How To Choose Curtains & Drapes

Curtains and drapes are an important part of a room’s aesthetics. They also contribute to a home’s comfort by providing privacy, regulating the amount of light coming in, insulating against cold temperatures, and buffering outside noise.

When you shop for window dressings, however, the aesthetics will be uppermost in your mind: What size curtains? What fabric? What color? It can be quite overwhelming. Here, we hope to help you sort through these elements to make the decision more manageable and the result more successful.

The first thing that you need to know for our “Curtains and Drapes 101” is the difference between the two. It will save you time shopping, and you will avoid convoluted conversations when a consultant is assisting you. Best for the two of you to be on the same page.

  • Curtains are sold in pairs or by the panel and are made from lighter fabrics that are rarely lined. They hang from a curtain rod and portray a more casual ambiance.
  • Drapes are sold in pairs and are made from heavier lined fabric. The tops of drapes are pleated, and the pleats hold hooks that hang the drapes onto the curtain rod. Drapes usually open and close with a cord or a puller and are used in more formal rooms.

(We will use “curtain” here for both in most cases.)

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How Long Should Curtains and Drapes Be?

  • The traditional length is just barely touching the floor or hovering a half an inch above it. It is easier to open and close the curtains at that length, and the folds fall back into place nicely.
  • Curtains that extend onto the floor one to three inches are another stylish option. It’s a more relaxed look, and a decor-saver if your floors are uneven.
  • In formal rooms, six or so inches of fabric puddling languidly on the floor looks both elegant and bohemian. Curtains of this length look best on tall windows and with lighter weight curtains.

How Wide Should Curtains and Drapes Be?

  • Curtain width should be about 2 to 2½ times the width of the window. Unless you will not be shutting them. If you simply want to frame the window, 1½ times the width of the window will be best.
  • Multiply window width by 2½ to 3 for a tightly gathered and full, luxurious look.
  • Sheer curtains need to be at least 3 times the width of the window.

How Do You Know Which Headers to Use?

A header is, simply, the top of the curtain, the part where curtain meets rod. The header can make a huge difference in the appearance of your curtains when hung. There are many kinds of headers; we are going to give you a quick overview of the most common.

Pleated Headers

There are many kinds of pleated headers, from pencil pleats to flat box pleats. Pleats give a more formal or classic look, for example:

  • Euro Pleats are pinched at the top with elegant stitching and result in sharp folds.
  • Pinch Pleats are tacked about 4” down from the top and give the curtain a tailored look.
  • Inverted Pleats are for the trendsetters. The folds of the pleats are hidden, creating a flat surface at the top of the curtains.
  • Box pleats are clean and simple, i.e., contemporary. The fabric is folded on the front and back, resulting in flat boxy folds.

Rod Pocket Headers

A channel across the top of the curtains holds the rod for a casual gathered effect. Choose for curtains that will not be opened and closed regularly. Or use tie-backs to keep the curtains open.

Grommet (Eyelet) Headers

The grommet header has a circular opening for the curtain rod to slide through. You can move the curtains easily along the rod. These curtains are modern and casual with the rod becoming part of the décor.

Tab Top Headers

Tab Top headers have flat loops (tabs) of material that the rod passes through. The look is casual with very little gathering. The curtains do not move easily over the rod and doing so frequently will result in worn out tabs.

Silver Gray Velvet Polyester Solid Blackout Thermal Pinch Pleat Single Curtain Panel
Charcoal Modern Cotton Blend Solid Room Darkening Rod Pocket Curtain Panel
Beige Polyester Solid Blackout Thermal Rod Pocket Curtains
Navy Polyester Solid Blackout Thermal Grommet Curtain Panels
Gray Polyester Striped Light Filtering Outdoor Tab Top Single Curtain Panel

What Fabrics Are Best for Curtains and Drapes?

The type of material is essential to achieving the look you want, not only for the windows but also for the décor of the entire room.

  • Voile

Voile (or sheer) curtains let in the most natural daylight while providing privacy. They have an appealing soft, airy look.

  • Lace

The openwork of lace makes these curtains suitable as sheers. More often, they add vintage charm to small windows.

  • Cotton

Cotton comes in a wide variety of finishes and thicknesses. It can be light enough for the sun room at the beach and weighty enough for a formal dining room. Most cotton fabric is easy to maintain, durable and colorfast.

  • Linen

Linen curtains, whether natural or synthetic blend, diffuse light beautifully through the textured weave. Natural linen adds an earthy note to your décor; dyed or embroidered linen is elegant.

  • Silk

Silk curtains are softly luminous with a richness of color. The silk may be be smooth, textured or embroidered. These curtains need to be protected from sunlight.

  • Velvet

Traditionally made from silk, velvet is opulent. Drapes are heavy and, as such, keep out the sun, cold and noise. A fabric this grand needs a large window.

  • Synthetics and Synthetic Blends

Do not make the mistake of downgrading synthetics. Many are high-quality fabrics, durable and permanent press. Some synthetic fabrics are able to block UV rays—especially important in areas where radiation reflects off of snow, sand or water. Very often, synthetics combine the best of the natural fabrics, for example, a cotton/linen/silk blend.

Silk Lace Black Solid Sheer Thermal Grommet Curtain Panels
Cotton Black White Plaid Rod Pocket Curtain Panels
Purity Linen Sheer Rod Pocket Single Curtain Panel
Ivory Synthetic Solid Sheer Grommet Single Curtain Panel

How Do I Choose the Color of Curtains and Drapes

Color is, without a doubt, a very personal decision, and there are various ways to get to the perfect color for you. We will provide some general “rules” as long as you promise to keep in mind that rules are made to be broken!

Light Colors

  • Rarely go out of style, particularly whites and neutrals.
  • Make a room appear to be larger than what it is.
  • Are less likely to fade from the sun.
  • Keep a room cooler in the summer (by bouncing away the sun’s rays).
  • Can be dyed a different color when you need a change.
  • Dirt, dust and stains are more visible.
Beige Polyester Solid Blackout Thermal Grommet Curtain Panels
Pearl Polyester Solid Blackout Grommet Single Patio Curtain Panel
White Polyester Microfiber Solid Color Opaque Grommet Curtain Panels
Grey Polyester Flower Semi Sheer Grommet Single Curtain Panel
Vanilla Polyester Sateen Solid Blackout Thermal Grommet Single Curtain Panel
White Cotton Solid Semi Sheer Cotton Rod Pocket Curtain Panels

Dark Colors

  • Make a large room or one with a high ceiling cozier.
  • Are both relaxing and romantic.
  • Add drama and elegance to a room.
  • Work best with light walls.
  • Blocks out light for sleeping.
  • Do not show soils.
  • Can be overwhelming in a small room.
  • Are visually dominating—the color needs to be just right.
  • Will fade from the sun’s rays.
Charcoal Polyester Geometric Blackout Thermal Grommet Single Curtain Panel
Black Polyester Solid Blackout Thermal Grommet Window Panels
Navy Polyester Room Darkening Rod Pocket Curtain Panels

Color also depends on how you visualize the curtains’ role in the décor.

  • If you want your curtains to blend in, select the same color as your walls.
  • If you want your curtains to be a focal point, select a complementary color.
  • If you want your curtains to stand out subtly, select an analogous color.
  • If you want to make a statement, go for the bold!

In selecting a color from the existing décor, you can employ the 60-30-10 rule.

Scientists long ago determined that 60-30-10 is the Golden Ratio—a proportion universally appealing to the human eye. Interior decorators use it faithfully. Often, even when we are not conscious of the rule, the colors we choose for our surroundings work out that way. So look around the room and use one of these colors for your curtains:

  • You can choose the color that is taking up ± 60% of the space, which you will find on the walls and, perhaps, in the rug and upholstery. It is the anchor color.
  • Or the color that is taking up ± 30% of the space, which you will find in, for example, chairs, painted furniture, wall art. It is the secondary color that supports the anchor color but stands apart from it.
  • Or the 10% color, which usually is bright and appears as “pops” of color in the room, found in vases and metallic accents.

Curtains inject personality into your décor, and you want that to be your personality. Sometimes you need to be willing to take that leap, as risky as it may seem. Just be sure your curtains are returnable in a reasonable amount of time!

The Game Plan

  • Know what size curtains you need.
  • If you are not sure what fabric you want, at least narrow down your choices. Even though you cannot feel the fabric while browsing online, you can get a feel for the look of it.
  • If you can, take swatches of some of the colors in your décor, such as walls, rug, upholstery, and accents.
  • Bring color swatches home with you to place around the room or tape to the wall. Live with the colors before committing.

One last piece of advice: Buy the best that you can afford. Curtain are a long-term investment so, as much as you are able, choose quality and what you really love over cost and something that is “good enough.”