With the word “cornice” being used loosely nowadays, you might be asking, what is a cornice valance?

There are two types of cornices, but both styles are made of a wooden box as its base. A wood cornice is painted, stained or wallpapered, while a fabric cornice is covered by a layer of batting and home decor fabric. In case of the latter, the cornice typically is finished off with piping or twisted braid trim along the edges.


Wood Cornices

Since this blog is focused on soft window treatments, we won’t dwell on wood cornices here. Just know that wood cornices are typically found in formal dining rooms or living rooms and tend to feature traditional elements. These often are elaborate crown molding, faux painted finishes, and elaborate artwork like scrolls, medallions, or florals.

Some luxury kitchens also have an arched inset above the kitchen sink that connects the upper cabinets on each side of the sink. These are also known as wood cornices.

But let’s move to fabric cornices as this is what most people refer to when they mention a cornice valance.


Fabric Cornices

As I’ve stated, a fabric cornice is a valance with three layers of materials. First, a wooden box is created at its base. Next, a layer of batting is placed over the wooden box. Lastly, home decor is pulled taut over the batting and stapled on the back of the wooden board.

Visually, a fabric cornice looks like this:


Custom Window Cornice

Here, a straight cornice in a warm pumpkin orange fabric was used to frame a double wide window in a living room. It was paired together with matching draperies.

If a window treatment reminds you of an upholstered headboard that sits on top of your window, then it probably is a cornice. That’s because it’s made the same way with a wood panel as its backing. Once the fabric is pulled taut over the batting, it has a rich bulging effect when viewed from the side.

It would look like this:


Custom Window Cornice in Pumpkin Orange

Notice how a fabric cornice has a boxed look when viewed from the side.

Here is another example with a simple design in a contemporary gray fabric:


Custom Window Cornice in Gray

Not all fabric cornices look as simple as the ones above. One option to give it a custom look is to introduce a unique pattern with the fabric rather than keeping the cornice solid and plain.

However, the most potent way to custom design a fabric cornice is to give it a unique at the bottom hem. Some bottom hems can be so intricate that it takes a true artisan workroom to be able to design it.

Remember, every cornice starts as a wooden box, so it requires a very knowledgeable manufacturer to be able to cut out an intricate shape that’s precise and made to measure.

Let’s see how some of those custom shapes are supposed to look when finished, starting with simple and going to the more complex styles.


Custom Window Cornice with Padding

It’s common for cornices to be short and can sometimes be seen as short as 10 or 12 inches, like in this case. Here, a beautiful city view needed to be created and so a fabric cornice was chosen in multiple fabrics. Nailhead details were used on the blue fabric.


Custom Window Cornice over Kitchen Sink with Sheer Balloon Valance

A scalloped shape is very common for fabric cornices. In this example, a soft scallop cornice was introduced above a sink in a traditional kitchen in a fall color scheme. Notice the braided twist cord that was added on top of the valance, as well as the bottom hem.

To soften up the heaviness of the cornice, a sheer balloon valance in cream was added. The balloon valance follows the shape of the cornice.

Oftentimes, cornices are left longer on the sides and shorter in the center. This is done to better frame the window, but also to allow more natural light to come into the room.


Scalloped Cornice Valance on Bay Window

Fabric cornices can work on virtually any window since they start with a custom box. This allows even a bay window to have one continuous window treatment. A short scalloped valance in yellow and white was chosen for a bay window in a master suite.


Custom Window Cornice in Gold and Brown

Now here is a cornice valance to truly admire. This intricate shape with its pointed tip took a lot of finesse to accomplish. We see twist cord trim again at the bottom hem and on top of the fabric cornice, this time in a contrasting brown color. And finally, a drapery that was swept off to one side was added, using the same luxurious brown and gold fabric.


Gold Stripe Window Cornice

Speaking of gold, here is a luxurious cornice that spans the width of two double windows to cover an entire wall in a private home office. The valance might be in one color, but its details give it depth. By combining a stripe fabric with a solid fabric, as well as twist cord trim with brush trim, this cornice valance was made as detailed as it could be.


What a Fabric Cornice is NOT

It’s easy to get confused, but the styles below are not a fabric cornice.


Black and Red Valance on Corner Window


Red Board-Mounted Custom Valance

If you read the top of the blog post, then you know why. The first step in creating a cornice valance is to create a wooden box. And since the valances above flow freely, there obviously is no wooden box.

So, where does the confusion come from?

The above valances are board-mounted. A lot of people think that a board-mounted valance is a cornice by default. It isn’t.

All cornices are board-mounted valances, but not all board-mounted valances are cornices.

In other words, a cornice is a type of board-mounted valance. Board-mounted valances are simply valances that are installed on a wooden board. This board is hidden in the back at its top and then the rest of the valance is stapled on this board. But unlike cornices that are stiff because of the full wooden box and batting, board-mounted valances can just fall freely off the wooden board.


Cornice Projection (or Return)

A projection (or return) is how far out a window treatment projects from the wall. Typically, lumber board planks are used for board valances, and this determines the projection. Our workroom offers projections of either 3 1/2 inches or 5 1/2 inches.

The 3 1/2-inch projection is best for most rooms and if the board valance or cornice is installed alone or with simple fabric shades. The 5 1/2-inch projection is reserved for oversized rooms, extra tall windows, or if the valance needs to clear a drapery that is to be installed under it.


What’s a Pelmet?

Here in the United States, the word “pelmet” is used more rarely than in other countries. It’s one of those words that many people interpret differently, so it’s best to refer to its true definition.

You can think of a pelmet as the simplest form of a wooden box. It’s short and only has a standard rectangular box shape.

Pelmets are often seen as continuations of crown moldings in front of a window. As such, they are commonly very short and painted the same as the molding. Their purpose typically is to hide curtain rings and other drapery hardware. Some pelmets are very short cornices – in other words, they are made with batting and fabric. Nowadays, pelmets are seen more frequently in hotel bedrooms than in homes.

To summarize, a cornice valance is a type of window treatment that’s mounted on a lumber board. Its design starts by creating a wooden box, which typically is covered by batting and fabric, giving it an upholstered look.

The biggest detail of a cornice is its bottom hem, which can be either a straight line or an intricate scalloped shape. Short cornices that are only meant to cover drapery hardware are known as pelmets.

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