The Best Window Curtains, According to Interior Designers
The Best Window Curtains, According to Interior Designers
The Best Window Curtains, According to Interior Designers
You may not appreciate the importance of window dressings — which, in addition to looks, provide privacy and block light — until you move into a place with naked windows. Luckily, adding curtains is one of the easier — and less expensive — projects you can undertake to transform a room. To help you dress your windows with the least amount of headache, we turned to 10 interior designers for their favorite curtains, lots of which are surprisingly quite budget friendly. (If you’re shopping for curtains, you’re likely looking at rods, and this list has a bunch of expert-recommended options to choose from.)
Before we get to the blackout curtain— which include a range of ready-made styles in different opacities, colors, and patterns, as well as a couple of custom options — some quick guidelines for how to size the drapery you choose for your space. When it comes to measuring your windows, Megan Hersch, the owner of Studio MG Interiors and online interior-design service RoomLift, says you should measure 12 to 24 inches beyond the window on either side to determine how wide each curtain panel should be, so that you have some gather. In determining the length of your curtain, Hersch says it depends on how formal you want them to look — and how much cleaning you want to do. “I typically measure the drapery so that it just ‘kisses’ the floor,” she says. “This way, nothing is dragging and trapping dirt, but you are sure they don’t look too short.” For a more formal look, she suggests adding an extra 1.5 inches so the drape just “breaks” on the floor. The most dramatic look is to have the panels “puddle” on the floor, which means adding anywhere from 8 to 12 inches to the length of the curtain (the type of fabric, whether stiff like taffeta or soft like velvet, will also determine how naturally it gathers on the floor).
A sheer curtain is a great choice if you want a little bit of everything from your window treatments — privacy, light, and looks — without having to commit too heavily to any one of those needs. As Megan Huffman, a designer with the online interior-design service Modsy, puts it, sheer curtains “provide the ability to allow natural light into a space and help brighten up dark rooms while still allowing privacy,” adding that, “there’s nothing I love more than a crisp, white, sheer curtain.” She recommends this pair from West Elm, which features a subtle crosshatch pattern that adds a bit of texture. If you like the look of sheer curtains during the day but also want to keep light pollution from coming through at night, Huffman says these can easily be hung on a double curtain rod with a pair of thicker, more opaque blackout curtains.
Interior designer Nicole Fuller also loves the sheer look, noting that sheer curtains made with linen in particular allow for that “gauzy feel” as the sun shines through the fabric. Linen drapes in general, she adds, “are incredibly timeless.” Fuller told us her favorite linen curtains come from Restoration Hardware’s Perennials line. But Hersch did us one better: She pointed us to these less expensive Perennials dupes from Restoration Hardware’s teen line, which she says will often have “very affordable,” premade drapery panels. (Hersch says Pottery Barn’s teen line is another source of affordable but expensive-looking curtains.) The curtains shown are made from a linen-cotton blend and cost about a third of their counterparts from the Perennials line.
For something more opaque (and still less expensive than Restoration’s regular line), try this linen-cotton style, which has the same look as the curtains above, but with a blackout lining that offers full privacy and light control.
For basic, neutral curtain panels that are less than $20 apiece, Dani Mulhearn, a senior designer at online interior-design service Havenly, recommends these curtains she uses in her own home. She says they “add a bit of softness and dress up standard window treatments in a space.” While Mulhearn cautions they are not true blackout curtains — just “room-darkening” — they still work great for privacy. She likes the pearl color, calling it “a great neutral that goes with any cool or warm color schemes.” (If pearl’s not your thing, there are 16 other colors available.) Mulhearn also appreciates the fact that they have grommets, which are “a super-functional” detail that negates the need to buy curtain rings, and makes opening and closing them easy.
For faux linen blackout curtain, these are Mulhearn’s go-tos. She likes that they’re affordable, come in a variety of neutral colors, and are available in various lengths, from 63 inches to 108 inches. They also have a grommet top, which means you don’t need to get additional curtain rings to hang them from a rod.
If you’re looking for solid curtains with more drama, Huffman recommends using velvet ones — specifically, these light-blocking matte velvet curtains from Anthropologie that come in an array of jewel tones. The fabric’s piled texture and more substantial feel add heft to a space, not to mention color, making them a functional and stylish choice, she says. Each panel is made to order, which accounts for the price tag (velvet is also generally a more expensive material because of the way it is made).
If you want to stick to neutral colors but crave a bit more personality, consider these cotton-canvas patterned curtains from West Elm that also come recommended by Mulhearn. She told us they “have a little sheen to them,” with a “subtle enough pattern to give your windows that ‘dressed up’ feel without being super flashy,” noting that they also block most light and help insulate windows.
This curtain is Decorilla design expert Devin Shaffer’s choice. He says the panel’s raised pattern, which is made with metallic threads and kind of looks like tree bark, reminds him of the outdoors. While noticeable, the neutral-colored pattern is subtle enough that it won’t overwhelm a room, he adds.
Pinstripes add a “casual and coastal feel” to otherwise straightforward drapery, according to Modsy designer Katherine Tlapa, who says these curtains “add height and brighten a space with their simple vertical striping” while still being “clean and classic.” Interior designer Bachman Brown agrees that patterned curtains like this can do wonders for a room. “A large-scale pattern is one of the best drapery treatments you can do for a window,” he says. “It sets the tone for the room, and nothing draws your eye more than a grand-scaled fabric.”
Decorist designer Katy Byrne likes experimenting with boldly patterned curtains because “unlike paint, drapes can add a lot of color to a room while being much easier to swap out with changing trends.” She recommends these ikat panels that she says “would add a fun highlight to a playroom or kids’ space.”
If you want to splurge on custom drapery, interior designer Betsy Burnham, who also prefers “clean, unfussy treatments,” recommends the Shade Store. She likes its solid linens, opting for those with “inverted pleat drapery,” like this one, “for its tailored feel.” If you don’t like the linen fabric, Burnham says these curtains can be customized with a range of other materials.
For many of us, lockdown means looking: gazing at the views outside our windows, the traffic and the trees, with thoughts of post-pandemic life dancing through our heads. We ought to give some thoughts to those windows too, whether they are panes, sheets, or entire walls of glass. As my mother once said regarding domestic architecture, “A house without a porch is like a man without a country.” To my mind, a similar rule applies to windows—without blinds or shades or shutters or curtains, many windows are just featureless voids. I’m not the only one who thinks this: Scores of AD100 interior designers from Manhattan’s Jeffrey Bilhuber to Milan’s Studio Peregalli consider a window undressed to be a window unfinished.
Historically speaking, windows have typically had some sort of covering, to regulate sunlight, protect interiors from inclement weather, and to provide privacy for you and yours. In the ancient world, they were simple fabric panels that could be folded back or lifted up and then held in place, in one manner or another, for the duration.
Time-travel thousands of years later to the minimalist Bauhaus era, where rejection was the rule yet curtains were still considered essential decorative components. Le Corbusier specified curtains and shades for his projects, and Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld’s houses possessed their own complement of window treatments, from full-length to café short. Alas, Rietveld’s marvelous little 1924 house for and in collaboration with the young widow Truus Schr?der in Utrecht, his very first architectural commission and now a museum, possesses no shades or sheer window treatments anymore—a curatorial mistake, to my mind, because that decision deifies the architecture while ignoring the domesticity of Schr?der and her children for which it was built. (Rietveld, though married, would become his client’s lover and live there too, returning to his family only at night.)
Luxurious floor-to-ceiling curtains outfitted the Czech Republic’s Villa Tugendhat, one of modernism’s most celebrated residences, a glass-walled villa designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and decorated with designer Lilly Reich in the 1920s. Some of them were made of silver-gray shantung silk, while others were fashioned of black or white velvet, the uncomplicated lengths and plain colors framing a green landscape. The Frenchman Jean-Michel Frank may have been a pioneering reductivist, but even he understood the power of a pretty window. After all, he was the man who put dramatically ruffled curtains into Elsa Schiaparelli’s Place Vend?me fashion salon.
Concurrently, while the tastemakers of the 1920s and 1930s were paring back but not abandoning window treatments entirely, their traditionalist peers held faithful to layered looks that began in the 17th century, grew more complicated in the 18th century, and became suffocatingly elaborate in the 19th century. Sumptuous window dressings reached their 20th-century apotheosis in the work of the British tastemaker John Fowler, a cofounder of London’s Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, as well as such disciples as America’s Mario Buatta.
Fowler’s curtains for aristocratic country houses and the apartments of international grandees remain a standard in the craft—lined, interlined, fringed, looped, swagged, tasseled, pinked, and otherwise elaborated in a manner that brings to mind the intricacies of haute couture as well as 18th-century France, one of the decorator’s passions. Among my favorites of the genre, though far simpler than Fowler’s swoony extravagances—such as the madly romantic cascades of silk taffeta in Evangeline and David Bruce’s famous London drawing room—are the ones that his colleague Tom Parr created in the 1980s for the Manhattan multipurpose living room of Grace, Countess of Dudley, and her longtime companion, Robert Silvers, editor in chief of the New York Review of Books. Great lengths of rose-splashed white chintz sluiced from ceiling to floor in the vast primary space—the 50-odd-foot sweep was divided into several areas for living and dining—emphasizing the height of the ceiling and parted to reveal views of Park Avenue.
Take note of the word parted. Beyond the myriad practical aspects, window treatments, from simple to elaborate, offer us moments of communion, as human hands—whether your own or those of Lady Dudley’s housekeeper—adjust them at will. There are aural pleasures too, from the clicking of curtain rings to the swish of fabric to the creak of shutters to the whir of roller blinds. Literally, the beauty of geometric blackout curtain is an open-and-shut case.