These Types of Curtains Are More than Just Window Dressing

Why have curtains? Once your décor scheme is set, the types of curtains you choose are another big decision – and a very important one. Window treatments will determine how you control the light entering the space as well as the overall finished look of the room. This is a critical décor element that can be costly, so it’s important to understand the basic types of curtains and other considerations with regard to their style and installation. Choosing window treatments can be overwhelming because there are so many options, each with advantages and disadvantages.

Types of Curtains for Every Style and BudgetView in gallery
Types of Curtains for Every Style and Budget
Combining types of curtains is a common decorating strategy.View in gallery
Combining types of curtains is a common decorating strategy.

Drapes or Curtains – What’s the Difference?

While most of us might use the terms interchangeably, there are some major difference between drapes and curtains. First, most types of curtains are usually unlined and made from lighter fabrics than drapes. Many styles are available off the shelf and do not need to be a custom project. Curtains are more casual and homey, and are often made of washable fabrics. This makes many types of curtains family-friendly and perfect for households with less formality and tighter budgets. One consideration to keep in mind is that unlined curtains will not block much light and are often used in conjunction with blinds if controlling light is a concern or if total privacy is necessary.

On the other hand, the fabrics used for drapes are generally of a heavier weight and are lined, either with regular fabric or a thermal material. While in the past, draperies have been associated with a higher level of formality and traditional décor schemes, today’s contemporary looks often incorporate drapes as well. More casual styles and a wider range of less formal textiles are available for draperies than they were in the past.

Real silk drapes must be lined and will have a natural, tousled look.View in gallery
Real silk drapes must be lined and will have a natural, tousled look.
Unlined curtains can still be very stylish.View in gallery
Unlined curtains can still be very stylish.

Colors and Fabrics

Once you decide whether you want curtains or drapes, you need to consider fabrics and colors. If you are choosing from among ready-made products, your choices will be more limited than if you go custom, where the world is your oyster as far as the available fabric range is concerned. With regard to colors, most decorators will advise that you stick to neutrals if budget is a concern or if you plan to keep the same curtains or drapes for a longer period of time. This will allow you to freshen up the look of a room’s décor and not be limited by the color of your window treatment. It’s also a more budget-conscious choice for expensive custom draperies that are intended to last a long time. Finally, you the space gets a great deal of sunlight, fading of bright colors is a concern that can limit the lifespan of any types of curtains.

With regard to the actual textile, not only will it determine the appearance of your window treatment, it will have an effect on how your curtains or drapes actually function.

Properly hung, drapes look luxurious and full.View in gallery
Properly hung, drapes look luxurious and full.

“If they’re too heavy, they may not fold crisply when drawn; too light and they may not fall well,” designer Suysel DePedro Cunningham of Tilton Fenwick. This means it’s really important to make fabric choice a hands-on project. Bring large samples into your space and hold them up where the curtains will go. Also, try manipulating the fabric in the style that it will be on your window. “Pleat it like an accordion at the top and let it drape,” advises Lana Lawrence, vice president of Anthony Lawrence-Belfair. She also suggests working with a larger sample of about 2 yards or more to get a good idea of how the material will drape or pleat, especially for costlier custom window treatment projects.

Designers advise that linen, silk, faux silk and velvet are optimum choices because they have the best qualities for hanging and draping. While silk is the most luxurious, the new faux silk fabrics are certainly more durable. And, real silk must be line to prevent rotting and deterioration from the sun. Heavier choices like velvet, tweeds and brocades can also block out more light and insulate the window from drafts and outdoor temperatures.

The choices of lining and interlining, which is a piece of fabric that goes between the main textile and the lining, can enhance insulation and room darkening properties. Lining also plays an important role on giving many types of curtains and drapes their body and fullness when they hang on the window.

Modern curtains are often a single color.View in gallery
Modern curtains are often a single color.

How long should curtains be?

Before heading to the store, decide how far above the window you want to mount the curtains and whether you want them to pool on the floor or hang above it. Six inches above the window frame is a typical place to mount the curtains, it is possible to make a room look taller or more dramatic by installing them farther above the window frame.

A slight pooling on the ground can still look contemporary.View in gallery
A slight pooling on the ground can still look contemporary.

When you measure for curtains, make sure that you measure from the top of the window to the floor, then add the distance above the window to the mount. You will also need to add length if you want the curtains or drapes to puddle in the floor. Designers say that you should add two or three inches for a more tailored puddling, but can add more for a luxurious pool of fabric on the floor. Curtains that hang flush with the floor are a modern look.

For the width, they advise adding four to eight inches on both sides and then doubling the total to get the actual size of the drapes you need. Skimpy measurements will make the window look awkward and the drapes or curtains will not have the full, lush look that is needed.

Curtain measurements should extend past the window on each side.View in gallery
Curtain measurements should extend past the window on each side.

Types Curtains

There’s a long list of the different types of curtains that are available and most are classified by the style of the heading, which is the top of the curtain panels where the hooks or rings are attached. Here’s a rundown of the main types of curtains:

Rod Pocket Curtains

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Also called cased heading curtains, these are among the most common ready-to-hang curtains available for purchase. They are also the simplest t hang because the top has a pocket in the fabric, through which you can slide the curtain rod. These types of curtains ire design to be arranged on the rod and left open as decorative panels and are often used in conjunction with blinds or sheer panels. If you need to pull the curtains open and closed on a regular basis, these are not convenient. 

Eyelet or Grommet Curtains

Grommet curtains eliminate the need for additional rings.View in gallery
Grommet curtains eliminate the need for additional rings.

Eyelet or grommet panels are a contemporary style of curtain where the thin pole is threaded directly through the holes. This kind of curtain heading makes pleats that are large and even. These typed of curtains are not as full as pleated or gathered types, which means they are smoother and require less fabric, notes Tony’s Textiles. They are also more casual and contemporary looking, however they do have a couple of drawbacks in that they cannot be paired with a valance or attached to a traverse rod. Similar to these are types of curtains that consists of a flat panel with no header, to which you can clip a new kind of ring that is then threaded on the same kind of pole you would use for a grommet curtain.

Tab-Top Curtains

Tab top styles need no hardware to attach to the rod.View in gallery
Tab top styles need no hardware to attach to the rod.

These types of curtain are another variety that is easily purchased in a store, ready to hang. Flat loops of fabric – typical the same material as the curtain – extend up from the panel and are threaded on a rod. The look can be made casual or dressed up depending upon the style of fabric used, and variations on the style abound: Embellished loops, tie tops and bows allow you to alter the basic look.

Box Pleated

Box pleat styles are full yet have a tailored appearance.View in gallery
Box pleat styles are full yet have a tailored appearance.

Curtain panels that have box pleats sport a clean look and long, uninterrupted vertical lines. The fabric is deeply folded inward, which looks lush but tailored. It’s a modern yet luxurious look that still has a fabric width of double the window. This style is great for living rooms, dining rooms or bedrooms.

Pinch Pleated

Pinch pleated drapes are among the most formal styles.View in gallery
Pinch pleated drapes are among the most formal styles.

These types of curtains have small set of pleats – anywhere from two to five in a grouping – that are evenly spaced across the top of the panel. The pleats on these drapes can also be called fingers, hence the most popular style is the three- finger pinch pleat. Each pleat is stitched a point only a couple of inches below the top hem, allowing the folds to billow out from the pleats, adding plenty of fullness below and interesting detail above. For a more contemporary look, two-fingered pleats are a more tailored style. These types of curtains attach to the rings or a traverse rod using metal pin hooks that are inserted at the back of each group of pleats. This style is widely used for more traditional design styles. 

Pencil pleats

Pencil pleats are a little more casual than other pleated styles.View in gallery
Pencil pleats are a little more casual than other pleated styles.

Pencil pleats are sometimes also called Tape Top or 3” Tape curtains.  The three-inch width is the standard size of a heading, according to Tony’s Textiles. These types of curtains have successive small pleats across the entire top of the panel.  ON the back, the curtain heading usually has three rows of string that run through the back horizontally, allowing for three different hook positions to better fit the type of curtain rod you choose.

Curtain hardware

More than just the metal from which to hang your new curtains, rods and other hardware are decorative elements that add to the style of the types of curtains you have chosen. There are some basic kinds that are not meant to be seen:

  • Basic curtain rods are cheap, inexpensive and provide an uncluttered look. They are suitable for valances, sheers and rod pocket panels.
  • Traverse rods are for pinch pleated draperies that you will open and close by pulling a cord.
  • Tension rods that have a spring and rubber tipped ends that hold the rod inside the window frames. No brackets or hardware are needed and these are good temporary set-up or easy option for a rental property.
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Traverse rods allow you to pull a cord to close and open the curtains.

Decorative hardware is meant to be a decor element and allows you to add more interest with pieces like finials, colored rods and large, decorative brackets. Just as with custom draperies, the sky is the limit when it comes to decorative hardware. This is another chance to pick up on a theme in the room or to add a metallic touch. Coordinating rings, rods, finials and holdbacks can really tie together an overall look when used properly. Even the options that come in home stores have become much more wide ranging.

Curtains are more than just window dressing - they are an integral part of home decor.View in gallery
Curtains are more than just window dressing – they are an integral part of home decor.

From casual and understated to luxe and grand, different types of curtains can enhance the decor style of your home. By choosing the style that best suits your lifestyle, as well as the specific needs of a room or window, you can really amp up your decor. The right curtains also make a room more comfortable by altering or controlling the amount of light entering the space as well as insulating it from temperature extremes.