What Is a Cornice and Should I Add One to My Window Treatments?
What Is a Cornice?
A cornice is a hardtop window treatment covering only the upper part of the window. It is very structured and is usually made of styrofoam, foam insulation, or wood. The wood may be stained or painted, or it may be covered with fabric. There is no loose fabric involved, which is what sets a cornice apart from a valance.
A window cornice is different from an architectural cornice, which refers to decorated trim located where the wall meets the roof. Architectural cornices may be located inside or outside a building. They were once a functional element that supported the building but have now become much more decorative.
The ancient Greeks popularized the cornice, and it’s been around ever since. The ever-popular crown molding is a good example of a modern indoor cornice. If someone is talking about a cornice, make sure to clarify whether it’s a window cornice or an architectural cornice.
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What Is a Valance?
A valance is basically a short curtain that covers only the top of your window. The fabric is left loose for a more unstructured, free-flowing look. A window valance is different from a window swag, sometimes called a window scarf, which is basically a long piece of fabric wound around a curtain rod. Valances offer more coverage than a window scarf and are an excellent option when you want to disguise the hardware at the top (which window swags might not be able to do).
Cornice vs. Valance: What’s the Difference?
Cornice and valances are similar, in that they are both treatments that cover only the top part of the window, and sometimes they both use fabric as well. They are also both easy home upgrades that make your rooms look and feel different. However, they aren’t the same (though the confusion isn’t helped by people using the terms interchangeably!).
The important difference to keep in mind is that cornices are hard and valances are soft. Even if cornices are covered in fabric, the material will be tacked down to conform to the underlying support. Meanwhile, valances are made of free-flowing fabric hung from a rod.
Types of Cornices
While all cornices follow the same basic style, there are many different designs to choose from. Here are some design terms to help you in your search for the perfect window cornice:
- Partial arched
- Step arched
- Step straight
- Curve step arch
- Curve step straight
- Raised top
- Skirted arch
- Tapered pleat with banner
Types of Valances
Again, valances all follow the same basic design, but there’s a ton of variety in the particulars. This list is only a starting place, but it gives a good idea of just how many valance options there are:
- Scalloped with pinched bells
- Scalloped with pinched bells top
- Scalloped ties
- Imperial with stacked Jabots
- Louis XV
- Buttons and bells
- Shaped flat
- Soft dip
- Soft dip with cuff
- Inverted box
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When to Get a Cornice
You’ve done your research and confirmed you like the look of cornices, but you’re not sure if you need one or if you should opt for a cornice over a valance. If you’re torn between these two options, here are some reasons why you might want to get the cornice:
- You have some wooden blinds, roller shades, or another existing window treatment you want to show off.
- You’re planning to hang up some curtains, and you want a window topper that will provide some structure and contrast with the flowing fabric.
- Your house has a more modern, minimal style that doesn’t go well with the look of a valance.
- You have the budget to get custom cornices, or you have the skills to make them yourself. (You can purchase a few ready-made cornices, but they’re much less widely available than ready-made valances.)
When to Get a Valance
A cornice is a great window treatment option, but there are also many reasons to choose a valance. Here are some factors that might convince you to get a cornice instead:
- You have some wooden blinds, roller shades, or another existing window treatment you want to show off.
- You’re planning to hang up some curtains, and you want a window topper that will have an equally flowy look.
- Your house has a more traditional style that doesn’t go well with the structured look of a cornice.
- You don’t have the budget for a custom cornice, so you need more ready-made options to choose from. (If you’re committed to a custom fabric or design, a valance is also likely to be cheaper than a cornice since it only involves fabric.)
How to Hang a Cornice
There are several different ways to hang a cornice, depending on what materials it’s made out of and how heavy it is. Light cornices made of foam core can be hung using D rings, while heavier cornices will need brackets or a cleat system for hanging. If you purchased a ready-made or custom cornice, it should come with the hardware necessary to hang it up. If you’ve decided to make the cornice yourself (more on this below) you should select the hardware based on how heavy and long the cornice is.
To hang the cornice, position it above the window and move it around until you have a satisfactory location. If you want to make sure all or most of the blinds are covered by the cornice when they are raised, raise the blinds and do a fit check. Lightly mark the corner with a pencil and set aside.
Take measurements for the screw holes, double check they are even, using a level, and mark the screw holes using a pencil. Try to locate the screw holes along a stud or use drywall anchors to ensure the cornice will be secure. Create pilot holes using a drill or nail, and then attach the brackets or other hardware to the wall.
If the cornice is longer than three feet, it will need additional center brackets for support. Place and attach the center brackets using the same steps outlined above.
Align the cornice with the brackets and fit it into place. Ensure the cornice lays flush against the wall and is securely held by the hardware.
How to Hang a Valance
Hanging a valance is as easy as hanging a curtain rod. You’ll want to carefully select your curtain rod based on the way you want your window treatments to look. If you’re just hanging a valance sans curtain, your basic single curtain rod will do. You can also get a blackout curtain rod (sometimes called a wraparound curtain rod or an L-shaped curtain rod) if you want the valance to go around the sides of the window.
If you’re putting up both a valance and curtains, you can either get a double curtain rod or two separate curtain rods with brackets of different depths.
To hang the valance, position it above the window and move it around until you have a satisfactory location. If you want to make sure all or most of the blinds are covered by the valance when they are raised, raise the blinds and do a fit check. You should also double check the length of the curtains to make sure they won’t drag on the floor. Lightly mark the height with a pencil and set aside.
Grab one of the brackets and decide how far out from the window you want to position it. If you’re hanging two separate curtain rods, you should also grab the second bracket so you can position them at the same time; the shorter bracket (for the curtain) will need to go below and inside the longer brackets for the valance. Mark the screw holes with a pencil.
Using a tape measure, decide how far out to place the second brackets. Make sure everything is even, using a level, and then mark the screw holes for the second bracket with a pencil.
Create pilot holes using a drill or nail, and then attach the brackets to the wall.
If the rod is longer than three feet, it will need additional center brackets for support. Place and attach the center brackets using the same steps outlined above.
Thread the curtains and/or valance onto the rods. Place the rod into the brackets and tighten the screws in place to keep the rod secure.
How to Make a Cornice
Making your own basic cornice isn’t quite as easy as making your own valance (more on that below) but it’s not that difficult. Start by measuring your window and determining how long and wide you want the cornice to be. Also decide how deep you want the cornice to be, and make a note of all the measurements.
Get plywood in the correct dimensions. If you have a saw at home, you can cut the parts yourself from a singular piece of wood, or you can have the hardware store cut it for you.
Attach the shorter sides to the front piece using corner brackets or wood glue. Sand down any rough edges so it won’t fray the fabric.
Lay out the fabric and set the cornice on top of it. Cut off any excess fabric and fold the rest of it around the wood frame. Secure the fabric to the back of the cornice using hot glue or a staple gun. If you want your cornice to have a more padded look, attach a layer of quilt batting using the same method before covering it in fabric.
Attach some corner brackets to the ends of the cornice; this is how you will attach the cornice to the wall.
Hang the cornice according to the instructions above.
How to Make a Valance
Making a basic ruffled valance is a super simple project, as long as you have a sewing machine (and there are also no-sew options if you don’t have a machine). First, measure your window and decide how long you want the valance to be. Add one inch on every side for a seam allowance, plus a minimum of three inches at the top for the curtain rod pocket.
Choose your fabric and order a sufficient quantity of it. Add extra length horizontally if you want to have a very ruffled and full valance. Get some thread to match.
Cut out the fabric to your desired size. On one of the long sides and both of the short sides, fold in the edge of the fabric and pin it to form a hem on three sides. Sew it down or use hem tape and an iron to hold it in place.
Create a rod pocket on the remaining long side by folding over the fabric. Pin it in place and run the curtain rod through it to confirm you have enough room. Sew down the fabric or use more hem tape to fasten it.
Thread the curtain rod through the completed valance and hang it up.
Let Factory Direct Blinds Assist You
Either a cornice or a valance can be a great addition to your window treatments, but you do want to make sure to choose them carefully, especially if you end up going the custom route. If you need help to figure out the rest of your window treatments, including budget blinds, feel free to browse our large selection of blinds and shades or check out our guide for how to measure for blinds.