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What is a Valance?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 16, 2024
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The word "valance" can be used to describe many things, but in home decorating, it describes various styles of window treatments. A valance is usually a short curtain or drape that only covers the top portion of a window as well as any window treatment hardware. The latter is the main function, and a valance may be used for this purpose on its own or along with curtains, draperies, or blinds.

Using a valance is a great way to improve the look of blinds, not only because it hides the hardware, but also because the flow of the fabric softens up those hard lines. It is also a good way to add a splash of color, since blinds tend to be neutral. Another good use is to treat windows that are set on odd angles or those that are smaller or otherwise different from other windows in the space.

A valance may also be used as the only form of window treatment. Some homeowners prefer not to block the view or to allow more natural light to filter into the space. A simple valance can also help a small room feel more open and airy than more elaborate window coverings. It is a good option if privacy is not an issue with a particular window or set of windows.

Sometimes, people use the terms "cornice" and "valance" interchangeably, although there is a difference. A cornice is generally made from rigid materials and then painted or covered with coordinating fabrics or trims. It too is used to disguise curtain rods and other hardware. A valance, on the other hand, is made of fabric, which frequently matches other treatments.

There are many different styles such as the balloon valance, the pleated valance, and the swag or jabot, for example. A balloon valance has layers and often filler is placed between the layers for a fuller, more dimensional look. A pleated valance may use a box pleat, which is square, a pinched pleat, which is like that found on high quality draperies, or a spaced pleat, which includes fewer pleats that have an equal distance between them. The swag style is longer at each end raised in the center, while the jabot is a draped effect, which can be either structured or unstructured.

A valance is often favored by the do it yourself decorator because it is so simple and inexpensive to make. It only requires a small amount of fabric, and a basic flat valance only requires sewing a few straight lines. Making valances is a great way to add a fresh, new touch to existing decor.

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Discussion Comments
By shell4life — On May 25, 2012

Scarf valances are some of the easiest to maintain. You simply drape them across the curtain rod, and the excess material hangs down on either side, so it resembles curtains that have been pulled back.

I pull one side of the scarf valance up through the rod and drape the material over. I then pull the other side behind the rod, so there is a slight twist at either end. I can pull the middle down as much as I want to adjust the coverage through the center.

These valances are easy to take down when they need washing. It is so much easier than having to pull a curtain off a rod inch by inch.

By seag47 — On May 24, 2012

@OeKc05 – I love having both curtains and valances. To me, a set of drapes without a valance on top just looks so bare, like something is missing.

I adore swag valances. A couple of windows in my house have red swag valances that are longer on the edges and gradually get shorter near the middle.

I also love swag cascade valances. This is the kind that is gathered in the middle, creating several horizontal pleats on either side. This is the style often used in clip art for things like election buttons or stage curtains.

The swag cascade style looks the most glamorous of them all. This is probably because we associate it with politicians and Hollywood.

By OeKc05 — On May 23, 2012

I like the pleated valance style. The house I lived in while growing up had pleated valances topping the blinds in every window, and I became accustomed to the look.

I now have valances on top of my curtains. It may seem kind of redundant, but I just love the look of having a topper. The pleats make the valance and the curtains seem more elegant.

I don't use them for covering unsightly things. I just think that they improve the look of a room. They go with the pleated ruffles along the bedspreads in every bedroom.

By cloudel — On May 22, 2012

My kitchen window valance is bright yellow and semi-transparent. Since the kitchen faces the back yard, I'm not worried about covering it entirely for privacy. The only people in our back yard are family members, anyway.

The entire kitchen is rather bright and cheerful, so I wanted to support that theme by allowing plenty of daylight to enter. It would be a shame to paint and decorate a room so brightly and then block the actual sunlight from it.

When I moved in, I was surprised to find that the previous residents had left a valance in the bathroom. That is one room where I would not want a valance, because it is where I need the most privacy.

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