Differences Between Valances, Swags, and Cornices

An illustration of a warm-toned living room highlighting the differences between valence, swag, and cornice style curtains.

The Spruce / Alison Czinkota

Your bedroom windows need coverings not just for privacy, but for style, as well. One way to add some extra flair, color, and texture is with a valance, swag, or cornice overlying the more utilitarian drapes or blinds.

What is the difference between these window treatments, and which one will work best in your room? To help you decide, here is a list along with some great examples.

  • 01 of 04

    Simple Valances

    Simple valance on a window

    Catherine McQueen / Getty Images

    A valance is a piece of fabric that hangs across the top of a window to hide other window treatment’s hardware and add softness, color, and pattern. A simple valance is the most basic and casual treatment; it’s normally just a slip of fabric attached to the rod with clip rings or a rod pocket.

    Designer Tip: Simple valances can be used alone or layered over other window treatments. The soft gathers and folds are perfect with any casual decorating style.

  • 02 of 04

    Pleated Valances

    pleated valance

    Fotosearch / Getty Images

    More formal and traditional than a simple valance, a box-pleated valance hangs straight down over the window, thanks to its stitched pleats. It’s generally attached to the window with an L-shaped rod.

    Designer Tip: A box-pleated valance is a classic design that is perfect for traditional bedroom styles or old-world looks such as Tuscan or British Colonial. Choose a valance that matches your bedding for the most formal appearance, or go a bit more casual with a valance that contrasts in color or pattern.

  • 03 of 04

    Swags or Scarves

    swag on a window

    Fotosearch / Getty Images

    Swags are pieces of fabric loosely slung and draped over a decorative rod or wound over a tieback at each corner of a window frame to add a little style and romance to your room. There are many different ways to hang swags, but one of the most common is a simple swag. In this look, the swag drapes in the middle like a valance; the ends, either cut into diagonals or simply hemmed, softly hang down on each side of the window.

    Designer Tip: Swags are great for a glamorous cottage or country-style bedroom because of the sheer, romantic softness of the window treatment. A swag by itself cannot provide much privacy, so it needs to be combined with other window treatments—such as curtains, blinds, shutters, or shades.

    Swags are also a wonderful alternative to drapes for a canopy bed. Just wind the fabric over the bed’s posts, and let it drape gracefully around the corners of the canopy frame.

  • 04 of 04


    Cornices on a window

    phototropic / Getty Images

    A cornice is a box-like wooden valance typically crafted from plywood, then covered with paint, wallpaper, or fabric and mounted to the wall above the window. Other cornices are carved from attractive wood and then stained to look good without needing paint or fabric coverings. A cornice can be paired with soft window treatments—such as fabric shades, drapes, or curtains—or used alone, which provides a more formal look to a primary bedroom suite.

    Designer Tip: Cornices work best in rooms that lack architectural interest; they can spiff up a window without trim or give a room with no crown molding some extra appeal.

    About This Term: Primary Bedroom

    Many real estate associations, including the National Association of Home Builders, have classified the term "Master Bedroom" as discriminatory. "Primary Bedroom" is the name now widely used among the real estate community and better reflects the purpose of the room.

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