The Ultimate Guide To Choosing Curtains

With such a wide array of ready-made curtains available, getting a fabulous window treatment is really easy, but as with everything, abundance might make the choice a bit of a problem. Here's an overview of the options you have, plus some tips on choosing curtains that will best fit your decorating scheme.

Sunny summer morning

When chosen correctly, window treatment gives a finishing touch to any room. It pulls the elements of décor together, helps define the overall theme and makes for the most dramatic change next to paint. With such potential, curtains can easily overwhelm a room instead of just accentuating its mood, so they need to be chosen with care. And the decisions are not only about bright versus subtle or plain versus patterned. Fabrics, length, headings and styling is what matters too when you want to give your windows a fabulous and by all means practical treatment.

Fabrics, Colors and Patterns

Consider the mood and style of the room. Is it formal or more relaxed, classic and elegant or casual and cozy, modern and minimalist or retro-styled? What effect do you what to achieve? Do you want the curtains to blend with the decor or to pop? These are the question that need to be answered first.

Solid curtains

Solid curtains give you many decorating options and leave considerable space for future modifications of accessories. They are a safe option when patterns have already been introduced as they provide the necessary balance.

If you want to make a statement, choose bright curtains that will coordinate well with some other pops of color in the room. If the décor is rather monochromatic or the style is formal and elegant, bold curtains might look out of place and draw too much attention. Keep in mind, too, that rooms which get a lot of sunlight will be infused with bright colors, plus the curtain may fade over time.

If you want the window treatment to blend with the décor, choose curtains that are slightly darker than the walls, or pick a non-dominant subtle color in the room. Color-coordinated curtains create a soft, harmonious look that basically suits any decorating scheme.

Modern living room

Patterned curtains

Patterned curtains are an instant decoration, but should be avoided if you already have patterned wallpaper, furniture or bedding. If solid colors dominate, don't be afraid to consider even the boldest patterns. Large, graphic prints are daring but can look really amazing when their color relates to the existing décor.

For a subtle touch of vibrance in light, airy rooms, go for small, neutral prints, like dots or floralsMedallions, trellises and arabesques suit a more traditional, elegant interior, while contemporary patterns such as stripes, chevrons, and geometric shapes bring a modern feel into a space. Vertical stripes are perfect for small rooms as they trick the eye into making a ceiling appear taller.

Scandinavian style

Sheer curtains

Sheer curtains are perfect when you are looking to keep your view but at the same time care for privacy. They are cut out for ultramodern, light-colored interiors as they are almost transparent and allow you to keep the décor minimalist.

Sheer curtains

Blackout curtains

Blackout or thermal curtains use very tightly woven fabrics, usually in multiple layers, to offer protection against outside temperatures and light, but they do not necessarily look heavy and overwhelming. Good-quality blackout curtains looklike normal decorative window treatment and can be obtained in a variety of colors, including white. If you want to add a royal touch and opulence to your bedroom or living room, choose heavily pleated curtains made of silk or satin.

Royal bedroom

Alternative Forms

If you're not a fan of traditional, floor-length curtains or a specific window location does not allow them, there are some alternative window treatments available.


A valance is a short piece of cloth that covers the uppermost part of the window, letting in plenty of light and usually installed over kitchen sinks or in other areas where floor space is limited. It can be hung alone or sit atop curtains, which is a great solution when you want to conceal drapery rods.

Valances come in a variety of forms, blending well with a lot of decorating schemes. Straight valances are most universal and when hung alone, a simplest way to add a romantic, country feel to a room. Heavily draped, more decorative valances are commonly referred to as swags.

Valances kitchen


Although swags vary from light and simple to highly elaborate and ornamental, they usually bring a more elegant feel to the overall design and can easily become the focal point of the room. The fabric drapes across the top of the window, forming graceful curves and cascading gently down its sides. Swags are perfect for Victorian style decor.

Swags in bathroom


A window scarf is a single, lengthy piece of lightweight fabric that wraps loosely around a decorative rod, or loops through decorative brackets placed on either side of a window frame. Scarves are a wonderful way to add romance and softness to a room that is supposed to be rich and elegant in character but not overembellished. The length of a window scarf is really a matter of taste: it may create a puddle on the floor to give a more opulent look, end at the level of the windowsill or have ends of different lengths.

Wonderful scarves

Styling Traditional Panels

Even the plainest floor-length panels can be given an original twist with simple styling and attractive accessories used to hold drapes open.

Tent flaps

Tent flaps are a great opportunity to use two coordinating prints (the panels need to be lined with decorative fabric since both sides will show when the flaps are open). Consider this solution  when you want optimum light and privacy control -- the flaps can be held open by slipping a buttonhole or a grommet over a wall hook, or let completely loose.  Tent flap curtains are typically attached to a mounting board that holds them in a fixed position, but it's not necessarily a prerequisite.

Tent flaps


From simple fabric holdbacks to fancy ropes with tassels -- tiebacks will give your curtains a more graceful, elegant look. Moreover, they allow for maximum light control and help you keep the curtains in position, which is really useful when they are hung next to a patio door and can be blown around by wind or get in your way.

Modern home interior


Overlapping sheers that pool generously on the floor are perfect for airy, romantic bedrooms. They bring a sense of  intimacy and softness to a room, but don't obscure the window and let in just enough light.

Overlapping sheers


Hourglass curtains work best with large French doors or particularly tall, narrow windows. Generally, they are held between rods at the top and bottom and drawn at the center with a tieback, but you can achieve a similar effect by just tying a soft, silky panel in the middle and letting it puddle on the floor.

Hourglass curtain panel


A heading is the top piece of the curtain that attaches to the track, rail or rod. There are many different heading styles and each will affect the overall look of your curtains and how they work with the existing décor. The most common types are:


A casing is sewn across the top of the curtain panel through which the curtain rod is inserted. Rod pockets create a nice, gathered effect, fit for casual rooms. It's a recommendable choice if you won't be opening and closing the curtains a lot -- sliding the curtain back and forth might be difficult.

Rod pocket


Pleats come in many styles, but are generally considered more formal than other types of headings because of their regular structure. They look neat and elegant, giving any room a refined, distinguished look (double or triple pinch pleats are particularly smart). The most common type of pleated headings is pencil pleats, designed with long, tightly packed folds at the top of the curtain that resemble a row of vertical pencils.

Elegant pleats

Tab top

Tab-top headings consist of flat loops spaced along the top edge of the curtains, and usually read as modern, relaxed, and less formal. A more feminine and romantic variation on this theme is tie-tops, with bows instead of loops. Tab tops are commonly used for sheers and curtains that serve purely decorative functions as the loops can make moving the panels difficult.

Tab top


Eyelets or grommets are metal rings inserted at evenly spaced intervals across the top of the curtain heading.  The panel is hung on a decorative rod and forms soft deep folds. Clean and crisp, the effect best suits contemporary décor schemes.

Transitional design

Length And Width

The length of the curtains is an important consideration as it might affect the style of the room. Curtains that just graze the floor or hover half an inch above give a classic, tailored look and are recommended if you'll be regularly opening and closing your curtains. They will not collect fluff or require you to arrange the excess fabric any time they are moved.

Curtains that puddle on the floor are a lot less practical in this respect (plus they pose slipping hazard), so they should be considered only if you need stationary panels. In casual rooms, they offer a relaxed, romantic feel, but heavier, thicker fabrics extending onto the floor are also suitable for formal, elaborate settings.

Curtains in bright bedroom

When you can't use long drapes but don't want to leave the window bare, choose curtains that finish half an inch above the sill or fall about 6 inches below. When it comes to valances, traditional ones are anywhere between 1/4 to 1/6 the height of the window, but don't rely on the formula too much and do what looks right visually.

The width really depends on the purpose of curtains and the look you are trying to achieve. If you want the panels to look ample and drape nicely when closed, go for a combined width that is 2 to 2½ times the width of the window. If you do not intend to shut the curtains and only want stationary panels to frame the window, 1½ times the width will be more than enough. When choosing pleated panels, remember that they are already nice and full, so their width should more or less be equivalent to the span you will be covering.

Lily is a modern designer with great appreciation for sleek architecture, a love for art in its many forms, and a passion for sharing her experience with people. If you’re looking for advice on how to modernize your old-fashioned place or make your new restaurant a visual blast, she’s definitely the one to ask.