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.