When it comes to decorating a room, curtains are often the last thing on your mind – and the most difficult to decide on (at least in my experience). It’s easy to get swept up in different interior styles and pretty home accessories, but a room without curtains looks bare, naked and unfinished. If you look at any of the below images and picture them without curtains, you’ll see a series of unfinished and cold looking rooms.
One of the mistakes I made when decorating my home was deciding on the curtains last. Firstly, it meant we had very little privacy (one of the main functions of curtains).
I hadn’t anticipated lying on the floor trying to wriggle into my clothes and underwear every morning, trying to keep out of sight from passers by. I also hadn’t anticipated waking up at half past four every morning when it started to get light outside – another major function of curtains is keeping out light. Or feeling overly exposed at night with the lights on.
Choosing the right curtains can be a difficult and time-consuming decision, especially if, like me, you haven’t done it before. We put it off for months because we didn’t know where to start. Since then, I’ve learnt a lot more about the different styles, lengths, pleats, rods, fabrics, pelmets and valances (bear with me, I’ll explain), so I hope to help here with a brief overview, along with some gorgeous inspiration and ideas.
Far from an after-thought, curtains add length to a room, frame a window, add wow-factor, and when using complimenting fabrics to other upholstery or cushions then curtains can be the finishing touch in tying a room together.
From poles to tracks, tab-top to tie-top and from pleats to pelmets, here are a few window dressing ideas to inspire your next project.
Curtain hanging systems
There are two ways you can hang your curtains; on a track or on a rod / pole.
1. Curtain track
A curtain track is an unobtrusive and elegant way to hang curtains, as you don’t see the track at all. They are often layered in double or even triple tracks, combining blackout curtains with sheers or voiles in bedrooms.
Voile curtains complete the look of this bedroom – head over to Yorkshire Linen for some great designs on a bargain.
The quiet, efficient and smooth operation of tracking systems make them a very popular choice. They are also perfect for curved windows when curtains need to move smoothly around a corner – for example in bay windows. Brackets normally get in the way of curtain rings being pulled around a bay, but this design uses passing rings that allow the curtains to be drawn all the way round.
2. Curtain pole
A curtain pole is always visible above the curtains, unless you cover it with a pelmet or valance. They are available in different sizes and can be made from wood or metals.
The above curtain fabric is available from Jane Churchill.
Poles are usually capped at each end with a finial, a decorative stopper affixed to the ends of a pole to prevent the curtain slipping off.
Curtains should frame a window, so make sure hardware is installed to reflect that. A rule of thumb is to allow an extra 10 per cent of rod on each side, but heavier fabrics will require a bit more.
When curtains are open, the space that the gathered fabric takes up is called “the stack”. The stack should not cover too much of the window itself when the curtains are pulled.
The heading style is the term used to describe the way the top of the curtain attaches to the hardware (the poles or tracks). Rod pocket, eyelet and tab top are amongst the most popular ways to hang curtains.
1. Rod Pocket
The most basic heading is the rod pocket (also known as pole pocket) style. This is when the curtain fabric is turned back on itself to create a pocket through which to feed the curtain rod. The curtain rod fits through the tunnel at the top of the curtain fabric, allowing it to gather together slightly.
Although decorative, it’s not particularly functional due to the difficulty of sliding the curtain along the railing.
2. Curtain rings
Using curtain rings is a popular choice. Curtains are attached to rings using small curtain hooks, and those rings are then slipped onto the curtain rod. This is a practical and durable solution, and the curtains can easily be removed and replaced.
Eyelet curtains can only be used with curtain poles and have a very contemporary and almost industrial feel. Curtains with eyelet headings give large, even and naturally soft folds.
Image Credit: Ideal Home
4. Tab Top
Tab-top curtains have loops at the top, made from the same or contrasting fabric.
These modern, informal curtains can only be used with curtain poles. It’s more of a decorative rather than functional style since moving the tabs can also prove awkward.
As the curtain hardware is very exposed, it’s important to invest in quality, good-looking poles and finials.
5. Tie Top
This is where ribbons attached to the top of the curtains tie around the rod forming little bows. It’s a very informal, relaxed and rustic style, often used with linens and other light fabrics.
6. Pencil pleat
Pleats are the way that the fabric is gathered and bunched together.
Contemporary and elegant, the pencil pleat consists of long, tight folds from the top of the curtain. These tidy and consistent folds at the top of the curtain resemble the size of a pencil, hence the name.
These curtains are hung with drapery hooks attached to the back of the curtains where they can’t be seen, and then hooked onto a rod system.
7. Goblet pleat
A more traditional and formal curtain hanging style is the Goblet pleat, which looks great in a Victorian, Georgian or other home with a high ceiling.
The top of the curtain has a cylindrical cuff that resembles a wine glass. The main pleat is shaped and filled with wadding or interlining.
These curtains are usually seen in grand or traditional rooms with high ceilings.
8. Pinch pleat
This involves groups of three pleats which sit at the top of the curtain. They’re kept together at the base of the pleats by means of a stitch and allow to fan out.
This is an elegant and simple style. This is a very versatile style that can be hung on curtain tracks or poles, and often looks great when paired with fabric blinds.
The above curtain fabric is by Jane Churchill.
9. Gathered pleat
This style of pleated curtain is a cross between a pinch pleat and a pencil pleat. A gathered curtain is created by sewing a pleating tape to the back of the top edge, then pulling cords in the tape to achieve the desired level of gathering.
10. French or tailored pleat
French-pleated curtains have groups of triple pleats, placed evenly along the curtains to create a formal heading. These curtains stack neatly to each side and are ideal for a formal dining or lounge room.
11. Box pleat
A box pleat is made up of single folds of fabric, creating straight folds down the length of the curtain.
1. Roman blinds
Roman blinds are fabric blinds that fold or roll down vertically. They are a more modern choice of window treatment.
The above fabric is available from Jane Churchill.
Blinds don’t take up as much space as curtains, and don’t come down to the floor, making them a popular choice for functional rooms such as bathrooms.
Blinds can be paired with curtains for a more decorative and elegant look.
All of the fabrics in the picture above are by Jane Churchill.
2. Festoon / balloon blinds
Another type of blinds is festoon of balloon blinds, where the fabric bunches up when the blinds are raised, and released when they are lowered.
Pelmets and valances
Pelmets and valances are placed above windows and over the heads of the curtains to add a finished look to the top of the window and curtain, camouflaging the track or pole.
They can be used to create an illusion of height and change the proportion of the window. They provide a neat finish to your windows as they hide curtain poles and other fixings.
Pelmets are usually flat and box like in shape.
However, pelmets can be shaped to add decorative detail for a more elegant and feminine finish.
Often made from chipboard and covered in a decorative fabric, they are a fantastic way of concealing multiple curtains rods (used when you hang multiple layers of curtains like a sheer and block out curtain) in a beautiful way.
They can also be made from timber, creating a more contemporary edge.
Aside from hiding curtains and curtain rails, they also work beautifully with Roman blinds.
Valances are made for the same principals but are much softer in appearance with a gathered or pleated heading. A valance is usually soft and drapey, while a pelmet is firm and structured and usually, but not always, upholstered.
You can recreate the look of a sophisticated hotel bedroom by selecting pillows to match your pelmet and tie-back fabric.
Window film is a thin laminate film that works as a sticker. The ‘sticker’ is stuck to windows to create privacy, but still allow the light to flow in. Not a popular choice for decorative rooms like living rooms or bedrooms, although a practical choice for bathrooms and laundry rooms.
Another window treatment are shutters which help to create a sense of privacy. They are used mainly on street-facing windows.
Curtain Fabric, lining and length
Then there are different kinds of fabrics – from thick, lined curtains and black-out blinds for bedrooms to sheer voile fabrics and light linens.
Materials that hang well in curtain form include silk, faux silk, velvet and linen.
Then there are all the different colours and shades to choose from – although most interior designers tend to choose neutral shades as they are less likely to fade or go out of fashion.
It’s always a good idea to have curtains lined in order to preserve their longevity and provide them with a feeling of fullness. Lined and interlined curtains will insulate even further and provide a total blockout of light that also helps to prevent textiles fading from the sun. Lined curtains also help the fabric drape and fall more evenly.
When it comes to the length of curtains, the modern take is to have your curtains flush with the floor (rather than pooling). curtains should always be long – they should just touch the floor.
Hanging curtains higher than the window will add height to the room. If you can, hang your curtains at least 15cm above the window frame. For a more dramatic look, hang them even higher, from the ceiling or just below the cornices. This will lift the eye and make a low ceiling appear higher.
To ensure that your curtains look draped when closed, curtain widths should be two to two-and-a-half times the width of the window.