How To Select The Best Curtains, Drapes Or Window Treatments

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Over the past 15 years, it’s been considered a stylish solution to abandon drapes for the sleek look of blinds and shades. However, with so many options for window treatments available, and our work-from-home behaviors leading us to create increasingly welcoming home environments, it might be time to rethink that approach.

Whether you call them “curtains,” “drapes” or “window treatments,” we are not mincing words here. This article is all about using window-enhancing fabrics to finish your bedroom, dining room, living room or any other room you want to decorate with a layer of softness and sophistication. Curtains provide an opportunity to enhance your room’s color scheme and home décor style, as well as allow your inner interior designer to be a bit bolder. Drapes can be fabulous with on-trend prints and beautiful fabric textures in a way that is not suitable for upholstery.

Even if your home already has blinds, shades or shutters, you can still enhance your windows with curtains. Depending on how you hang them, drapes can make your windows look more prominent and create an illusion of taller ceilings. Adding fabric softness to your room can make your home feel cozier and more inviting.

On the practical side, drapes can also enhance your sleep by shutting out the light. They can provide greater privacy and a sense of security by preventing a clear view into your windows at night. They also protect your upholstered furniture and rugs from the fading effects of sunlight.

Alright, decorators and home improvement aficionados. Convinced you to give it a try? Here are some DIY considerations for choosing the suitable curtains for that perfect finishing touch on your home.

Related: The 17 Best Curtains To Keep The Cold Out [A Shopping Guide] 

What Do Your Windows Need?

The first thing homeowners need to consider is what purpose do the curtains serve. It is entirely okay if the intention is purely decorative. Still, if you also require energy efficiency, light-blocking and light-filtering or privacy, it’s crucial to identify that from the very beginning.

Stationary Panels 

When choosing curtains for purely cosmetic reasons, meaning you do not need to pull them completely across the window for privacy reasons, then consider using stationary panels. Most drapery panels are around 47″ wide, and most are hung on pins with pleats or gathered on a rod in some manner. Since they are gathered, a 47″ wide curtain is going to take up about 20″ of space; not enough to cover your whole window frame but enough for a design impact!

Hanging a stationary panel on each side of your window can create the decorating impact you seek without requiring you to purchase extra curtain panels to cover the entire width of your window. Plus, that will save you money. Stationary panels also benefit from keeping their well-kept, tailored look for a long time because they are NOT being manipulated and pulled across the window every day.

Stationary panels also work well if your windows already have blinds or shades in place when privacy is needed, and their appearance enhances the other fabrics in your room by introducing prints or textures in your color scheme.

Lined Drapes 

West Elm

Rooms where you need to reduce daylight, such as a nursery or bedroom, will benefit from lined drapes that can be drawn across the entire window. When purchasing drapes online, pay particular attention to the article description so that you know if the fabric is lined. If a drape is unlined, the color and print will look different when natural light and sunlight filter through it, which might not be ideal for your bedroom curtains. For the effect that most consistently reflects your print or fabric design, lining is required. Many sources distinguish curtains from drapes by identifying curtains as unlined, most often sold in pairs.

Lined drapes have the added benefit of hanging well. The extra weight of the lining helps pull the fabric taut, and the material will hang elegantly. If you purchase custom-made drapes, you can expect that they will be weighted with a small weight in the hem and the lining. If you find ready-made drapes with weights, it’s a bonus and a sign of a quality product!

Black-Out Curtains

If your room needs total darkness, which you might consider if your work hours require you to go to bed exceedingly early or catch daytime z’s, a common approach is to use drapes with an opaque blackout lining. Ready-made curtains with blackout lining are not offered in a wide variety of quality fabrics. A more stylish approach would be to use a window treatment combination of blinds to shut out the light entirely along with lined drapes. You can also consider using a blackout curtain rod that curves on the sides and allows your drapery to meet the wall. This keeps light from peeking in at the edges of your windows.

Related: Replacing Windows On Your Home [Get Started The Right Way] 

How Will I Ever Choose?

Once you decide you need to add window treatments to your home, you are going to start noticing them everywhere from Pinterest to Houzz, in magazines, at your friends’ homes and even while watching your favorite Netflix show. Indulging this virtual review will help you find what you like.

Fabric Thickness

Start to notice the thickness of the fabrics. Sheer, gauzy fabrics can give your home that beachy feel without a huge investment. Linen curtains and materials are very well-suited to styles ranging from French to farmhouse. Sheer curtains and fabrics are generally unlined, allowing light to filter through the fabrics for that unique, airy and upscale casual look.

Opaque fabrics like lined silk (and faux silks) can impart elegance to your room. Choosing velvet curtains can make your room cozy and intimate, and in colder climates, it can help save on your energy bills.

Complete Your Room Look

Opened book on comfortable sofa against window in the room

Match your fabric type to your decorating style. If your room is formal and traditional (think: chandelier in the room), then looking for a conventional lined and tailored appearance for your window curtains is an excellent way to go. If your décor is casual (think: plain throw pillows and matching sectional couch), you can expand your choices to include more comfortable fabrics and consider more informal ways of hanging them. (More on that later!)

When choosing a print fabric for your drapes, one thing to think about is what the material looks like when it’s hanging accordion-style from your curtain rod. Usually, you will not be able to see the complete details of the print! Striped fabric can lose its pattern when you turn it into a curtain, and therefore, geometric patterns, ikat patterns or those with close repeats might be better choices for your windows.

Some terrific retail and online options for high-quality ready-made window coverings include Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel and Ballard Designs. Ballard also offers a wide range of semi-custom drapery panels in various fabrics. These sources also provide drapes of different lengths.

Custom treatments can be accessed through your local interior design professional or at a full-service fabric retailer like Calico. These resources will provide you with a wide variety of fabric choices and design advice to help with your decision-making. Within your community, you may have a fabric workroom specializing in drapery, so be sure to Google that option if you are not working with a designer.

Retailers such as Smith & Noble, Blinds To Go and Budget Blinds also offer fabric draperies with fabrics that can be custom designed for your windows. Many of these custom drapery providers will include an onsite visit to measure your windows, and they will install them for you.

Waiting time for custom drapes depends on fabric availability, delivery times and production time. Expect to wait 3-4 weeks for your drapes, and perhaps longer if there is a production backlog.

Think Practical

There are window treatments available in many types of fabrics, so a few things to keep in mind include the fabric’s weight. If the material is hefty (think wool or tweed), it might overwhelm your room. If it’s too light (unlined sheer fabric print, for example), then they might not hang very neatly. If your home is busy with small kids and pets, decide whether you need to have curtains made of washable fabric. Most quality, lined drapes are going to require dry cleaning.

Whichever option you choose, custom or ready-made, you still have other decisions to make!

Size Matters

Generally viewed as the most stylish option for drapes, achieving the right full-length look means considering a couple of things. Most importantly, how close to the floor should they be? There are three options: graze the floor, break at the base or puddle on the floor. Puddled drapes are usually reserved for silky fabric textures, more formal environments, and usually not in homes where kids and pets can get tangled up in the extra fabric.

Drapes that break at the floor are those that meet the floor in a way similar to how men’s dress pants meet over the shoe, with a slight bend. Drapes that graze the floor are within an inch of the floor and hang in a smooth line.

Choose Your Height


Hanging drapes that hover too far above the floor can create an awkward line and distract from your intended design. The best way to manage drapery length and achieve a smooth line? Carefully measure and plan to hang the rod accordingly. A recommended placement for the rod is to mount it 6″ above the window. To create an illusion of higher ceilings, you can mount it higher in the space between window and ceiling. There is no “wrong” place in that zone, so choose the height that you can replicate throughout the room, and the one that works best for your drapery length.

Sometimes the rod placement is dictated by the available drapery lengths when you are purchasing ready-made curtains. Standard sizes include 84″, which for a typical home will accommodate rods mounted just above the window and provide a drapery length to the floor. This is the most common drapery length you will find for floor-length curtains.

Fortunately, most sellers of quality, ready-made drapes also offer additional lengths to create more dramatic designs and accommodate larger-scale rooms and windows. Standard lengths in addition to 84″ include 96″, 108″ and even 120″! If you find that the ready-made curtains you want are an inch or two too long, consider buying them and having them altered by a professional. It is also possible to customize ready-made drapes by using trims and tapes, many of which can be added with fabric glue (no sewing required!). With a few tips from Pinterest, you can create a unique look and exactly right for your home.

What’s Up Top

Not only will your drapery choices involve fabric, style and length, but you will also need to make decisions about which type of header you would like. Traditional drapes are pinch pleated at the top and hung on the rod with hidden pins. This style, sometimes called French pleats, can also be used with a wide range of décor styles, and it is valued for its simple elegance.

There are several other pleated drapes, including inverted pleats (where the fabric gathered into a ruffle hidden in the back), box pleats that create a smooth, tailored look and goblet pleats, which result in loose material between the pleats and creates a romantic, luxurious look.

Drapes that are threaded onto a rod without hardware using a fabric channel sewn at the top are called rod-pocket drapes. The result is a gathered look on either side of the window, and these often work well with lightweight fabrics. One disadvantage to rod pocket drapes is that they cannot be easily pulled across the window and are best left in place. An advantage to this style is that they often accommodate washable fabrics and are often available at a lower price point.


Grommet-style drapes work with several décor styles. These drapes have a metal ring that creates an opening within the fabric and is then slid onto the rod. They benefit from hanging well and can make a finished look for your room without being stuffy. A tip for using grommet-style drapes is to match the metal finishes: drapery grommets, rods and metal finishes in your room should all be in the same color family for the best look.

Drapes that are hung with ring clips work well with several header styles. In fact, many retailers offer drapes that can be hung with clasps and directly on the rod, so read the product description carefully. Ring clips create an up-to-date look and provide a lot of flexibility if you want to move the drapes across the window freely.

Related: Redecorating Your Living Room [High And Low End Options] 

Show Me the Money!

An unfortunate fact is that drapery can place a strain on your decorating budget, but you can make some adjustments to help. Rooms with large or specialty-shaped windows may require a custom solution, which is the highest cost option. Still, many standard windows can accommodate ready-made or semi-custom curtains that will positively impact your design. If you are renting, purchasing ready-made curtains is a good choice since you can use them whenever you move to a new location.

You can also manage your budget by using drapes in the spaces where you feel they will make the most impact. Living areas and bedrooms are excellent choices for that approach.

Whichever option you choose, you want to make sure you get your money’s worth. Be certain to measure correctly and adequately, purchase the best quality in your budget range and hang with an eye for detail. If you are hesitant about your hanging skills, consider having your drapes professionally installed.

Be a bit bold, invest in a bit of fabric texture and create your stylish nest by choosing drapes for your windows. You won’t be disappointed!

You might also be interested in: The 12 Best Full-Size Loft Beds For Adults [Complete Guide]

Patrice Devereaux

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