Here's How to Get the Most From Your Curtains

Curtains are a basic part of any decorating scheme. Here’s how to choose them fearlessly.


Curtains are a decorator’s best friend, adding warmth, flair and beauty to a room. Declare your personal style with simple fabric panels, drapes that puddle on the floor or even short, chic café curtains. You’ll love the way they instantly transform your space.

Café Curtains

Café curtains, which originally hung in the windows of roadside cafes, became popular in the 1950s. These drapes are usually positioned halfway up the window, so the bottom portion is covered, leaving the top open to let in light and views.

Simple in design, they’re usually hung via curtain hook or rod pocket, and gathered across the width of the window. Sometimes they’re one panel and other times they’re two, depending on whether the ability to open them is desired.

They’re a natural fit for kitchens and bathrooms, and while they’re usually used in modern and traditional homes, with the right fabric, these clever curtains could also make sense for modern and contemporary spaces.

Curtains and Drapes

While most of us use the terms curtains and drapes interchangeably, there’s actually a difference between the two. Curtains are typically used in less formal rooms or homes, and are made of lighter material, often sheer. Drapes are more likely to be found in a formal setting, and made of heavier, lined fabric – they’re particularly used in rooms where you’re likely to entertain guests. For the purposes of this article, though, we’ll use them synonymously.

Heading Types

Curtains come in a variety of styles, often defined by their headings. Header types can include:

·         Gathers (this is the look you get with a rod pocket)

·         Pinch pleats

·         Box pleats

·         Tab tops

·         Back tab (where the tabs or loops are invisible from the front)

·         Grommet

How They Drape

They can also be described by how they hang. The simplest drape is a panel, which is one piece of fabric suspended from a rod. These can be window- or floor-length, or can be long enough to puddle on the floor (usually 4 inches longer than floor-length).

A swag is a draped piece of fabric with long ends hanging down either side of the window. A jabot or cascade is similar to a swag, except the side panels are decorative and narrow. A window scarf is a long piece of fabric hung or looped over a curtain rod, usually in lieu of curtains.

Other curtain types include:

·         Bishop’s sleeves, which are poufed over a tieback and puddle on the floor

·         Priscillas or Cape Cods are typically made of sheer fabric, and crisscross or meet in the center

·         Sheers are panels made of see-through fabric used alone or under drapes to let in sunlight and add a little bit of privacy

The Right Curtain for the Right Room

Choose fabric based not only on your room’s style and colors, but also its use. For example, velvet drapes would give a bedroom a soft, formal feel, while also offering thermal and blackout qualities.

Kitchens typically don’t need the sort of privacy as bedrooms or bathrooms, so you could use café curtains, sheers or even just a valance.

A bathroom is a great place for a café curtain or window-length drape, minimizing the potential for coming into contact with a wet floor.

Living rooms offer a wide variety of options, from the lightest sheers to the heaviest drapes, and are perfect for displaying jabots, swags and other fancy toppers.

When picking curtains or drapes, knowing these basic decorating terms and tips can help you make the right choice for your space. Start with how and where they’ll be used, letting function be your guide. Then, no matter what fabric or style you go with, you’ll know you’re getting the most out of your window treatments. 

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