Help picking mid-century living room window treatments

Oh dear, can I tell you what visions have been floating around in my head lately as I try and drift off to sleep? Window treatments. I hope you have a cup of tea as this is a long one. If you care not about mid-century window treatments then I won’t be offended in the slightest if you click away now. Get out while you still can.

I realized recently with a nudge from Pam at Retro Renovation that I never followed up on the progress of our living room after last summer’s retro living room fail post. Whoops! Well the short answer is you could say it’s coming along. If by ‘coming along’ you meant we did a bunch of work in September including painting and swapping sofas, then didn’t think about it for several months. And now once again are inspired to finish up the room. If that’s what you meant then like I said, it’s coming along.

I want to get a few more ideas nailed down before I share more, since we literally just changed part of the color palette yesterday! I promise I’ll share some of the details of how we’re mixing modern and mid-century in our casual living room to maximize comfort and storage. Plus you’ll get to hear the great story of a piece of vintage furniture we’ll be getting in the room later this year.

But today I want to talk about the biggest remaining source of headaches in that room. Window treatments. Oh good grief. Right now, we have the vertical vinyl blinds that came with the house. They’re not horrifying, and I’ve seen some in 50s decorating books, but they aren’t my cup of tea. I swear a good salesman must have driven through our area and sold them to everyone who has a ranch, because I see them all over the place.

Oh hey, you can see the color we painted the walls! It’s a light blue-gray. I never dreamed I’d pick a gray for walls but 5 months later and we have no regrets. Plus it works nicely with all the colors we want to include in this room (hint: those greens you see won’t be included) and the art we’ll be featuring.

Anyway, from the start I wanted pinch pleat drapes that could draw shut but primarily be open most of the time, with something behind them for privacy from our city street: sheers or 2″ vertical blinds, probably. Pleated shades and roller shades are both nice, but I want something that allows light but a little visibility at the same time. Something that lets me look out like a nosy old lady without having to draw them up and let everyone know I’m being a nosy old lady.

Both sheers or blinds and pinch pleat drapes would be appropriate for our 1955 home. Mel wasn’t a huge fan of sheers and we both decided that in our less-than-formal living room, drapes and sheers may be a bit much anyway. But I’ve also seen some examples of drapes and blinds that I like, and now we’re pretty much settled on this combo. Although white, off-white or light gray, not like these 50s red ones, though they’re pretty brilliant!

{Source: The Harp Lounge, 1950s Australian Interiors}

I really intended to use the window to showcase some great retro fabric, but when I calculated out the yardage required for pinch pleat drapes… WHOA. Cost prohibitive for hiring it out or even doing it myself. So that’s scratched off the list.

I can buy something off the shelf like the J.C. Penney ones I keep hearing about on Retro Renovation, but that would mean picking a light-colored neutral. I was really kind of bummed about this at first since there’s not yet a whole lot of color in the room yet, but then I realized something: you know that green patterned chair? We’ve planned all along to get it recovered in a solid color. Yesterday I realized I can pick a fun pattern for it instead!

Still debating on fabric, but it’ll be something like the below. I love the teal bottom one but I’m leaning towards the top one (top is from Melinamade, bottom from Tonic Living). The blue would pull in the teal from our rug (without being almost the same color, like the bottom one would be). The grayish goes with the walls and our sofa. And the pink could then be used as an accent in the room, which is totally different than our original color palette but is secretly exciting me. But we’ll see what the sample I ordered actually looks like.

We still have some kinks to work out with the windows, so I’m curious about your opinions. It’s a big wall of windows if you take a look at the measurements. With the vertical blinds open you can see that it’s a big picture window and two small double-hung windows totaling about 112″.

(It’s worth noting while that looks like stained wood, it’s actually painted and the paint is chipping badly, so eventually we’ll sand and paint it white to match the crown molding.)

Now we have two main decisions to make…

1- Where should we put drapery panels?

You can see right away there’s not enough room between the edges of the windows and the wall for the drapery stackback to not obscure a large portion of the small side windows. Only getting indirect northern light in this room, we need all the access to the light we can get! So I was thinking two sets of drapes. A panel to hang on either side of the small windows (going as close to the edge of the wall as we can), and then a panel to hang just inside the edges of the picture window. I think they wouldn’t be too heavy as to obscure too much of the window.

Something like this mockup (but obviously without our vertical blinds in the background)…

I guess what I would do is order two sets of drapes that each could cover half the width, so in total all 4 would draw shut on a traverse rod. (I’d have to wrap my brain around traverse rods, too.) The drapes could either be cream or a darker gray.

The other option would be to ditch drawing drapes entirely, and get one pinch pleat stationary panel to put on either side of the outside of the windows, maybe even starting at just under the crown molding. If we did that, I’d feel comfortable with picking a great retro fabric since it wouldn’t be umpteen million yards to buy, or I might even be able to find 2 vintage panels that matched.

It would look something like this (again minus our vertical blinds)…

How the heck do people even hang stationary panels though, especially pinch pleats? Would you really put up a 112″+ rod just for two 22″-ish wide panels on the edges? Do you just mount them to the wall somehow? I can’t seem to find any info online about that.

2- How should we hang the blinds?

I’ve investigated and companies make blinds as wide as our entire window area, but does that seem kind of crazy big? How would they have done it in a mid-century home?

Option A. Get one big honkin’ huge set of blinds that spans the entire width of all windows. All 112″ of it. I would go for the kind with the cloth tape which is reminiscent of mid-century blinds and would have the added bonus of breaking up the big long horizontal lines. I could possibly even go for a contrasting color tape like they sometimes did in the 50s (depending on where we order the blinds… I’m not a big fan of the color options I’ve seen on for the tape, I wish they had gray if I was going to go for a contrast).

Option B. Get three blinds, mounting inside the trim. One for each side window and one for the middle picture window, mounting inside the trim. (Even though the side blinds would only be 21″ wide.)

Option C. Get three blinds, but mount them outside the trim. That would have each set of blinds line up next to each other in front of the trim, so I’m not sure if there’s any advantage over Option A.

Truthfully none of these would really look any different to the eye if we do 4 drapery panels, as the drapes would be covering the trim between each window. But they would look different if we do stationary panels, which would not cover any of the windows. I’m kind of leaning towards A, since I’ve seen some photos of 50s rooms with mighty big windows, and they appear to be using one long set of blinds. And since the side windows are so small, I feel like individual blinds might look kind of silly.

I swear, I have contemplated every combination of mid-century appropriate window treatments known to man. Cornices, pinch pleat drapes, sheers, roller shades, pleated shades, 2″ aluminum blinds, you name it, I’ve thought about it. Endlessly. Until my brain hurt. I feel like I’ve thought about this topic to death. I’m ready to commit to a decision already. So if you have any words of encouragement or suggestions, I’m all ears!

{Source: Good Housekeeping 1953, via Flickr}

Filed: The Golly Ranch House

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Golly, 29 Comments!

  • You can do stationary panels on short rods at each end instead of putting a rod all the way across – I think that looks nice! I would mount the blinds inside the trim and have three sets – one for each window. Mostly cause that is what we did in our house!


  • I’m in accord with Elisa. If you have blinds on the windows, you probably won’t draw the curtains all that much. Then you can have an exciting print (new/vintage) without breaking the bank. Plus you can use the remnants for a few pillows!


  • If it were my house…
    I would select one large blind. They’re more expensive than smaller blinds but will tie your windows together. the only benefit of individual blinds would be the ability to open the side ones completely while leaving the center one down. Since they’re horizontal blinds though i doubt you will do that very often (if at all).

    for the drapes though, why can’t you have pinch pleat panels one each side that still draw closed? I know most panels come in one width, but you’re not limited to that if you look around. I have some of the jcpenny pinch pleat drapes in my dining room and they come in multiple lengths and widths. Note that the width they give you is the bottom width – NOT the top width. Mine are a dark peacock blue, so you’re not limited to neutral colors (although they are all solid colors).

    I lived in a 1954 house that had the original traverse rods with both sheers and pinch pleat drapes and found them very functional though I do agree that using blinds would give you a more causal look. I’m not sure why you need a traverse rod for your drapes. Whether you select individual panels or two wide panels, you can hand pinch pleat drapes from rings on a standard curtain rod and open and close them by hand. The benefit of the traverse rod is that it maintains even spacing on both sides.


    • Thanks for the input! You’re right, I doubt we’d ever feel the need to open blinds on the smaller windows individually. We’d probably just open the blinds to the way we like them and rarely touch them again.

      To clarify it’s not that I -couldn’t- have one much wider pinch pleat on each side that still draw close in the middle (I know JCP will do that). It’s that for it to be long enough to draw all the way to the middle, I think when it’s open and pushed to the sides it would be so much fabric that it wouldn’t fit between the edge of the wall and the opening of the double-hung windows.

      Also, I just prefer the look of traverse rods when using pinch pleats on a big window vs. a standard rod and rings although I know that’s definitely an option with them. 🙂


  • I prefer the look of four sets of drapes and if you went with that, I would do three sets of blinds. Me, personally, I would keep the drapes neutral. Only because I get bored easily and like to change things alot and drapes are expensive so I would keep them simple so that they would go with whatever I chose to put in the room.


  • I quite like the look of the four drapes actually, though if you go with two stationary ones then you can mount them on a short rod at each side. I remember my nanna having these in her window with net curtain panels on them. For the blind, I’d go with three separate ones rather than one big one. That’s a lot of width to have on a single blind and very wide ones can have more problems drawing up smoothly, they can be heavy to pull up and more prone to cords/tapes snapping as a result (we got LOTS of people coming in with this problem when I worked in a curtain-making shop). Depends on the blind of course, but that’s been my general experience with wider ones.


  • I was a drapery seamstress back in the late 70’s and was raised in a 50’s decorated house and not a fashionable one. You can do fixed panels 54 inches of fabric will pleat down to about 25 inches. They do make rods that will hold a curtain panel but will swing out of the way for more light. They also make roller shades that light the light in so they are private but not opaque. My house had roller shades in all the rooms but the bathroom. It had a blind. My grandparents house even more 50’s than my house had shades and very ruffled curtains in the summer and swapped them out for heaver drapes for winter. You can PM me on Raverly “Pinklady” and I can give you some sewing hint if you need them.


  • Hmm…first off, LOVE the wall color! On the traverse rods with four panels, would you use two traverse rods and have them stack behind each other when open? I can’t figure that part out. I’m glad that you’ve got stack-back figured out. Our front window is the entire wall and we didn’t fully grasp the concept when we ordered ours from JC Penney’s. Now when they’re open, there is so much window that we can’t even see. I mean, it couldn’t be helped but we certainly didn’t expect it.

    What is your view outside of that window? Would you ever want it completely revealed? I do like the idea of having some short panels on the sides so that you can use one of those great fabrics. Those cute old timey wide metal blinds could look nice. We had those on some of our windows when we moved in. They’re period and are great for blocking out air and light. Though, whether you use one big one or one big and two small….my jury is still out. If you do Penney’s for anything, do go online and register for their email list. They give you a big coupon that can normally be used for custom drapes along with everything else. And they can make pinch pleats out of any of the fabrics that they have in their swatch books.


    • Oh shoot RIGHT! I totally forgot about the traverse rods and how they actually *function*, they probably wouldn’t be able to do what I proposed with the 4 panels. Thank you for that reminder! I guess in that case I would have to do a double rod, or go with one of those normal rods and rings so that it could all just be maneuvered by hand. Although in the end I suppose obscuring part of the window in the middle or at the sides with the stackback is kind of 6 one/half a dozen the other! Maybe that’s a good reason to just go with cute panels off to the sides and call it a day with that. Hmm.

      The view outside the window is a 2-flat and an alley across the street, so there isn’t any circumstance where we’d ever want it completely revealed, though I don’t mind looking at it slightly out through blind slats or whatever. But I’d never want to completely look out (or have people look in).

      Good to know about the Penney’s email list, thanks for the tip! And glad you like the wall color. 😀


  • I have a fantastic 1950’s decorating book- I think its from Simplicity with loads of info on window treatments!! I’ll try to get some of them scanned this week and I’ll email them to you for inspiration 🙂 I LOOOVE your fabric choices. I just bought some barkcloth curtains in the same color palette as the top selection, going to pick up some fabric for throw pillows and new couch cushions to match tonight! 🙂


    • Thanks Brittany, that book sounds amazing! If you do get a chance to scan any pages I’d absolutely love to see it!! 😀 Hope you’ll show your curtains and the pillows you make on your blog, sounds great!


  • The wall colour looks great!
    I agree with Ginny, and would be concerned about the implications of the weight of a single long blind.
    Are you thinking the wide slats?

    Have you looked at solar shades? That’s what I have at my house and I love them! You can choose how opaque you want them. Mine are enough that you can still see the shape of things outside and they let lots of light in.

    Back when I was still doing interior design, I used these several times and they are really pretty. The sheer fabric between the slats almost glows as it filters the light. They also give the appearance of sheers, but aren’t as fussy.
    Lots of places carry both styles, just using Smith and Noble because I am familiar with them 🙂

    If you can find pinch pleat drapery in a solid colour, on a traverse rod, at a reasonable price, I would say go with it! That just seems so perfectly Mid-century to me.

    Have you thought about an upholstered cornice board in a Mid-century pattern? It would still use a fair amount of fabric, but nothing compared to full-on drapes.


  • I’m wondering if you would be interested in doing an upholstered pelmet over the pinch pleat drapes?

    The pelmet would hide the rod for stationery drapes. I would chose neutral drapes with a really punchy fabric for the pelmet. I really like the boomerang barkcloth design for the chair – it would be so fun on a pelmet. Hits of pink sounds like so much fun! Plus, the wall colour you chose is just lovely!


  • Love your progress so far. My vote is for three sets of blinds mounted inside the trim and hanging the drapes just on the ends of the window. I’m sure whatever you and Mel decide on will look great!


  • We have just had pinchpleat velvet drapes with blockout and sheers installed in three rooms. They are excellent for insulation and keep the house incredibly cool. The big disappointment which we didn’t anticipate was that when fully opened they obscured the leadlights at each end of the 4 panelled bay window. This was especially disappointing as we had the leadlights repaired and restored and then we couldn’t see them! Solution – curtain tie-backs! The ropes bunch the drapes up nicely and now we can see the beautiful leadlights as well as enjoy the drapes. There is always a solution. Good luck.


  • Heah Tash,

    If you and Mel have time you should hit up some thrift stores in the suburbs, I always see vintage drapes for sale! Then you don’t even have to make them.


  • Defo like the first idea for where to hang the drapes and the melinmade fabric.


  • I like the paint color you chose! It looks really nice. As far as the windows are concerned, I think pinch pleats with sheers behind them would look nice if you’re trying to maintain some level of privacy. I would get pinch pleats that cover the entire window, so they could be shut for maximum privacy when you want. It is a large window but I have a window wall that I managed to cover by getting two sets of drapes and sewing two panels together for each side so I ended-up with two large drapes. (I say “sewing”, but I really safety pinned them together three years ago with the intention of sewing them and haven’t quite gotten around to doing it. You would have actually sewn them together by now because you have mad skills.) I hunted around on the internet and bought them from because they had a nice selection and fair prices. They have a whole “pinch pleated drapes” section under the Curtains tab. So far, I’ve been very happy with them. Even if you don’t get ones that shut and use them with blinds, I think drapes would look fantastic at that nice big window and really soften those lines. That’s my two cents. At any rate, it’s one of those sort of “happy” dilemmas that’s kind of frustrating but mostly fun.

    P.S. I know what you mean about thinking about things like drapes, window coverings or, in my case, pillow covers, when you’re drifting off to sleep. I’ve had more than one “decorating dream”, ha ha.


  • I would go with the pinch pleat drapes at the outside of the window and with traverse mounted sheers that can be closed. You can get sheers in a kind of nubby, more opaque fabric that has a mid century vibe- they don’t have to be all light and frilly.

    For us, we have a similar window with drapes at the ends (which we never close) and a cellular shade that we close at night for privacy and to help keep out the cold. That’s not too mid century, but necessary for leaky older windows, and it practically disappears when it’s all the way up.


  • First off I want to say I have no help to offer, however I do feel your pain. I live in a 1921 Califnornia Bungalow home and I have 21 BIG windows…Its part of what attracted me to the home but yikes!!! windos treatments are a huge and very expensive PITA!!! The house came with the dreaded verticals (HATE HATE!) and I have been slowly replacing them with sheers and wooden roman blinds, all have been hand me downs. Im still searching for just the right thing. I appreciate all the comments and suggestions!


  • That’s really a difficult decision – I’m sure you will choose the best and tasteful option!


  • The colour you picked for your ways is absolutely beautiful. We opted for a somewhat similar (but brighter and bluer) shade (called Jamestown) in two of our upstairs rooms (Tony’s office and the bathroom) and I couldn’t be happier that we did. Anytime I’m in either room, I feel so centered and serene. In fact, while in Tony’s office the other day, I commented to him that I’m not sure if I could get much work done if I spent at lot of time in there, because I’d be more likely to drift off into a peaceful meditative state. 🙂

    I’m not sure if I can be of much help on the blinds front. I tend to like horizontal blinds myself and/or curtains, and turn to those time and time again wherever we live (all the blinds in our current home are horizontal).

    You have awesome taste and style, dear Tasha, and I’m sure whatever you settle on for your window dressings will look amazing!

    ♥ Jessica


  • I really love the idea of blinds paired with the two stationary drapes. I think the option of swing-away curtain rods for those two panels would be great for light control. As a veteran of the gigantor-homemade-pinch-pleat-curtain wars, smaller is always easier and way less stressful (and less expensive). Looking good so far!!


  • I haveno advice on the windows (though I see you’ve fixed that anyway),. but I love the grey walls. We will be painting our new living room grey as well


  • I was wondering if you could possibly share the outcome. I have the EXACT picture window and trying to figure out how to replace those EXACT verticals with something that looks nice, lets light in and also lets the full window view come through if desired. So curious how yours ended up!


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