Windows are a problem because unlike other decorative elements, most windows must be operated in order to function. They open and close, and provide light and ventilation, so anything covering them must be flexible.

Even fixed or picture windows are a challenge. Though they are immobile, they often require a covering to conserve heat or protect from the cold.

All of the traditional coverings have faults. Draperies are a nuisance to clean. They fray at the edges, fade and often hang unevenly.

Venetian blinds have a terrible disadvantage, too. The slats are horizontal and dust and dirt settles, making cleaning a real chore.

Vertical blinds solve the problem, but the mechanism sometimes jams. Some people think these blinds look too much like a commercial office building.

Dear old window shades work well everywhere, but let's face it, folks are snobs about shades -- they don't look expensive or important enough.

Shutters, the all-time favorite, cost too much money. And so it goes.

I have said often the best window covering is none at all. Yet this can only be practical where heat and ventilating conservation does not affect the user. Even in these unusual circumstances, some semblance of a covering is essential, if only to soften the vertical lines of the window frames.

In a dining room I designed, a pair of elegant ceiling-to-floor picture windows looked out over a beautiful, private garden. There was no need to cover the glass for reasons of privacy. A deep wood frame around the glass deflected some of the heat loss in the winter, and acted as interior sun-shades in the summer.

I thought some informal covering would be a plus in the space, and I found just what I was looking for in an old piece of fretwork. They are the type of elaborate, carved wood sections that were used in Victorian homes to fill in the space over the open doorway between twin parlors.

The piece I found was just the length I needed to cover the tops of the windows and the space between them. I hung the fretwork from nylon fishing cord from hooks fastened firmly to the ceiling; it cleared the ceiling by about 6 inches.

The dark wood of the fretwork is silhouetted against the light from the windows and reinforced by the dark wood frames of the bentwood chairs around the table. At night, down lights recessed into the ceiling illuminate the intricate workmanship.

A pair of tall trees in large terracotta pots flank the windows. The branches help to break the strong vertical lines of the window frames and join with the hanging fretwork to soften the window area -- and take the place of a more traditional window covering.