance is elimination.” It’s in this spirit that we can also gauge the impact of design elements on a space by imagining the room without them. Casting our eyes upon this understated breakfast nook, it’s clear that the sheer shades are the final, essential touch that gives the room its comfort and softness.
Kate Jackson Design
18. Connect with nature. Let’s not kid ourselves — a sheer’s tendency to billow at an open window is one of its most alluring features. Perhaps no other design element can offer such a visceral connection to the outdoors as sheers on a breezy day. They engage multiple senses: We hear the fabric rustling, we feel the breeze on our skin, we even see the current undulating through the curtains.
19. Block UV rays. A sheer solar shade is the perfect solution when you need protection from ultraviolet light at the window but don’t want anything that will mitigate your views or connection with the outdoors. And it’s the tofu of window treatments: It’ll take on the “flavor” of the space and adapt to any decor.

20. Take them outside. Outdoor drapes accept a duty that goes beyond their indoor counterparts: providing protection. Although gauzy sheers don’t actually guard against the elements, they do evoke the security of the indoors and offer the pure pleasure of looking out from within.

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