As any decorator will tell you, curtains can make a room — but only when chosen correctly. When it comes to window treatments, it's a matter of colour and fabric, length and lining. With so many decisions to make, it's easy to feel overwhelmed, so here are some hints to narrow down the options and help you select the curtains that are right for you.
COLOUR, TEXTURE AND FABRIC
Fabric is an essential part of choosing curtains, since the material will dictate how well your curtains function and hold up over time.
If they're too heavy, they may not fold crisply when drawn; too light and they won’t fall as well. Hold fabrics up to a window, even in a fabric showroom. Pleat it like an accordion at the top and let it drape, if it starts to flare, then it's not going to fall well on the window. If you can, work with a big sample, 1 metre is a good size, as a smaller piece may not show the fabric's true drape, although it will give you an idea of the colour. Don’t forget that sunlight will fade fabrics over time. If the room in question gets a lot of light, it might be better to avoid bright colours, as they tend to fade faster.
If you like to change your rooms more often, you don’t need to worry so much about fading. If you want a look that lasts longer, then go with neutrals since they're less likely to fade than other colours and easier to blend into a room's decor.
Consider the mood of the room. For a formal space, there’s heavy silk or velvet (a great insulator); both are dry-clean only. More practical (often washable) options include silky rayon blends and cotton sateen. For a casual feel, there are billowy linen (generally dry-clean only) and crinkly crushed velvet. Cotton and cotton blends work with any type of decor and bring a crisp, neat feel, as do timeless wool or wool blends.
When it comes to material, linen, silk, faux silk and velvet are great choices to use for window treatments since they tend to hang the best. Faux silk tends to be the most durable, and especially in a sunny room, as faux silk won't deteriorate as quickly as real silk, but if silk is unlined, it will rot.
Do you want the curtains to blend with the decor or to pop? For blending, pick curtains that are the same tone as the wall but a few shades darker, or choose a non-dominant subtle colour in the room (a soft shade from wallpaper or rug, perhaps). A bold colour will draw the eye if you’re looking to add the wow. In a space where the sun shines through unlined curtains, the colour will infuse the room; green may add a spooky glow that wasn’t quite what you were hoping to achieve.
A general rule to follow is to keep patterns to one major item in the room. If you have solid-colour furniture or bedding, consider patterned curtains and vice versa. For a subtle hit of style and energy, go for a small, neutral print, like dots or paisley, which simply looks textural from a distance. A large, graphic print in a colour that relates to the existing decor is daring but can be spectacular.
The top hem of a curtain, known as the heading, can help define the overall look—casual or formal, feminine or sleek—and also play a part in functionality (allowing the panel to slide easily or not). Here’s a quick rundown of common options.
Pencil Pleat Heading A traditional standard heading achieved by applying a 8cm (3”) tape which has 3 hook positions. These are very versatile as you choose to use the hook position which suits your track or pole and can easily adjust the width to fit the window opening.
Pinch Pleat Heading A decorative heading suitable for all fabrics. Pinch pleats can be double or triple pleated and use more fabric, and are therefore fuller, than pencil pleats. The position of the pinch pleats is dependent on the width of the rail or track and are hand-sewn in position.
Goblet Heading In the same way as pinch pleat headings, these type of curtains are made for a specific width window and the pleats are permanently fixed by being sewn in.
Eyelet Heading A decorative alternative for curtain poles, eyelet headings are suitable for lighter curtain fabrics, are easy to hang. The eyelets themselves are available in a variety of colours and the rings generally have an internal diameter of 40mm (1 ½”) and are suitable for poles with a diameter of up to 30mm (1 1/8”).
Tab Top Heading Tab tops are a contemporary heading suitable for most fabrics and are suitable for all curtain poles with a diameter of up to 45mm (1¾"). Tabs are usually in the same fabric as the curtains.
Wave Top Heading Wave curtains are minimalist in appearance and have been designed to create a flowing wave effect. The look is achieved by using a ceiling mounted track, which ensures the fabric hangs in a soft, even folds.
POLES OR TRACKS?
Curtain tracks are the go-to choice for when you really want the fabric to star. Tracks fix close to the wall and curtains glide smoothly along the runner. When closed, curtain tracks are hidden by the curtain header, resulting in a more minimalist finish.
Curtain poles create more of an impact, with the pole adding additional decorative interest. As well as the pole, you can choose from a range of finials to further decorate and accentuate your look.
The next thing to decide is how high above the window you'd like the curtains to begin. Hanging panels higher than the window will give a sense of height to the room, and help to make small window look more in proportion. Designers often hang curtains about 15cm (6”) above the window frame, or halfway between the window and the ceiling for a dramatic look. Don’t go overboard, though; anything over 20cm (8”) can look ‘off’.
Measure from the top of the window (plus the added extra height from where the curtains will hang) to the floor.
HOW LONG SHOULD CURTAINS BE?
Floor-length is the way to go, unless there’s a radiator or a deep sill in the way. Measure from the floor to where you’ll hang the pole or track, then round up. You’ll get the most current look if the fabric makes contact with the floor (or sill or radiator).
Just Hitting the Floor or Sill
This look is classic and tailored and makes sense if you’ll be opening and closing the curtains a lot as they fall back into place easily every time you move them. The fabric should just touch the floor or hover half an inch above. This is also a great approach for café curtains (short panels that cover only the lower portion of a window and hit the sill), which work well in spots like the kitchen and bathroom, where long curtains are less practical.
Breaking at the Floor
Panels extended by 3-8cm (1”-3”) so that they puddle on the floor are very stylish currently as they have a more relaxed feel than those that graze the floor, but they still feel tailored. If you have uneven floors or are worried about precision measuring, this style is more forgiving. In formal rooms, an exaggerated take—15cm (6”) or more of fabric pooling on the floor—can look romantic but is also high-maintenance; curtains need re-positioning every time they are used and animals find them a tempting place for a nap.
HOW WIDE SHOULD CURTAINS BE?
To ensure that panels look ample and drapey when closed, they should have a combined width that is 2 to 2½ times the width of the window. However, if you’re only hanging curtains to frame a window and don’t intend to shut them, you can round down to 1½ times the width. Pleated panels have fullness built in, so their width should match the width you’re covering
When measuring the width of your window, be sure to add four to 10-20cm (8”) on both sides and double the total number to ensure curtain fullness. By doing this you won't block a lot of window glass when the curtains are open, and they won't get in the way, and if you plan to use the curtains to shut out the sun, that little bit extra around the perimeter of your window frame will also help block out any creeping light.
LINING AND INTERLINING
Some fabrics can help keep out the cold. Many hotels use suede, velvet, tapestry or tweed since their weight helps block light and keep heat in. Still, nearly any fabric can be interlined with bump — a thick, insulating felt material. Interlining — a piece of fabric sewn between the lining and the face fabric — can also help prolong the life of the curtains. It is the lining and interlining which gives curtains their body and fullness.
CUSTOMISED WINDOW TREATMENTS
Custom window treatments offer many benefits: You can customise the dimensions to your window size and create a tailored look, like a perfectly-fitted suit. Custom panels come in endless design options, from material to header style. With all of these options you can be sure can create the perfect curtain for your room.
If your head is spinning, don’t worry. It’s true that there are endless options out there and given that window treatments are a real investment, the stakes can feel high. Our advice? No amount of research beats going to a retail or design shop to see and touch the options that are available. Given that almost any type of window treatment you can dream up can be created, your options really are as wide as your imagination! We also recommend that you order swatches of any fabric or other material that you interested in so you can see how they will look in your home.