Mad About . . .

All You Need To Know About Window Dressings

10th March 2020
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That’s curtains and blinds and privacy etc. This is an edited extract from the book as well as being one of the most common questions I am asked so while I would recommend you buy the book (well I would wouldn’t I) I hope this will also address some of the questions you might have around this issue.

1 What sort of blinds should I have?

Roller blinds are the cheapest and easiest style, but many people don’t like them in rooms other than kitchens and bathrooms. I have fixed roller blinds across the middle part of my sash windows, where they pretty much disappear until needed. But Hillarys do a pull up from the bottom blind in lots of different colours that you can also use.

forest green bedrooms are said to encourage a good night's sleep bedroom belonging to madaboutthehouse.com

velvet roman blinds in bedroom belonging to madaboutthehouse.com

Roman blinds are the wide slatted ones that pleat up when you raise and lower them. The heavier construction means you can choose velvet for a more luxurious feel, which makes them more appropriate for the living room and bedroom. However, as they fold up on themselves they can take up quite a lot of space at the top of the window and may cut the light. Cheaper mechanisms do have a tendency to go wrong, and then they look messy. If you want this style, then it’s best if you can hang them on the wall just above the window frame to avoid losing light.

I also love this version which is a little prettier and softer but have yet to discover the proper name for them. Someone suggested Relaxed Roman so I’m going with that for now. One day I will have this in the bedroom.

relaxed roman blinds via sarahbrown interiors

relaxed roman blinds via @sarahbrowninteriors made by @emmastuartinteriors fabric by @florasoames 

Venetian blinds are horizontal slats that can be pivoted to let in more or less light. Technically, a genuine Venetian blind is made from metal, and they can be a bit ‘office’. Also – they’re dust magnets.

Wooden blinds are like Venetians but, er, wooden. They can make a room a lot darker even when the slats are angled open. They can work in kitchens or bathrooms (watch out for grease attracting dust in the former) but aren’t really cosy enough for bedrooms and living rooms.

Pleated blinds are a sort of cross between a Roman and a roller. Imagine a very thin Roman blind that rolled right up. Some have a honeycomb shape, which is a great insulator. These are the ones that can be fitted to the bottom of a window and pulled up.

madaboutthehouse sitting room in fallen plum by atelier ellis

sheer roller blinds fixed half way up the window at madaboutthehouse.com

Vertical blinds are, as the name suggests, vertical. Like Venetian blinds, these are generally regarded as more office than domestic, although they can work in a 1960s or 1970s period house. I also once saw some made from linen in front of a large French window and the effect was much softer and prettier than the plasticky material they are most commonly made from.

Tie-up blinds are the ones that look like frilly knickers.Two or three cords hang down from the blind that, when pulled, raise the blind, creating a scalloped effect. Best left in the 1980s. Although, as we all know, what goes around comes around. And perhaps, with just a cord at each side this is the Relaxed Roman from above. A simple curve rather than a frilly knicker.

How Much Curtain Material Do I Need?

Curtains need to be wider than the window if you don’t want light to filter through the sides. And to pull properly and appear generous, you need to assume one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half times the width of the window. Decide which you want and multiply it by the length of the curtain pole. Divide the answer by the width of the fabric and round up to the nearest whole number. If your pattern is a large floral that requires matching when the curtains are closed, you’ll need more. Now read that again slowly so that it makes sense and stops your brain swirling.

You also need to decide what sort of pleating you want across the top. Pencil pleats are the simplest, but you can also have more elaborate pinch pleats. Eyelets are a little old fashioned and tab-tops even more so. Tab-tops can also be harder to pull across a wooden curtain pole, as they don’t slide smoothly.

Must I have Floor Length Curtains?


Once upon a time, all houses were draughty. If the window was on the other side of the room from the radiator, the hot air from the radiator would rise, while the cold air from the window would sink and move along the floor, creating a draught. Putting the radiator under the window pushed that cold air upwards where it was warmed by the heat from the radiator, ensuring that any draughts were warm not cold. This is less of a problem now with modern, double-glazed windows, but the question arises: what do you do if you want curtains, as long ones will block the heat from the radiator?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the draught (as it were). If you can’t move the radiators, and short curtains are stylistically wrong, then you need to have blinds that you can pull for privacy during the early part of the evening when the room is being warmed by the radiator. Leave the floor-length curtains open until the room is warm, then you can draw them. The blinds will give some extra insulation too.

Why You Should Consider The Linings Too

It’s a small point, but it is certainly one that’s worth considering. Rather than the standard dull beige lining, why not choose a lining in a colour that coordinates with your room or the curtain fabric? A friend of mine has double-sided curtains – one side floral, the other a stripe – on her huge French doors and they look pretty from the outside as well as the inside.

AbigailAhernxHillarys coloured curtain lining in dockyard, chimney, tanner and tobacco

AbigailAhernxHillarys coloured curtain lining in dockyard, chimney, tanner and tobacco

And What About Oddly-Shaped Windows?

The most common culprit is the bay window. Bay windows are big, so they need a lot of curtain. And when that curtain isn’t pulled shut it can take up a lot of space on the wall either side – and obscure the light altogether in the two angled side windows. Which is why many people – me included – opt for blinds.

Curtains by Pret a Vivre

green curtains by Kate Lovejoy Interiors Photo by Adam CarterYou can spend a lot of money on a rail that angles right back across the sides of the bay so the curtain goes back across the wall not the window. Bear in mind this will mean you can’t have a lamp or a chair in that corner as it will be full of curtain. You can buy curtain rails that fix to the ceiling in front of the window, but the same furnishing issue results. Or you can fix blinds to the windows and have small curtains at the sides that are for decoration only and are never meant to be pulled. It’s a compromise, but many things in houses are. If you live in a big house with lots of wall space and big square rooms, this won’t be an issue. If you live in a typically narrow Victorian terrace you need all the space you can get, and the curtains aren’t helping.

Another common problem is when the window goes right up to the ceiling and there isn’t room for a curtain pole. Usually you will have to cheat and fix it either side of the window frame. If that looks odd, add a pelmet. They’re not fashionable now, but then nor was grey paint 10 years ago.

A look at how to hang the right kind of curtains with Kate Watson-Smyth. Choosing curtains the same colour as the wall will create a sleek and cohesive

A look at how to hang the right kind of curtains with Kate Watson-Smyth. Choosing curtains the same colour as the wall will create a sleek and cohesive

British houses are full of oddly shaped windows, from circles to arches and skylights. Sometimes blinds really
are the only option.

The trickiest ones I have come across are curved 1930s windows that go around corners. Usually you have to square these off either with curtains or blinds. Alternatively, if you want to keep the shape (and why not – it’s a feature) you need to dump the curtain and frost the glass, either with stick-on window film, or something more permanent.

What Can I Use Instead of Net Curtains?

There are various options. You won’t like all of them. Pick the one that works for you. Window film comes in lots of cool patterns and means no one can see in. Unfortunately, you can’t see out either.

window film by mini moderns

window film by mini moderns

Voile is sheer material that is very pretty and less naff than nets. For now… But you can also have Roman blinds made from voile, which is a more modern alternative. Consider layering with curtains, as when it’s dark outside, people will be able to see in.

Bottom-up blinds do what they say, but you can choose how high you pull them up. This means you can have natural light coming in from the top half of the window, and maintain privacy at the bottom. An alternative to this – which I have done – is to fix a plain roller blind to the middle of the sash window that pulls down to the bottom. 

Shutters often have slats that you can angle for privacy. I tend to think they make the room dark all the time but they are insanely popular – even for those who don’t live on a plantation.

Kate Watson-Smyth and Sophie Robinson takes a house tour with Supper Club host Laura Jackson for the Great Indoors Podcast. Her the master bedroom the pretty curved blinds were made by the Hackney Draper from vintage linen and the kidney shaped sofa was an eBay find and reupholstered in a floral fabric. #bedroom #windowblind #thegreatindoors #madaboutthehouse

laura jackson relaxed roman blinds

I hope that has been helpful and, of course, there is more of this sort of thing in the new book Mad About The House 101 Interior Design Answers should you fancy. This is just five of the answers, there are 96 more.


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  • Ros 11th March 2020 at 6:53 pm

    Oh gosh – I didn’t realise eyelets were out of fashion – I quite like them! We are about to look at curtains for our newly decorated bedroom. Are poles still ok to hang curtains from? They look more of a feature than a rail.

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 13th March 2020 at 10:22 am

      If you like them you should have them! It’s only ever about asking youself the question before you spend the money. Poles or rails – whatever suits you or the room you are in.

  • Cheryl 11th March 2020 at 7:49 am

    I once lined curtains with a deep blue lining. Although they hung at a north facing window which didn’t get a lot of direct sunlight, they faded drastically. The result was a horrible streaky effect. Worth bearing in mind if using coloured lining.

  • Anna 10th March 2020 at 12:05 pm

    So what about those curtain rails embedded into the ceiling as seen in expensively furnished homes (flats especially)? The curtain track allows curtains to glide along the ceiling. I wonder if this can be done after a place has been built because it’s a beautifully elegant solution?

    • Louise Misell 19th March 2020 at 6:03 pm

      Yes – those curtain tracks can be added after a place has been built, but the ‘hole’ for the track needs to be cut precisely for it to work and look neat. They are a great idea and look amazing, but it’s definitely not a DIY job – I’ve seen a few builders mess this up! They are called top fix flush-fitting tracks, and I usually use ones made Silent Gliss on my projects. I hope that helps!

  • Karen @maisondelabastide 10th March 2020 at 10:22 am

    Great info. and your velvet roman blinds sound so rich and luxurious. You may be able to alter them to the relaxed style by removing the rods and channel stitching. Perhaps have a chat with Sophie’s curtain lady to see if it’s possible. A money-saving way to change the look.
    I know it’s impossible to mention all window types but something that is very difficult to get right is when the windows open inwards, like here in France. It’s something that I struggled with in our last house and mainly opted for no window treatments. I want to use window treatments more in our new house so this will be a challenge. Loving your new book, so much good, down-to-earth info.

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 10th March 2020 at 4:38 pm

      That sounds clever – I might investigate that.

  • longdenlife 10th March 2020 at 9:21 am

    All our upstairs windows are in the eaves. The window is vertical (of course), but the wall is vertical half way up the window and then at an angle for the top half (hope this makes sense!). If we hang curtains they will fall quite far away from the wall, shutters wont work so it looks like roman blinds all round. Of course, none of the windows are a standard width so they all have to be made to measure!

  • Elizabeth Scott 10th March 2020 at 8:35 am

    Sorry…omitted to say that yours is beautiful…where did it come from?

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 10th March 2020 at 4:39 pm

      They are the Abigail Ahern Collection from Hillarys so you could try there for starters. Or they might be able to make you some in plain velvet if you don’t fancy any of those patterns. x

  • CB 10th March 2020 at 8:21 am

    Your relaxed Roman blind is more usually referred to as a London Blind, and the frilly swagged version is the Austrian Blind, beloved by my mum and aunties when Laura Ashley was house haute couture on the high street.

  • Elizabeth Scott 10th March 2020 at 8:07 am

    Oh wow! Velvet Roman blinds! I’ve been wrestling for a year with the problem of a fully-lit car park and modern windows going up to the wall on one side of my not large study/spare room and these are the answer. I hardly dare to check the price.

  • Sairer 10th March 2020 at 8:00 am

    Hi Kate, I believe that the ‘Relaxed Roman Blind’ you refer to is called a ‘London blind’. I can remember making lots of them in the mid to late 90s! Yep, far less frilly knicker to their 1980s counterpart, the Austrian blind!

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