365 Objects Of Design

What do I need to know about curtains?

10th October 2019

It occurred to me the other day that I have very rarely, almost never, talked about window dressings. Or, for the sake of this post, curtains. That’s partly, actually mostly, because I don’t have any, so it’s not something I think about and partly because when I started this blog – way back in 2012, which is like last century in internet terms, we were in the full throes of everything Scandi and pared back minimal interiors.

image by andrew jonathan interiors bepsoke curtains hung to the ceiling

image by andrew jonathan design bepsoke curtains hung to the ceiling

So I have blinds on every window and that is that. But the times are they are changing – as they tend to do. And while I will never have curtains in my bay window because I need the space at the sides for furniture –  and a big heavy pair of  curtains taking up valuable living space is not the right solution for that room – I am starting to look at the bedrooms and wonder if a curtain mightn’t be a rather lovely cosy idea.

Heavy Velvet Fabric by Pearl Lowe for Woodchip and Magnolia (photography Anna Yanovski)

Heavy Velvet Fabric by Pearl Lowe for Woodchip and Magnolia (photography Anna Yanovski) Design by Em Gurner of Folds Inside

It’s partly a fashion change I’ll admit. Ten years ago it was about seeing the structure of the window and creating a more architectural look, but as the Scandinavian minimalism gives way to a more cosy maximalist style, it feels right to revisit the idea of curtains again.

As I said at the top, it’s tricky if you have a bay window as curtains take up so much space at the sides when they are pulled back. You can either buy an expensive bending pole that allows them to pull fully back from the window and bend round onto the wall (assuming you don’t need that space for furniture as I do) or you will have to have them slightly over the side windows where they will cut the light.

But in a bedroom it can be a lovely warm addition to a room as well as a way of keeping out draughts and adding an extra layer of colour and pattern.

green curtains by Kate Lovejoy Interiors Photo by Adam Carter

green curtains by Kate Lovejoy Interiors Photo by Adam Carter

Now I’m going to work on the principle that if you are having curtains made to measure – as you will often need to do for non-standard sizes – that your chosen curtain maker will advise on size and style before you buy. But if you are just mulling over the idea and/or are fairly convinced that you can make it work with ready made curtains, then here are few tips to get you started.

First up you really should try and hang your curtains as high above the window as you can. This will make everything look taller and longer, particularly when they are closed. If you think that might be strange when they are open then you can add a box pelmet over the top of the window which will hide the fact that the curtains are much higher than the window by making the whole window look taller.

sanderson fabric curtains etchings and roses, room designed by serena pitcher, photo by james french

sanderson fabric curtains etchings and roses, room designed by serena pitchers, photo by james french

When I say box pelmet I mean one that is very plain. The swags and dips of the 80s will be back but we’re not there yet and it won’t be for everyone. I also think, although this is a matter of personal taste, that a flamboyantly patterned curtain looks better when it hangs in a straight column with an ultra simple box pelmet above. The material is fancy enough so keep the shapes simple. And by that I also mean no tie-backs. For what it’s worth a plain velvet curtain also looks great when it drops heavily to the ground.

Which means we should talk about puddling. For some having an extra long curtain puddling on the floor at the bottom is a design crime. For others it’s a sign of cosy luxury. I’m loath to call it a crime but I think it can be a dust collector and a time stealer as you will have to “repuddle” it every morning. Also I feel there is something rather classic and expensive looking about a curtain that drops dead straight to exactly the right length – about a centimetre above the floor so they draw easily – and stops there.

image by andrew jonathan design bespoke curtains hung to the ceilingArchitecture, interiors, design, interior design

image by andrew jonathan design bespoke curtains hung to the ceiling

So we’ve worked out the height –  note in all these pictures by professional interior designers the curtains are full length from ceiling to floor – and the length what about the width? Well, when it comes to ready made curtains there’s obviously not a lot you can do about that but Sophie said in a podcast ages ago that if you have wide windows then you can buy an extra pair and sew two together. This will still be cheaper than going bespoke.

If you don’t have a sewing machine then your local dry cleaner might be able to do this for you and alter the length as well if that needs doing. I want to say  you can also look for a local seamstress but it might be a man and I don’t know the word for that but you know – google “person who does alterations in my area”.

Bay window linen fabric by Lizzo (photography Veerle Evans

Bay window linen fabric by Lizzo (photography Veerle Evans) design by Em Gurner of Folds Inside

Now a final point is the type of hanging. Last time I had curtains – which is about 18 years ago, those metal eyelets set into the top of the curtain were all the range and you slid them along a pole. Another option is the tab top which tends to come on the top of lightweight curtains but they often don’t slide easily. Or there are the wooden or metal rings that match the pole. The other option, which is common in ready-mades, is that the top has simply been folded over and hemmed to create a tube that you slide along the pole. But if you don’t have, or don’t want, a pole then you can fix a curtain track and hang the curtains on the hooks so that all the fixings are completely invisible. You can see lots of different options on these pictures.

interior design by Emilie Fournet Interiors image by Kasia Fiszer image by

interior design by Emilie Fournet Interiors image by Kasia Fiszer

Once again, if you have a local sewing person you have options. You can cut off any tabs or eyelets and sew a length of curtain tape along the top instead. It’s a straight line so it’s not too complicated. In that I have done it! Sew the tape along the top of the curtain and then you pull the cord so that the curtain reduces in width to what you want it to be when it’s closed – ie half a window. Then you insert the hooks at regular intervals and hang them on your curtain track. Remember this will make the curtain shorter so check your lengths before you start this.

Sheers on a wave track Fabric by Svennson Fabrics (photography Roland Roques-O’Neil)

Sheers: Fabric by Svennson Fabrics (photography Roland Roques-O’Neil) design by Em Gurner of Folds Inside

If you are having curtains made then you can have all sorts of chats about the pattern of your pleats which I won’t get into here but the basic rule of thumb is the more complicated the pleating the more expensive the job.

So there you have it. A ready made guide to ready made curtains. Now all you have to do is choose the ones you like. There are lots of ready made velvets on the high street and, as I said, above, you can always ask your local dry cleaner or seamstress to alter them to fit.

These images were provided by members of the Interior Design Collective, a group of interior designers based all over the country to help you find someone in your area. These are all bespoke  but you can buy ready mades all over the high street: try M&S, H&M, John Lewis, Westelm and Ikea. 

 

Kate Watson-Smyth explains all you need to know about hanging curtains. #curtains #bedroom #madaboutthehouse

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30 Comments

  • Reply Pen 13th October 2019 at 2:26 pm

    We had plain roller blinds made for our bedroom (bay + single sash window in a Victorian terrace), but they looked too stark so last year I bought a set of linen curtains from Ikea and velvet ones from H&M – the only places I could find ready mades long enough at 250cm.

    The Ikea ones are actually brilliant as they come with both concealed tab and hook fittings, and with an off-the-shelf bay window curtain pole, it was a relatively painless and economical solution (bespoke was not an option, cost-wise). I had curtain tape fixed to the velvet set at my local alterations place as you suggest above, and switch them around for the seasonal changeover. They really add a finish to the room, I love them.

  • Reply harriet 11th October 2019 at 2:10 pm

    Personally I love a bit of a puddle in a curtain! And I don’t find them dust collectors – a quick shake is normally all it needs. And I also find that interlined curtains add a tremendous sense of luxury – and you can get away with slightly less fullness in the curtain itself (handy if it’s an expensive fabric) but still have enough structure. I only use curtains in the bedroom and in the dining room (which is dark anyway) so I agree about not compromising on the light front.
    Harriet

  • Reply Jo Dumoulin 11th October 2019 at 12:52 am

    When I first came to live in Canada 17 years ago I discovered they didn’t ‘do’ ready made curtains, not here on the West Coast anyway.
    Most everyone has blinds at the windows, and so only curtain ‘panels’ were really available.. designed to add decorative softness but not for pulling.. and they were variations on a theme of floor length.
    Since they were often far too long [and I can’t really sew] I started looking ‘outside the box’ for alternatives and discovered the joys of shower curtains. Not plastic ones obviously, but here the tradition is to have a plain plastic liner and a decorative fabric curtain on the outside.
    Much cheaper than the ‘curtain panel’ equivilent and shorter and therefore not so wasteful they are worth looking at, particularly if you want something to just hang at the side and don’t need them for light or privacy management.
    I use them all the time.

  • Reply Jenny 10th October 2019 at 10:09 pm

    Hi Kate, thanks for another informative post. I’m all for curtains in most rooms but in the bathroom they just don’t seem right. Please could you write a post on blind designs? In your podcast you mentioned some blinds that had a drape to them at the bottom that sounded nice and a bit softer than traditional blinds. Do you have more info or images of those please? Or what about blinds that you pull up from the bottom so you can choose to blank off just the lower half of bathroom windows? Are there any nice, not-too-office-y ones of those around? Thank you!

  • Reply Jackie Powell 10th October 2019 at 5:34 pm

    In our 1930s house blinds aren’t an option in the front windows because they hide some of the stained glass at the top. The windows are large and look bare without curtains. We have always had long ones but not puddled, to look as crisp as possible. Our preferred heading is flat pleated, which stacks neatly within the square bay and doesn’t cut out too much light. I usually make them myself (a chore but worth it – there’s a reason why made to measure ones are so expensive). Fabrics in a specific colour are sometimes hard to source but I have had some beautiful fabrics from Pret A Vivre who specialise in plains and have a huge range.

  • Reply Sue wright 10th October 2019 at 3:38 pm

    I love the warmth and privacy of curtains and buy top quality second hand ones from eBay, altering them to fit very successfully. Please do not insult the curtain maker by asking her to “run up” a pair. The work is skilled and labour intensive. People expect to pay plumbers and joiners a fair rate for their work but balk when it comes to paying an equally – and often female – skilled tailor. Silk curtains will last 10 years or so if lined, interlined and not hung in a very sunny window. I never buy these second hand for that reason. Beware!

  • Reply hng23 10th October 2019 at 1:50 pm

    ‘…local seamstress but it might be a man and I don’t know the word for that…’ I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘tailor’, as it applies to both men & women.
    Also, that monochrome green room is lovely.

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 10th October 2019 at 3:40 pm

      yes that’s it! Tailor! Thank you x

    • Reply Galiya 11th October 2019 at 1:23 am

      I think pelmets are for historic, period houses, they are becoming a feature of the past and look outdated in modern interiors, don’t you think?

  • Reply Anna 10th October 2019 at 1:41 pm

    We have no curtains and are fans of solid wood shutters (not louvered). They work out cheaper than curtains and are excellent at both sound and draft proofing.
    Helping an impoverished friend, we found that there are places selling second-hand curtains of high quality at reasonable prices, including eBay.
    Rooms with awkwardly placed windows can be greatly improved by hanging a fine linen type curtain from ceiling to floor across the whole wall area, allowing the light to come through. By using very slim tracking it can look rather beautiful.

  • Reply Longdenlife 10th October 2019 at 1:25 pm

    My house is a bit of an odd construction. The first floor rooms are have shallow ‘eaves’ (like a loft but a lot less of an angle – hope this makes sense), but the window recesses are vertical (go 1970’s construction).

    In our bathroom and on our landing I have had bespoke roman blinds made because, of course, none of the windows are a standard width.

    However, I am thinking of having floor length curtains in our guest room. How would I ‘hold back’ the curtains against the wall whilst they are open? Letting them hang away from the ‘eaves’ when they are closed is not a problem as they wont take up a lot of space due to the shallow angle of the eave, but I am trying to find a nice way for them to look when opened – or do I just get another nice blind?

  • Reply Martha 10th October 2019 at 12:57 pm

    I have puddled curtains when the floors in my old house were so uneven that it just wasn’t possible to have curtains hemmed to the perfect length. A straight line of shorter curtain hem would have just emphasize the wobblyness as well.

  • Reply Betty 10th October 2019 at 11:13 am

    Don’t know if this applies to anyone else but the reason I “puddle” my curtains is because, if you have Victorian windows and want to buy ready made curtains, then 250 cm is too short and 300 cm is too long. Could this be the reason behind the fashion? I once spent £450 on custom-made curtains for a tiny window and vowed never again!

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 10th October 2019 at 11:40 am

      That’s an interesting theory! Anyone else found the same thing?

  • Reply Sylvia 10th October 2019 at 10:35 am

    I would love to hear how everyone copes with curtains in the evening as radiators are always at floor level below the windows. Heating experts insist this is the the most efficient place for radiators, but if the curtains are drawn the heat escapes behind them to the ceiling. Perhaps the answer is using blinds in the winter and only drawing the curtains on summer nights. All the examples had radiators beneath the windows. Any help?

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 10th October 2019 at 11:41 am

      I think some people have blinds and curtains so yes pull the blinds down and leave the curtains open till the room is warm and then close the curtains later when it’s warm. Most radiators are under windows and while they don’t need to be these days it’s a good place to stash them as putting them on another wall can make furniture placement difficult.

      • Reply Angie 10th October 2019 at 5:59 pm

        Where there is a radiator under the window fitting a pole may be the solution as it stands away from the wall on brackets .The warm air still circulates providing you leave a small gap at the bottom of the curtains, at floor level. The cool air is drawn in at the bottom, rises up behind the curtain and comes out at the top

    • Reply Erin 15th October 2019 at 9:36 pm

      I was hoping someone would ask this! I would love to have curtains in our bedroom (which has a bay window, so there’s that issue as well) but don’t want to block the heat from the radiator when the weather is cold. Are window sill length curtains too much of a design crime to consider?

  • Reply Jade 10th October 2019 at 10:02 am

    We have plain velvet curtains on a very wide window, so I bought two pairs with the intention of sewing them together. However, the single curtains are very useful for blocking sun on the tv screen or in our eyes as the sun moves around the room during the day without having to cover lots of the window and making the room too dark. As they are not patterned they just look like wide curtains when pushed together at the sides or drawn.

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 10th October 2019 at 11:42 am

      Another really good idea. thank you

    • Reply Janet Whincup 10th October 2019 at 7:38 pm

      Four curtains across a bay window was a fairly common style back in the 60’s and earlier. I can remember having them when I lived at home. Your comments are right, you can shield from the strong sun by just adjusting one single curtain. Almost like wide vertical blinds. 😊

  • Reply Janet Whincup 10th October 2019 at 9:23 am

    When we moved into our brand new house in 2001 it already had curtains in every room, which we kept up as they were new and they stayed up for 15 yrs. Eventually we wanted to indulge a bit and choose our own style. We went to a local shop in town who had lots of choice and samples and offered lots of advice.
    They also recommended that we had the special curtain rail that puts a wave heading in at the top and even when drawn back it keeps that lovely heading intact. They fold perfectly. Of course it costs more but so worth it. Just thought I’d let you know about that wave option in case you weren’t aware.
    Thanks for your article it’s very helpful, especially about the ceiling to floor option.

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 10th October 2019 at 11:43 am

      That’s very good to know thank you. I’m putting a link to it here for anyone who wants to know more.

  • Reply Cheryl 10th October 2019 at 8:59 am

    I recently temporarily removed curtains and a rug from a room whilst it was being redecorated. I was amazed at the difference it made to the acoustics of the room. The curtains and rug softened the sound and without them, talking and music in the room sounded harsh and tinny.

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 10th October 2019 at 11:44 am

      Yes that’s so true and I completely forgot to mention it. Recently visited an all white marble bathroom with floor length grey velvet curtains and it looked amazing. And as there was a window (obviously) the ventilation was good enough to have curtains.

  • Reply Annie 10th October 2019 at 7:51 am

    Love a curtain in a bedroom. They are expensive though even when your mother makes them for you (although she is refusing to make any more so I’m going to have to learn!!) but the quantity of fabric alone makes them expensive before you ask someone to make them for you, professional or otherwise. And if you have expensive fabric taste as I seem to good luck!! I have just been told about curtain exchanges though! Never knew these existed, as we are hoping to move and won’t be able to afford new curtains in all the bedrooms these sound amazing until we are able to afford the ones we want (and made decorating choices too!).

  • Reply Sandra Nilsson 10th October 2019 at 7:24 am

    We live in the middle of a forest, by a lake, in Sweden and we don’t have any curtains at all. We have huge windows but we do not have any neighbours so there is no one to look in except the ducks and the deer. We do have a blind in the guest room as everyone doesn’t appreciate the light as much as we do. The curtains that seem to be popular here in Sweden, at the moment, are usually in fairly transparent linen. We have a flat in the city and this is what we have there. They are from ceiling to floor and seem to make the windows look bigger. Colour is definitely back and there are some gorgeous fabrics around but I have yet to see much of this type of material being used for curtains. I felt very out of it in the 80’s when everyone made their own elaborate curtains.

    • Reply Molly 10th October 2019 at 8:34 am

      Your forest and city arrangement sounds perfect Sandra!

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 10th October 2019 at 11:44 am

      It sounds idyllic. x

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