You probably have seen them but just didn’t know what they’re called. London valances or London shades are very common indeed. And in this post, I want to explain exactly what London valances and shades are, how to shop for them, and finally, I want to share a few examples of photos on how others have used this style of window treatment in their homes.
What are London Valances?
A London valance (or butterfly valance as it’s also called) is simply a top window treatment with a prominent pouf that has a tailed section on each side. A London shade is essentially a London valance that can be pulled up or down using a cord.
This is the simplest explanation of it. And since pictures are worth more than words alone, here is a picture that would best show this style of window treatment:
The Perfect Size
In a perfect world, the London valance would fit only a standard sized, single width window. Of course, this is just my opinion, but it is based on my experience after having created this style hundreds thousands of times before.
My recommendation is to not even consider a London valance if your window isn’t at least 32 inches wide. Why is that? It’s because the center section and tails require plenty of fabric to form properly. If you commission a custom London valance to be made for a small window, keep in mind that any workroom you hire will have to create a small version of the pouf and tails. You may be disappointed and may be better off going with another style.
When it comes to wide windows, the London valance will work up to about 50 inches wide. This will allow the workroom to really do its job properly and create that rich center pouf with plenty of volume and weight. For anything wider than about 50 inches, you will need the tailed balloon valance. This style is simply another variant of the London valance. It still has the same tails on each side, but rather than a single pouf in the center, it has multiples.
This is a popular choice of window treatments in spaces with open floor plans. It’s not uncommon to have a London valance with a single pouf above a kitchen sink and then a tailed balloon valance on the wider windows in the eating and living areas. By doing this, you’d still have the same, consistent type of window treatment in the space. Let’s take a look at this example.
Notice the overall open floor plan concept in this country kitchen and dining area.
But on closer inspection, we realize the careful coherence in the room. Let’s forget the consistency in the round back chairs and antique white cabinetry and furniture and focus on the window treatments. Besides the use of light blue chinoiserie toile fabric on all the windows, the style of the window treatment is the same. The kitchen sink window features a standard London valance (it’s actually a London shade, but more on that later)…
…while the bay window in the dining area features a tailed balloon valance that’s very similar to the London valance. Sometimes bay windows can take away from the height of a room, so draperies were added on each side to draw the eye up and create the illusion of height in the space. Notice how the poufs aren’t the same width. Instead, they were tailored to fit each individual window. The center section was obviously the widest.
This style of window treatment was continued in the living room as well for consistency. Notice the London valance on the single window and tailed balloon valance on the triple wide window.
What a gorgeous Chinoiserie toile fabric!
London valances can be made longer in case you’d like to cover more of your window. Just keep in mind that the longer a valance is made, the more it looks like a flat panel instead of a valance. You may also consider a London shade instead of a London valance if you’d like to cover more of your window.
Valance or Shade?
With the London valance, you have the option of having it made as a window shade instead. That would obviously make it into a London shade. So, what’s the difference between a valance and shade? A valance is a stationary top window treatment and a shade is a top treatment you can pull up or down using a cord.
The mechanics behind a functional soft window treatment like a shade are very similar to those of your standard blinds. You’d simply use the cord pull to adjust the height of the window treatment. The London valance uses a lot of fabric. It needs it in order to form the rich folds at the bottom of it. While this is a great feature, it doesn’t make the London valance as convenient as it can be once it’s turned into a London shade.
So, what exactly am I talking about here?
Each time you pull a London shade up or down, you’ll need to reset its folds into their proper shape. It takes less than 60 seconds to do each time, but it may be a nuisance for those who lack the patience and appreciation for this type of window treatment.
Examples in Rooms
Now that I’ve covered the basics of a London valance, let’s take a look at a few more examples of how it looks in an actual room setting.
Black and Gold Valance in White Kitchen
This London valance in subtle black and gold plaid fabric was finished off with piping and beaded trim. There’s actually two of these valances. They break up the white theme of the kitchen but still keep it neutral and traditional.
Valance with Wood Cornice
This example is another take on the black and gold plaid London valance. But instead of white kitchen cabinets and white marble backsplash, this kitchen boasts dark cherry cabinets. The valance is a perfect fit for a corner window above a sink. To make it look even more built-in, the window treatment was topped off with a wood cornice that matches the rest of the kitchen cabinetry.
Master Bedroom with Poster Bed
The homeowner didn’t want to overwhelm the room with the window treatments. The master bedroom was already relatively small and had a large poster bed. So, how exactly can a balance be made in a room like this when it comes to the choice of window treatments? For one, short valances that barely cover the windows were chosen. Next, the fabric chosen was also just a shade off from the golden honey wall paint color.
Ivory Silk in Traditional Bedroom
Did you know that silk fabric is perfect for London and balloon valances? In this master bedroom, a London valance was made of a silk fabric in a rich creamy color. The crispness of the fabric was exploited by deliberately creating a valance that’s very gathered and full of volume. Tassel trim adorns both the bottom hem and sides of the valance.
The overall room combined pinch-pleated draperies on corner windows and board-mounted London valances on single windows. To preserve the beautiful ocean view through the balcony, the French patio doors were left as is.
DESIGNER TIP: To recreate this for your own room, keep in mind that all silks must be both lined and interlined. As an alternative, consider faux silks. There are many polyester fabrics that are luxuriously embroidered with viscose yarn. Some of them mimic the sheen of taffeta silk and slubs of dupioni silks. To most people, the difference is hard to see, but your wallet will thank you for it.
French Country Kitchen with a Contemporary Twist
At first glance, this kitchen looks like a textbook picture of a French country kitchen. The glazed kitchen cabinets with a slightly distressed look – checkmark! The porcelain rooster figurine on the island – checkmark! But as you look deeper, you realize that there are modern stainless steel details and multi-dimensional white subway tile as the backsplash.
Speaking of modern, the fabric used on the London valances is also quite modern. I was expecting a rooster toile fabric here, so this kitchen is unique to say the least.
The dining area continues with the same London valance style and the modern geometric fabric in a warm cinnamon orange and brown. The width seen on this window is as wide as a London valance should be made in before it loses its form (especially when it’s as long as this one is). Anything wider than this and the valance needs to become a tailed balloon valance instead.
Plenty of Windows in a Challenging Sunroom
It wouldn’t be a sunroom if it didn’t have windows all over. But at the same time, that’s what makes this space challenging. Many homeowners simply give up on dressing sunroom windows, or are afraid to cover the beautiful views. In this case, London valances solved quite a few problems.
They broke up the white in the space with the mauve fabric.
The mauve also brought warmth to a room that commonly has cold, uninviting tile flooring. Notice how the views were still preserved, despite every single window being covered. And if these window treatments were to be made into London shade, then each individual window would’ve been able to be controlled for light and privacy.
Buying and DIY Tips for Your Next London Valance
Regardless of whether you want to find the right workroom to hire or want to tackle the sewing of a London valance or London shade on your own, here are some general tips:
- London valances require plenty of volume. This translates to plenty of fabric. Make sure the bottom hem is replete with folds that generously stack on top of each other. I’ve seen guides that carelessly tell you to just add 5 to 10 inches to your desired finished length. This is incorrect if your aim is to have valances that look anything like the ones pictured in this post.
- London valances work best on standard width windows. For wider windows, you may need a tailed balloon valance instead.
- As with custom quality valances in general, make sure yours is lined, too. If you can, I highly recommend interlining for flimsy fabrics like silks and faux silks.
This concludes my general post about London valances. I’ve also written another blog post specifically about what to look for when buying London valances, as well as installation recommendations.