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INTERIORS : New Views on Window-Dressing


Jeannette Clark put up with the old Venetian blinds and drapes over the arched picture window in her living room for about a year. Then one day she yanked them down and left the architecturally impressive window bare.

She liked the look so much she took down her other window coverings, exposing the natural woodwork of the side windows in her vintage house in Orange. Then she and her husband, Dennis, began collecting stained glass. Looking for a place to display it, they hit on the idea of suspending some of the pieces in front of their own windows--creating a kind of stained glass screen.

"I don't like curtains anyway," she said. "I like to look out." Her sentiments reflect a national trend away from the traditional drapery treatments that many of us grew up with. Even the pinch-pleat draw drape that has served so well for so long has fallen out of favor, say designers and others in the window covering trade.

What do Americans want when it comes to window coverings?

Viewing power, said David Weiss, senior market research analyst with the St. Louis-based National Decorating Products Assn. The trade organization for decorative product retailers includes more than 3,000 members who carry window coverings. "A large segment of the population wants to see outside," said Weiss. "Otherwise, why have windows?"

Weiss believes there is a national trend toward such alternative window coverings as swags, shutters with top treatments and new products that create a soft, sheer look in blinds.

In Southern California, light and space and view--if you have one--are everything. Tract home builders have even started using glass block, last popular in the 1930s, to give both privacy and light in bathrooms, and high clerestory windows in living areas to create balanced light.

"That's what people want," said Susan White of White Design in Corona del Mar.

Personally, White likes to see outside.

"If I didn't have to use window coverings, I wouldn't. If a house has nice architectural elements, why cover them up?" she asks. In her own house, White has no coverings on her bedroom window, which looks out on a courtyard and has complete privacy.

Still, there are good reasons to have some sort of covering on many windows: privacy and sun control are at the top of the list.

Cost is a major factor in what people decide to cover their windows with and that's why mini-blinds are so popular, White said. The ubiquitous blinds make a lot of sense because they are inexpensive and can be adjusted with a twirl of a slender rod.

But many of her clients' homes have large expanses of glass, some that look out over ocean views. To keep the view and to counter the sun-fading of fabric and carpets and the blinding glare that is hard on the eyes, she's used these solutions:

* A retractable Roman shade, made of the same mesh material used in patio furniture upholstery and installed inside a kitchen atrium window to control the sun.

* Shoji screens, with wood grids and fiberglass inserts that look like rice paper, installed on sliding glass doors and over windows. The screens let light in, offer insulation and privacy and have the added bonus of covering up plain-wrap aluminum window frames. They go well with a contemporary look.

* Motorized outdoor awnings that let home owners control the amount of light that enters at different times of the year. Because of the angle, the low winter sun actually does more damage to interiors than the high summer sun, White said.

* Twig and twine shades in natural tones that filter the sunlight but still let you see the view outside. White said the shades are perfect for the California climate and create a soft, filtered effect.

Filtered light is something White believes people want today.

"They seem drawn to it; they seem more comfortable," she said. On a recent job, she used a semi-sheer fabric, pleated very loosely and hung on an iron rod with braided iron rings. A wand pulls the drapes closed to give privacy and sun control in the master bedroom while the ocean view can still be seen through the fabric.

For another ocean-front dweller, White helped select upholstery fabrics with a slightly faded, sand-washed look because the client admitted that she loved her view so much she probably wouldn't close her drapes much anyway.

In another case, a temporary solution became permanent. It was inexpensive as well. To see if she would like the look of an outdoor retractable awning, White sent a Newport Beach client to Pier 1 Imports to buy a roll-up bamboo shade.

"She loved the bamboo. After six months or so they get pretty shabby but she decided she would just buy new ones every so often. Her carpet is a sandy color, the furniture is in natural-looking fabrics and the bamboo shades worked well for her," White said.

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