From fabric choices to pleating, interior designers break down how to select the ideal curtains—and how much you should budget.

From fabric choices to pleating, interior designers break down how to select the ideal curtains—and how much you should budget.

Providing privacy, insulation, light control, and visual interest, curtains—and their more substantial sibling, drapes—serve several functions in the home. To make a distinction, curtains are typically lightweight and less formal, whereas drapes are traditionally heavier and more luxurious. Both window treatments, however, can make an outsize impact.

“For me, curtains can make or break a room, as they add texture and warmth and can frame a view in a way that an unadorned window never could,” says Kevin Isbell, an interior designer based in Los Angeles. “In very few instances does a room benefit from not including appropriately sized window treatments.”

Window treatments are often the last choice you make when decorating a room—a “finishing touch,” so to speak. But if you’re considering curtains, our experts say planning ahead is imperative, especially if you’re concerned about budget. 

“The drapery fabric is almost always the first thing I choose,” says Veronica Solomon, principal designer at Casa Vilora Interiors in Katy, Texas. “Sometimes it becomes the inspiration for the color palette and style of the rest of the room. Sometimes it is the focal point; sometimes it has a supporting role to create cohesiveness.” 

Functional curtains are key in this Portland penthouse by JHL Design, where oversize windows let in abundant sunlight and views.

Functional curtains are key in this Portland penthouse by JHL Design, where oversize windows let in abundant sunlight and views.

Photo by Lincoln Barbour

Isbell agrees, cautioning that curtains “should never be an afterthought. The fabric selection allows you to move color or pattern around the room to create a cohesive feel throughout the space.” 

As with most textile choices, customization gets a perfect fit that lends a “polished, professional look,” says Isbell, but off-the-shelf options absolutely have their place. Dramatic drapes or curtains will run you upwards of $2,000 for a pair; for something simpler and perhaps more temporary, $200 to $600 is a reasonable range.

Color and Pattern

Whether you want your curtains to stand out or blend in, color is key to creating the desired effect. To make a statement, pick bold, contrasting colors or eye-catching patterns; for a subtler look, choose a hue that’s similar to your wall, but in a darker shade. Smaller, more muted patterns are also on the menu.

This West Village townhouse integrates the interiors with the outdoor landscape courtesy of floor-to-ceiling windows draped in sheer curtains, which pick up on the hues both inside and out.

This West Village townhouse integrates the interiors with the outdoor landscape courtesy of floor-to-ceiling windows draped in sheer curtains, which pick up on the hues both inside and out.

Photo: Chris Cooper

Coordinating with the rest of the room is obviously key, but timelessness is just as important, says Solomon: “Because they are a big investment, make sure they will stand the test of time.” 

Panels and Pleating

Are your drapes just for looks, or do you want privacy and control? Functional drapery requires a lot of fabric so you can open and close them, which means more weight and volume. If you need privacy and light control, layering your window treatments is a good option and can save you money when paired with inexpensive blinds. 

“Layering means installing a ‘hard window treatment’ like roller shades, roman shades, blinds, or shutters as the privacy and light control layer, and then adding decorative panels—which means that they are not meant to function—for some softness and to give height to the room,” explains Solomon.

When it comes to curtains, pleating adds volume and creates a more traditional look—but it’s also more expensive because you need more fabric. 

Kevin Isbell selected pinch-pleated, block-print linen curtains with tape trim on the leading and bottom edges, hung from blackened metal rods and brass rings for this calm, clean living room.

Kevin Isbell selected pinch-pleated, block-print linen curtains with tape trim on the leading and bottom edges, hung from blackened metal rods and brass rings for this calm, clean living room.

Photo by Lesley Unruh

See the full story on Dwell.com: How Much Should You Spend on Curtains?
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