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Curtains – A Guide to the Perfect Window Dressing

Follow this ultimate step-by-step guide to choosing stylish curtains and drapes.

Curtains - your guide to the perfect window dressing

Thinking about Curtains? Not sure whether to choose Curtains or Blinds? In the last 10 years, blinds have been the front runners in the window dressing fashion stakes. Roller Blinds, Roman Blinds and Venetians all have their place but, in 2023, Curtains and drapes are leading the pace on the home decor scene. ‘Hang curtains,’ says interior designer Peter Dunham. ‘They make a room seem finished. Think of them as the lipstick of decorating.’

Curtains are the go-to right now for a number of very good reasons. ‘Post pandemic, we’ve become bolder and more confident in the decoration of our homes – we want to feel uplifted and joyful about the soft furnishings we choose,’ says interiors expert Rhoda Parry, who’s been tracking the trends for the likes of Ideal Home, Country Homes & Interiors and Homes & Gardens throughout her career as a magazine Editor. ‘Colour and pattern bring energy and life to rooms and Curtains are the perfect way to introduce palettes and motifs that suit you and the style of your property,’ she adds.

Curtains - your guide to the perfect window dressing
V&A William Morris Golden Lily Dusk Curtains

And it’s not just our desire for charismatic interiors that is steering us towards Curtains. The rising cost of gas and electricity as well as living more sustainably are also common sense justifications to hone in on Curtains. For those of us thinking about ways to save on our utility bills, Curtains are perfectly placed to keep spaces warm. According to the Centre for Sustainable Energy, keeping air within each room by draught-proofing your doors, letterbox and windows can save you up to £50 a year. Thanks to a fabric and lining combination, Curtains beat draughts hands down and ensure heat stays in for longer. 

So if your home is calling for Curtains, grab a notebook and work your way through this 10-point guide. Step by step we’ll help you list your needs for the perfect window dressing.

Curtains guide
Encanto Shimmering Platinum Curtains

Think about the property you live in

Your property type and when it was built are the first things to consider when embarking on the mission to buy Curtains. Ask yourself…

What type of property do I live in?
Cottage, terrace, apartment, mansion. Each may well have a defining Curtain style, such as cafe Curtains for a bijou abode or dramatic full-lengths for a grand, large-room dwelling. 

What style of Curtain will be sympathetic with the era of the property?
If you live in a lovingly-restored Victorian house or a brand-spanking new build, you’ll want to consider where your Curtain style choice sits on the spectrum from classic to modern.

Take note of the window type

Looking at the design and opening mechanisms of your window sounds obvious but their structure are the bones of how you frame a window. Consider….  

Do you have sash, casement, bay, bow, tilt and turn or sliding?
All of these will have an impact on the Curtain length, heading type and choice of track or pole.

How do you want to frame your view?
Do you want what’s on the other side of the glass to be the focal point of the room? A breathtaking landscape for instance. Or do you want to disguise it? 

Curtains guide
Tuiss Fuji Blossom Faux Silk Sunset Pink Curtains

Consider the room and its use

You can pretty much have Curtains in any room these days, but primarily we suspect you’ll be considering drapes for living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms and open-plan kitchen areas. Considering each space will define your thinking. Ask yourself…

  • What’s the purpose of the room?
  • What are the practical needs of the room? 
  • What’s the feeling you want to achieve in the room?

Here’s an example of how this formula could work when considering the Curtains for a family living room. 

The purpose of your living space Think about what the room is used for most. Is it a space you retreat to at the end of a busy day to watch TV? In which case, a casual Curtain will suit. Or if its primary use is for conversation and entertaining, a lively style statement with vibrant designs will act as a talking point for visitors. 

The practical needs of your living space Do you need to maintain privacy from being overlooked by neighbours or passers by? In which case, consider sheers in conjunction with Curtains. Or if you want to beat the chill in the winter months, then you will need thermal linings.

The feeling of your living space What emotion do you want to engender? Relaxed, energised, luxurious, romantic? A luxurious living space may call for velvets, heavier fabric weights, for instance.

Tuiss Leone Voile Pinstripe Curtains

Think about Curtain fittings

The hardware to hang your Curtains is the next decision to make. Tracks and poles come in many guises but the main questions to ask yourself are:

Do you want a functional track?
Good for large, wide windows, bay windows and if you are considering a pelmet. Mainly in plastic.

Do you want a decorative pole?
Good for all windows and come in a wide variety of materials from metal to wood. Finials at the end of the pole are an additional decorative element. 

Is your Curtain for a door?
Portiere and Dormer rods are fixed to the door and designed to allow for easy opening and closing.

Choose your Curtain heading 

A heading is the means by which you hang your Curtains and defines the overall look of how the fabric falls. Ask yourself, which of these looks will suit?

Pencil pleat This classic Curtain heading looks like a row of pencils hence its name. When pulled tightly to fit your pole width, the fabric falls neatly to its full length. You’ll need hooks to attach this to the chosen pole or track. 

Double pinch pleat This tailored Curtain heading allows the fabric to hang in permanent and uniform folds. It gives a classic and luxurious feel. You’ll need hooks to attach this to the chosen pole or track. 

Eyelet This modern heading offers a contemporary look with soft folds. The eyelets in nickel or brass are evenly spaced over the width of the heading. Easy to hang, no hooks are required. Just thread onto your chosen pole.

Wave Another modern heading that pulls back to a small stack to allow light to flood in. It hangs – as the name implies – into gentle waves for a neat, uniform finish. It needs a specific wave track that can be hung from the ceiling rather than the wall, making it well suited to large, wide windows and BiFold or sliding doors. 

Curtains guide
Aubade Voile Chalk Curtains

Determine the Curtain fabric

As with choosing the perfect dress, what it’s made of is very much part of the decision making process. The weight of the fabric will determine the hang and feel of the Curtains in situ. Often the composition of the fabric will also determine how much light you want to keep out of the room at varying times of day. Consider the following…

  • Natural fibres Cotton, linen, wool, silk are all strong and durable fabrics of varying weights and thus will have different light properties.
  • Man-made fibres and mixes. Synthetic yarns such as viscose and polyester that are flame retardants make for a crease-resistant and flowing look. Voiles and sheers will naturally let in more light.
  • Weaves Plain and twill weaves result in simple, hardwearing Curtains that can feel casual as well as smart. Satin weaves result in a glamorous sheen.
  • Pile weaves These include velvet and chenille for a soft, plush finish.
Curtains guide
Clarissa Hulse Acacia Tree Teal Curtains

Consider Curtain design style 

This is often where people start the process of choosing Curtains. Probably because it’s the most fun and satisfying part of the Curtain buying journey. A bit like being in a sweet shop, we’re all naturally attracted to certain colours, tastes and textural qualities. As a good rule of thumb, stick to the interior design rule of 60, 30, 10. This states that 60% of a room should be the dominant colour, 30% the secondary colour or texture and 10% should be an accent. 

Fabric styles fall into two main categories so have a think about what will get your heart racing!

Plains One colour. Often people head straight for the neutrals and greys, but for many a block of colour, such a sunshine yellow, could be the making of a lifeless room. The texture of a single-colour fabric plays a big part in making a scheme work hard. Look to the weaves – basket, twill, ribbed, damask, velvet – to layer up with character, depth and interest,

Patterns There are oh-so-many to choose from – Arts & Crafts to animals, checks to chinoiserie, Ikats to damasks, and embroideries to ombres. You can choose how dominant or quiet you want your pattern to be based on the scale and colourway. It’s worth noting that a delicious pattern is often the starting point for a new scheme from which you can draw out similar shades or patterns in your other soft furnishings, such as upholstery, rugs, throws and cushions.  

V&A William Morris Honeysuckle And Tulip Velvet Pewter Curtains

Choose Curtain linings

Don’t underestimate the power of lining Curtains. A well-lined drape will hang better, make a room warmer in winter, block glare and heat in summer. Of course, you should ignore this advice if you are thinking about voiles or sheers as they are by nature unlined, floating and light filtering. Options to mull are…

Blackout: A blackout lining gives the ultimate in shading protection; providing practical light absorption, total privacy and added thermal efficiency. Perfect for bedrooms, it keeps your space completely shaded for a better night’s sleep. 

Light filtering: This lighter lining works to protect your Curtains and gently filter the sunlight. The thickness of your primary fabric will ensure your home stays warm and shaded while a light filtering lining keeps your Curtains feeling soft and elegant.

Thermal: A thermal interlining not only helps to control the temperature in your room, but also adds a wonderful depth to your Curtains meaning it will hang beautifully at your window. Perfect for bedrooms and living rooms, a thermal Interlining adds extra thickness to your Curtains to help insulate your room and keep your space cosy in winter and cool in summer, plus it lets a gentle amount of light filter through.

Curtains guide
Sabe Voile Ivory Curtains

Decide on length

How long a Curtain should be is a matter of taste, window type and functionality. When measuring, think about…

Should the Curtain go from ceiling to floor?
This works especially well in high ceiling rooms with tall and narrow windows; rooms where you want the ceiling to appear higher; and also on ultra-wide windows and doors in open plan spaces or balcony bedrooms.

Should the Curtain cover the bottom pane of glass?
Known as a café Curtain this allows privacy while letting in maximum natural light. It works particularly well in kitchens and bathrooms.

Should the Curtain go to the window sill?
This is a popular – some consider an outdated – choice. They can sit just above the sill or just below. It works best when you have a radiator or sofa underneath the window and breaks the wall visually.  

Should the Curtain go full length to graze or hover above the floor?
This ensures easy opening, minimal dust pick up and also maximum coverage of the window and the wall beneath it so wins points on the insulation front too.

Should the Curtains puddle on the floor?
This opulent look allows excess length to pool attractively on the floor. Pulling the Curtains can be awkward so works better for decorative and occasional use rooms.   

Curtains guide
Voyage Maison Hedgerow Cream Curtains

Choose what you love

Finally, Curtains should serve a practical need and also be pleasing to the eye, but the magic of room decor design is that it expresses your personality and the character of your home. As the renowned interior designer Bunny Williams once said, ‘If you love something, it will work. That’s the only real rule.’ 

Happy Curtain choosing!