Cautiously Considering Cornices

I spent another day working at the condo yesterday, and I finally got all of the wood filling, sanding, and caulking done on the closets.  That means I’ll actually be able to paint the closets today, and possibly even finish them.  While I’m working at the condo, I have lots of alone time to think and plan and dream.  My mind never stops, and yesterday, my mind was on window treatments — not for the condo, but for the house.  Specifically, cornices.

For at least a decade now (probably longer), I’ve had a pretty serious aversion to cornices.  Just hearing the word “cornice” gives me flashbacks to 1980’s decorating with shirred cornices that I think are best left in the past.  Remember those?  My mom and I made one for her living room in the mid- to late-80’s, to go above her vertical blinds, of course!  We thought it was awesome, especially accented with dried flower sprays.  😀

And it went perfectly with the balloon valance that we added to the adjacent breakfast room.  I remember stuffing that thing with newspaper to get the puff juuuuust right.  😀

Aaahhh, the 80’s.  There are so many things I love about the 80’s — big hair, Bon Jovi, Def Leopard, Miami Vice, Rubik’s Cube, Sweet Valley High books.  I could go on.  But the window treatments?  Ugh. And the word “cornice” generally sends me right back to the shirred cornices of the 80’s.  (By the way, my mom’s living room doesn’t look like that any more.)

But the other day, I was searching for window treatment inspiration for my living room, breakfast room, and bedroom, and I came across this picture.  And immediately, I thought, “Oh my gosh, I want that!”  And…it’s an upholstered cornice.

window treatments with upholstered cornice and side panels with Greek key trim by Abbe Fenimore Studio Ten 25,via Houzz

Eclectic Living Room by Dallas Interior Designers & Decorators Abbe Fenimore Studio Ten 25

I just love the simple, tailored look of the cornice and the side panels with the Greek key trim.  That’s definitely not a 1980’s cornice.

So I went in search of more cornice inspiration.  I’ll admit, I’m incredibly picky about them.  After searching “cornice” on Houzz, I searched through over 22 pages of results, and only found about four or five that I really liked.

This one from Betsy Burnham tops the list.

window treatments with upholstered cornice and side panels with accent fabric by Betsy Burnham, via Houzz

Eclectic Living Room by Los Angeles Interior Designers & Decorators Burnham Design

You’ll notice a theme on the ones I like.  They’re all very simple, and have trim on the bottom edge, with the same trim on the leading edge of the drapery panels.

window treatments with upholstered cornice and side panels with accent fabric by Palmer Weiss Interior Design

Bedroom design by Palmer Weiss

In some rare cases, I find that I also like painted wood cornices that are integrated into the trim around the ceiling, like in this room where the crown molding wraps around the painted wood cornice.

window treatments with wood cornices and side panels, bedroom by Tara Dudley Interiors, via Houzz

Traditional Bedroom by Tara Dudley Interiors

And just like my valance preference, I don’t really like cornices used as a stand-alone window treatment.  I like them used with drapery panels.  The exception would be if they’re used in a kitchen or bathroom.

window treatment with upholstered cornice for bathroom, by Tiffany Eastman Interiors, via Houzz

Contemporary Powder Room by Fairfield Interior Designers & Decorators Tiffany Eastman Interiors, LLC

So I’m still incredibly picky about cornice styles, but I find that I’m coming around on the idea.  My decade-long aversion to the idea of cornices in general is coming to an end.  But I do like them simple, with simple trim, and used with drapery panels in most situations.

What I still can’t get on board with is a plain and simple wrap-and-staple box cornice with no trim, cornices used as sand alone window treatments in rooms like living rooms and bedrooms, anything with an ornate design, tufting, buttons, tassels, tassel or fringe trim, rope trim, excess fabric that swags or creates other “fancy” designs, jabots, etc.  And lambrequins…well, those are just cornices on steroids.  I can’t imagine myself ever jumping on board with those, at least not for my own home…although I will say that I’ve seen some pretty incredible lambrequins used in historic homes.

I really want to give cornices another chance.  I just need to find the right room, and the right design.  I’m thinking the breakfast room will be perfect, but I haven’t completely ruled them out for the living room at this point.  If I can come up with a design that really works, I’d pretty much be open to them in any room of my house now.

What are your thoughts on cornices?  Do you like them, or were you like me, and they reminded you of decades past that were best left in the past?  And have you ever done a complete 180-turn on a design idea to which you had a strong aversion at one time?  I have to say, it feels kind of strange opening my mind to an idea to which I had such a strong aversion for so long.



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        1. I love Bon Jovi also! (then and now) I still have my fringed leather jacket from the 80’s 😉 Love the cornice made out of wood with the trim and crown. PS- I had the “poof” valances in the 80’s too! Maggie, thank you for posting that hilarious clip, a big belly laugh for that one! 🙂

  1. Cannot believe you are halfway done with the “closets”. You are truly an inspiration. I love the Betsy Burnham cornice btw!

  2. I too have an aversion to cornices…dust catchers all ! I love what you are doing with your home but wonder if these aren’t a bit too formal for your home? Like you suggested maybe just in the breakfast room…I don’t know, not much help am I ? LOL

  3. I like the cornice look with the greek key trim but maybe reverse the drapes and use a greek key pattern fabric with the solid trim. That would soooooo not be 80’s.

  4. Well, I got boxes over my windows housing the roller shutters, which I intend to dress somehow and disguise as cornices… a cornice can be sort of like a painting for your wall lol.

    While I am indifferent to cornices though, I have to say 80s fashion in general is best kept buried. Let’s all conspire to refuse it ever happened and focus on the great music.

  5. Blast from the past! I remember stuffing a peach balloon valance for my mom’s bedroom to go with her peach and sage green bedspread. Oh my 80’s goodness… Then there was our first home, with its burnt orange upholstered valances across the aluminum clad windows with their copper mini blinds. Taking it back to the 70’s baby! They were gone the day we closed escrow.

    Like you, I have had an aversion to all things over the tops of my windows ever since. I kind of like to see my curtain rods with tab tops or rings 🙂 BUT, I have eaten my words of disdain before, like slip covers. Who knew they would work so well for my two big boys (almost 300 pounds of furry fun) and the gaggle of teens that inhabit my house regularly? It seems most trends, even when we resist them, tend to come back and sneak their way into our hearts. In this case, reinventing the look, making it cleaner, more elegant. I can’t say that cornices will be finding their way into my home any time soon, but I can definitely see them making an appearance in yours. I especially like the greek key detail. Maybe in green in the breakfast room? Pull a smattering of your kitchen into the elegance of the black?

  6. Eh, even the “better” ones in your post have a stuffy hotel feel to me. But that may just be because I might be more a Kristi’s condo person than a Kristi’s house person. I’m a pretty casual girl, and it’s all feeling a little too formal for my taste. Still finding tremendous pleasure in the watching though, always!

    And you gave me quite the chuckle with the balloon valances!

    Oh AND, congrats on the weight loss progress! You look amazing and I hope you continue to feel great!

    1. I too am a Kristi’s condo gal more. I am very very casual and while I love what she has done with the house I couldn’t live there — too formal for me. But that condo is me all over.

      And speaking of stuffing cornices OH YES it was important to get that pouf just so. . . .

  7. Those are really lovely examples, but I still wouldn’t use them in my house. Fussy. Too much dust. And there is such a thing as too much fabric in a room. I think cornices, even lovely ones, push the balance over the edge by taking an opportunity for a hard metal finish — a curtain rod — and replacing it with a soft, upholstered one.

  8. just like everything else from years past, a fresh new look is good! I mean, I still have hair! I still wear clothes! Styles change, but the idea is still the same! So, I say yes to cornices, but update the style and fabric to bring it into the 2000’s! It’s a great way to top off and finish a window! Dress it up with “fancy” fabric and trims or for a more casual feeling use a more organic fabric….

  9. I have always liked certain cornices, but never the ones you mentioned from the 80’s. Didn’t like them then either. They are also great for making the windows look taller and be able to take them to the ceiling in a low ceiling room.

    However I only like them with windows that doesn’t have pretty wood trim and since I got on the adding pretty trim around my sheetrock trimmed windows. Just plain trim and they still look ok, but when you add ones with headers etc. then the cornices just hides it.

    1. I can get on board with the ones that are part of the moulding – especially ones that reach the ceiling and incorporate the crown. That said – I think they need to be in a room with high ceilings – 9-10 ft. at least, otherwise they are just going to look overdone and clunky.

      On the whole I’m not enamoured of them and much prefer a nice rod and finials.

  10. oh the eighties. Lots of things to both love and hate. I remember stuffing my moms dusty rose valances and hanging floral swags. I also remember taking those swags done a decade later… Can we say gross. I also remember in the seventies we had wooded boxes above our windows. But things change and revolve but it all comes back around just like fashion. I’m loving the Greek key design very simple and elegant. The wood box trim is lovely also. Cheers

  11. I don’t know…this is a tough one … I’m fighting that same dilemma myself. I made my own roman shades (my first sewing project… took me forever!) for my bay windows where I didn’t really want to use curtains. I’m in one of those newly built houses that didn’t come with molding around the window frame and while I realize that the bay windows look unfinished … I just can’t bring myself to do the cornices. Your examples look nice and at first glance, I thought … ooohhh maybe I’ll do something like that… but the more I thinkin about it, my aversion to them will stop from adding cornices…

  12. Love the comments about the 80’s decor at your mom’s house.

    Don’t forget the fake ivy on top of the cornices and cabinets – might be 90s

    And whatever you do, in 20 years or so, you’ll be laughing and making snarky comments about what you did in 2014

  13. I don’t like cornices at all. Too hotel-y for me. But I love the Greek key idea on the panels. I love leading edge trim in general, on my soft treatments.

  14. So how long after you put up the puffy shirred cornice did you hate it?
    Decorating, more than anything changes constantly. If you like the look of the tailored cornice go with it. You’ll probably hate it in the next decade. And guess what? You can change it again.

  15. I am coming around to the idea again too. I have been thinking about putting one up above my king size bed but think it may make the ceiling look too short. They are only 8ft. What do you think of that proportion? I have small windows on either side of the bed too. They are rather high so if I add a cornice, I will have to play with the width and depth. I like the architectural detail that it adds to either a window or bed.

  16. I like your examples, they’re very elegant. However I do think they really bring down the ceiling height if you don’t have taller ceilings, especially with that stripe around the bottom. I like the painted white ones you showed above. In the eighties I took builders styrofoam and made cornices, then upholstered them, then velcroed them to the wall. It actually worked pretty well. I also think y’all did a great job on the balloon valance in your mom’s dining room, that was really popular then. I don’t have any now, but I think some cornices and valances if done right can be timeless, I’m not one to redo window treatments as the trends change or maybe I’m just getting old.

  17. Cornices are classic. As you noted, they are often used in historic homes, though some of them are quite a bit more elaborate than the simple box ones you portrayed. I personally LOVE cornices and have them in several rooms in my own home. I too love the simple straight lines with perhaps either contrasting or matching welting. I recently decorated my grandson’s room in a baseball theme and made a simple box cornice over his blinds in denim blue with a red grosgrain border across the bottom. It added just the right touch to complete the room without being too elaborate.

    I think that having the box cornices in the living room over matching drapery, and then repeating the cornice in a coordinating fabric in the breakfast room, would tie the rooms together nicely. I think that cornices give a finished and warm look to a room and up the cozy factor significantly. Maybe it’s the cold weather that has you finding them more attractive!

    I look forward to seeing what you decide to do. Onward and Upward!

  18. I have dithered over draperies for my living room since we moved in three years ago. When I saw the greek key valance/cornice I knew this is what I want. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Kristi, the theme I see in all of your idea photos is the high ceilings. It would seem to me that in your rooms, the ceilings are normal height and the cornices would only make the room look smaller. I prefer seeing the wood trim that is all around the window and not a view chopping valance or cornice. By the time you put curtains and the cornice, you have very little “window” left to look out of. What you are looking at though is beautiful.

  20. Well, I’m not quite “there” with the cornice Idea but that’s just my personal opinion. I think it’s great how you keep yourself open to different possibilities and daydreaming as you take on other mundane tasks. I have a feeling by the time you are finished with your condo you will have come up with other “light bulb above your head” moments though. I’m of the 50’s generation and STILL can’t look at mid-century modern decor without thinking “yuck”. But it’s very popular, I know. Maybe only to those who didn’t have to live with it every day. To each his own, I say and if you want cornices, then cornices it should be. You are looking great, by the way.

  21. I too like the very simple cornices you chose. I do think they add a very formal note, however, and especially suit period homes with high ceilings. Not sure that’s a breakfast room vibe…but it’s your breakfast room, and I’m sure it will end up being finished exactly right!

  22. I love cornices, and the ones you chose were especially elegant. Simple fabric with ribbon trim or greek key, are the ones that seem to tie in with your current esthetic.

    They will make your room even more formal unless you lighten up all the furnishings to give it modern rather tradtional spin. I think they work best in light fabrics, because they add bulk (but also height) to the room.

    My suggestion is to mock one up in cardboard to see if you like it.

  23. The things we love right now and call “modern” or “contemporary” will look just as ridiculous in 30 years as those 80’s window treatments. But everything comes back eventually. Just as the much coveted Danish Modern furniture pieces that everyone calls mid century modern and can’t seem to get enough of, were often the last things standing at yard sales 15 years ago. Seriously, you couldn’t give the stuff away.
    I think when decorating it’s important to keep an open mind and avoid making sweeping rules concerning what you will and absolutely will not ever use. Just use what appeals to you, regardless of what you once thought of it. You’ve proven over and over that it’s ok to change your mind!

  24. I have always loved cornices – Really almost any type – Hubby made wooden ones for our last house – classic –

  25. OK – self interest here – I’m in the process of designing my own so I’d love to see how you do yours. My cornices are not inspired by the 80s but by the set design from Mad Men. My house has a midcentury vibe so I took the idea from Don Draper’s penthouse living room. I have a wild Knoll fabric I’m covering the cornices with and will do the matching drapes. Wild pattern everywhere! I’m very excited to get it done, but I’m going to stall my project if you might be doing it too. I really want to know what materials you’ll use. I’m concerned about weight.

    In your breakfast room, I’d be a little concerned about the cornices bringing the ceiling down. You’d really have to get your proportions right. Something I struggle with. I can definitely see them in your living room, trimmed out in a similar fashion to your entry way and referencing the fireplace. I think it would be a clean, tight look. And you can definitely make them classy while avoiding too formal. You’ve got that eye.

    1. Sorry dear one, if I offended you by my disdain for mid-century modern 🙁 I posted my response to Kristy’s question then went back to read new posts and saw yours. I’m sure your home is lovely.

  26. ahhhh Cornices. Yeah- my sentiment pretty much mimics yours on the subject. Horrible dated images from the 80’s. Yeah- no thank you. BUT… they can be done well. As I was looking threw the images you posted- I was thinking- yeah- but you love trim so much- I’ve seen them as an extension of the trim and molding. As I scrolled down- POOF! You posted the same thing I was thinking of. So there you have it.

  27. Cornices? Um, no. As has been noted, too much dust. And I knew an interior decorator that overdid them (of course, they were often coupled with her favorite wall treatment of padded fabric–even in bathrooms! Really!? Eww, no–can you say mildew?)

    Add to that the fact that I’m not a traditional sort of person (Hollywood Regency, perhaps, done just so). I’ve been a Craftsman and MCM fan forever, and have mixed emotions on the new popularity of a style that few appreciated save myself. At least, I haven’t seen any resurgence of the clunky, overwrought Spanish Revival of a brief period in the 70s.

    How does that song go? “Everything old is new again.” 🙂

  28. I have always loved cornices! They keep everything tidy and sleek. Here in Arizona I see a lot of them with different kinds if blinds and blended into the southwest decor. Go for it!

  29. I really do not like them, but I think you have great instincts. My concern, in the living room, would be that you would have the windows on both sides of the fireplace next to your picture window and that is a lot butting up to each other. It could look too heavy ?
    I checked out your personal blog. Oh Kristi, you look great! Keep up the good work sister!
    Blessings to you.

  30. When I see cornices, it reminds me of a motel room. But, you would probably make some beautiful ones that I would really like. Congrats on the weight lost, you inspire us all.

  31. My thought, for what it’s worth, is that it might be too horizontal. With low ceilings in that room maybe it would accentuate that. Maybe something more to draw the eye up.

  32. While I love your ability to see design challenges and surmount them, just say no to the cornice. It appears that you have really low ceilings in the breakfast room and the weighty feeling of a cornice would leave you ducking your head. I do like the Greek key design on edges of drapes, though, and maybe the verticality of that would mitigate the low ceilings. In any event, I’m sure it will be beautiful.

  33. Kristi, after reading everyone’s comments, I can only say this, I’m sorry, I am not convinced about cornices. All my aunts had them when I was growing up and I didn’t like them then, and I don’t care for them now. But I’m sure yours would be wonderful! I do like your style!

  34. Whenever I see a cornice, I think hotel or RV window. Just not a fan. 🙁 But I do love a nice lambrequin over an antique bed in an antebellum home.

  35. Kristi, you can get the same look of a cornice with a board mount window treatment. I work in a curtain shop with a custom workroom and they make the board mount window treatments and unless you touch them you don’t know they aren’t a cornice and they look great. Love the Greek Key. I like the clean lines, simple but elegant. Where do you get all your energy? Enjoy reading your blog and following your journey in your new home. Keep up the good work.

  36. If you’re still looking for inspiration photos, try also looking under ‘pelmets’ which is what they’re called in other parts of the world including Australia. (A cornice here is the moulding between the ceiling and wall)
    I’m not a fan of pelmets myself.

  37. I like “hard” cornices. The ones with nice clean lines. However, I did find the Greek key one too much like a hotel room.

    I haven’t seen anything you’ve done yet look bad so I’m looking forward to seeing your twist on cornices.

    I’m personally considering building a cornice with wide crown molding on top, a wide flat area (where I will put the fancy wallpaper) and finish the bottom off with small molding. I’m not a curtain girl so I just have wooden blinds inside mount.

  38. I like the elongated look that a ceiling to floor length hung drape gives a room. The hung higher than the actual window look, carries the eye up. When I see a cornice, especially with contrasting color or lines running horizontally (ie…trim) it seems to bring down the height of the window/ceiling/room and sort of cuts it off…squatty maybe. Just not a fan yet, but then again, you will blow us away with your handiwork and I’ll want them too! Ha! Staying tuned to see what’s next! 😉

  39. I think I’m changing my mind…this is really typical of me…. I kept looking at the cornice-moulding type and I think I like it. Like you I love moulding! And I can’t wait to add it every room in my house as well the plain vanilla windows. Anyway, I searched “cornice moulding” in houzz and came across this one: and I’m starting to like the idea of a simple cornice moulding attached to the ceiling and maybe integrated with overall moulding throughout the room. I’m definitely in the “no-to-fabric-cornice-camp” but I’m beginning to like the cornice moulding idea.

    Whatever you do though…I’m sure it will be fabulous.

  40. It seems like just yesterday we were having a neighborhood wide yard sale in Raleigh NC and my neighbor pulled out her padded upholstered cornices and sold them. They had a polished teal floral chintz covering, they were all that back in the day. Some smart person probably bought them and covered them in a more current fabric.

  41. Maybe if cornices weren’t in just about every low-to-mid-range motel room, I could adjust my thinking about them. Besides that, I remember making several (seems like hundreds) of them when I worked in a drapery workroom in the late 70’s. Don’t want to go back there!

  42. First Kristi, you are looking great. Keep up the good work. I have to say I’ve never heard of lambrequins and from the pics you shared, can’t say I like them. However, I do love cornices/pelmets, whatever they’re called. I have one in my dining room, although you would hate it as it is a patterned fabric. I plan to do the same to the adjoining kitchen to tie them in. Have gotten lotsa compliments on it and I had to build one for my friend after she saw mine. To each his/her own! It would be boring if we were all the same!

  43. I’m of the opinion that tasteful cornices as you have pictured are classic decorating choices and really never go out of style.

  44. Off topic somewhat creepy question…were you at Joann today? I was pushing my baby in a cart and walked past someone who looked exactly like you! I had just read your latest weight loss post and this lady looked so familiar. I couldn’t place who she looked like for a minute or so…but just like you! If not, you have a lookalike in waco! 🙂

    1. Oh, how embarrassing! Yes, that was me. 🙂 I was on my way to the condo, wearing the same sawdust-filled, paint-and-caulk-covered clothes I had worn the two previous days working over there. And I’m pretty sure I just threw my hair up in a pony tail without even really brushing it. And for some reason, I decided it would be fine to stop at JoAnn on the way looking like that. 😀 *Sigh*

      1. Don’t be embarrassed! I didn’t even notice your clothes…I was just thinking, hey, do I know her? And trying to figure it out. 🙂 it was totally fine to stop at Joann in your work clothes, you’re busy and you get stuff done! I wish I’d stopped you and told you how much I enjoy your blog. If I ever happen run into you again, I will! 🙂

  45. The Greek Key design is stunning…with or without a cornice. My thoughts are that a cornice can go one of three directions….it will either formalize a room (like the Greek Key), turn country or turn lodge. Go with what you like and def stay away from the 80s and a large part of the 90s!

  46. For about 10 years I have HATED the color green. It was in my old home when we bought it and could never afford to change it. Actually, its been longer than that!!over 15 years! well, lately I have been seeing the most beautiful greens,that I’m actually considering it! By the way, I love cornices. but not valances!

  47. I had the same dilemma in the guest bedroom that you have in your breakfast room, a sloped ceiling on just one side of the room.

    It took me a long time to figure out how to solve the problem, Then I saw it…I bought a wood cornice box for $5 from the Habistat Restore, painted it a vibrant orange and mounted it to the ceiling where the slope started. I installed a curtain rod inside the box with a support bracket in the middle and hung a coordinating graphic/floral fabric “curtain” from it. I had sewn another rod pocket about 3 ft. down from the top to accept a 2″ diameter wood dowel. I then took the dowel and swagged the fabric to the top of the back wall and held the rod in place with simple wood corbels. The fabric created a soft curve disguising the slope in the ceiling and gave the impression of a nook for the bed. The remaining lower portion of the fabric just hung like a curtain down the back wall (it also covered up a small window, but I had a larger window on the other wall). This created a headboard affect and I slid my bed with it’s headboard (ornate, 3D open scrolled resin material painted high gloss white) into the nook. I added pretty bedding and pillows, and used old TV trays as side tables for more open feeling. I added a basket of crocheted afgans in pretty colors underneath one table and a wire magazine rack under the other. It instantly transformed the room by creating a focal point.

    So I definately think cornices can be used to draw attention away from things you want to cover up or can’t change and they can make a beautiful impression in a room.

  48. Don’t listen to these naysayers, all of the photos you shared are fresh and modern! Not a one has an 80’s vibe or looks like grandma’s house. I love them!

    Of course in full disclosure, I am getting ready to recover some old custom built old ones I’ve had in storage. They’ll be recovered in a light, fresh solid (possibly linen?) and trimmed with silver nail-heads for a modern glamour look. So NOT 80s.

  49. Oh, Greek key! I swoon.

    I have upholstered cornices over both sets of windows in my living room. With nail head trim. I really like them. And thanks for reminding me what a lambrequin is. Haven’t seen or heard the word in years.

  50. Thank you for your post. I just came across it because I’d too am now loving the idea of cornices for my bedroom windows. I chose a black, white, and red theme for a romantic look and now searching cornices that incorporate these colors, specifically black and red. A fabric cornice is elegant, royal, and beautifies a room in my opinion. Thanks again for your points. 😊