Window valances came into their own during the Victorian era, spanning the mid- to late-1800s. Victorian homes were all about lavishness and excess: ornate patterns and flourishes, heavy tapestries, rich wall coverings, and dramatic window treatments were popular home decorations at the time.
While curtains and draperies insulated homes in the winter, cooled them in the summer, and offered privacy from prying eyes, valances have primarily been an aesthetic feature that conceals any hardware or drilled holes at the top of the window, which can sometimes be unsightly.
But somewhere along the way, valances got saddled with a reputation for being outdated and frumpy. Many associate them with the white, lacy, ruffled affairs that might be seen on Grandma’s windows, or the shapeless, low-quality, garishly patterned versions that gave valances a bad name in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s.
So are valances out of style, definitively? We asked half a dozen sought-after interior designers to weigh in from across the country on the fate of valances in modern design. As you redecorate your home or prepare to stage it for the market, keep their advice and photos (which they were kind enough to share!) in mind.
Faux Roman valance frames Manhattan view
Kathie Chrisicos, one of New England’s most respected interior designers and former president of the International Furnishings and Design Association (IFDA), believes when it comes to styling with valances, less is more. She, among other designers we spoke with, often recommends the streamlined faux Roman shade:
“If designed and implemented correctly, the faux Roman can be an elegant solution to either disguise the top mechanism of a shade or to add fabric and warmth to a room.”
In this Manhattan kitchen, Chrisicos used a simple valance that tied in with the neutral color scheme and helped soften the space without impeding the city views:
Chrisicos used soft, Roman-style valances in a creamy, neutral shade to soften this seating area without blocking the natural light:
Arched valance ties together bathroom design
Amy Youngblood, a designer in Cincinnati, Ohio who has been designing residential interiors for more than 20 years, still uses valances in her spaces, although she says the look and feel of them has completely changed from the days of swags and jabots.
Valances aren’t limited to kitchen and living areas. Youngblood used an arched valance as a finishing touch for this modern bathroom:
In another design by Youngblood, a simple valance is mounted over a transom to frame the top of the window. The dark brown banding pulls in the light fixture:
Valance livens up neutral kitchen
Jess Harrington, owner of Boston-based staging and design firm JessFinessed, says valances were a peak treatment option in the ’90s, especially jewel tones, pastels and country-style prints. These days, most of her clients prefer bare windows if light filtering and privacy aren’t a concern. However, sometimes she’ll incorporate valances. This sleek patterned valance adds a modern touch and splash of color to an otherwise monochromatic kitchen:
Custom valance pairs with unique artwork
Award-winning luxury interior designer Pamela O’Brien of Pamela Hope Designs, based in Houston, Texas, says that decorative window treatments — including valances — are alive and well in her area, although they’ve changed a lot since the days of the matronly, ornate styles of past decades.
She opts for simple, streamlined valances paired with functional blinds or shades. “We use valances to help raise the eye, sometimes creating the illusion of a taller window,” she says. “We also use them to create interest on a large wall or a wall with a lot of large windows.”
In this design, O’Brien created a shaped, upholstered cornice to complement the client’s artwork. A solid pink fabric was used to create a subtle contrast welt:
Here, O’Brien used a valance to add height and drama to a colorful bedroom. She selected a neat, menswear-style, black-and-white fabric and lined the pleats with solid black to create depth:
Flat valance complements living room design
New York City based interior designer Cathy Hobbs appeared on Good Morning America and was a finalist in the HGTV series Design Star. Her staging firm serves the Tri-State area of New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. In this design by Hobbs, flat valances add an additional subtle pattern to warm up this living/dining space:
What to look for when selecting a valance
Now that you’ve seen some excellent examples of how valances can be used in modern interior design, you may be eager to funnel the inspiration into your own home. Every window and every room is unique, so there’s no such thing as a universal valance.
The shape and size of the window, the design and colors of the room, any mechanical limitations for installation, and personal preference are all factors to consider when shopping for toppers. The designers we spoke with shared the most important things they look for when selecting valances to enhance their clients’ windows:
Youngblood prefers valances to fit snugly, ideally outside the moulding, approximately 1-1/2” beyond the mounting on each side and in proportion with the width of the window. She also likes to mount valances higher if possible, to give the illusion of more height in the room.
And the old “measure twice, cut once” rule applies here. Kitchy Crouse, an interior designer in Southern California who was named “Best of Houzz” for design, stresses the importance of getting the windows measured by a professional before purchasing valances.
“Windows can be tricky, as the bottom measurement usually doesn’t match with the top one,” she explains. “And because valances are made to a custom size, you can’t return them if something goes wrong.” Some window treatment companies will offer measuring services for free or for a small fee.
Most window valances are made from cotton, chintz (a high-sheen cotton), jacquards (cotton or polyester with a pattern woven into the fabric), woven polyester, or a blend of cotton/rayon or cotton/linen. Silk valances are also an option, but they aren’t as durable or water-resistant, so a quality liner is important.
When choosing a valance fabric, Crouse matches it to any existing window treatments and furnishings for a cohesive look. She prefers a mid-weight fabric. But a room’s natural light is another big factor to consider when choosing a valance fabric.
“Pay attention to the way light hits the room throughout different times of day, and be mindful of how much light you prefer,” Harrington recommends. “You can choose a light-filtering liner or a blackout liner. Or, opt for a top-down shade that allows you to pull the shade down from the top, giving you the benefit of letting plenty of light through while maintaining privacy.”
Youngblood’s go-to valance is a simple box style for modern spaces or an arched valance for more traditional rooms. If the main fabric is very light and neutral, she often adds a 2”-3” banding at the base to add visual interest. Some of the designers we chatted with also incorporate a contrasting welt for a pop of style.
Inside vs. outside mount
When it comes to the “ins or outs” of mounting window valances, the short answer is: It depends. Youngblood ideally likes to mount outside of the moulding, as she thinks it frames the window nicely. But in “quirky” older homes, she occasionally mounts to the moulding when there is no space available outside for mounting.
For bedrooms, Crouse points out that using an inside mount will leave a little gap where light can come in. If you want full blackout, choose an outside mount to eliminate that ambient light.
Should valances come off when selling your home?
Like everything else in the world of windows, the question of whether to remove a valance when staging and showing a home depends on the specifics of the situation. Christie Wilkins, a top real estate agent in Duluth, Georgia, says that if her sellers have valances that are more dated-looking, she’ll recommend removing them before selling. But if they’re more of a modern style and complement the home’s aesthetic, it may be OK to leave them. “It’s really a case-by-case basis,” she says.
If any of these apply to a valance, it’s probably a good idea to remove it:
- It’s outdated or doesn’t complement the home’s style. “Some of the more scarf, tulip and tie-up valances can be read as dated,” says Harrington. In this case, remove it in favor of a cleaner look.
- The valance is limiting natural light in a room. “In this case, I would remove it to maximize the amount of light while potential buyers are coming in,” says Crouse. “No-one likes a dark room.”
- It has a busy or floral pattern. When staging a home, it’s best to opt for neutral designs that will appeal to a broad base of buyers. Unless the valance is a neutral color in either a solid or a very subtle pattern, it’s best to remove it.
- The valance limits the view from the window. Any window treatments that cover up too much of a window should be hung higher or removed to expand the window view, says O’Brien.
On the other hand, if a valance is neutral, simple, and high-quality, it can create the perception of a custom-designed home, which could add value.
“Well-designed window treatments are an important part of high-end interior design and can enhance the aesthetics of a home,” says O’Brien. “If questioning the valances when staging a home to sell, I’d suggest taking down inexpensive, ready-made options and only leaving high-quality window treatments.”
Header Image Source: (Elis Blanca / Shutterstock)