Why you should never skip the curtains, according to top designers

Why you should never skip the curtains, according to top designers

above: In A New York City townhouse designed by Danielle Colding, Jim Thompson’s muted silk shade balances the drama of the Chinese-style printed curtains by Deedar.


Just a piece of fabric can transform an entire room – adding a gorgeous glow to the interior and creating a bridge to the natural world outside. Writer Laura Ingalls Wilder knew this all too well, having lived in deprivation and filthy bunkers. She knew a serious decor upgrade when she saw one: “The house was beautiful when Mama finished it,” she wrote in her 1937 novel, On the banks of Plum Creek. “Pure white curtains were hung on either side of the clear glass windows. And among those snowy, pink-edged curtains, sunlight streamed in. Today, the metaphors may vary among designers – ‘red lipstick’, ‘jewelry’, ‘cherry on the sundae’ – but The takeaway remains the same: Window treatments always complement the look of a room.

“At the very least, it should always be functional and beautiful,” says ELLE DECOR A-List Titan Sheila Bridges. Furthermore, window treatments provide “another unique opportunity to express your sense of personal style.” In general, the fabric should reflect the dominant colors and textures as well as the overall look of the room.

Short curtains in a blue room with a red dress tied with chains on a hanger beside it

Designer Billy Cotton turned antique French fabric into curtains and tied them with reed shades from Pearl River Market for an artsy New York City apartment.

Steven Kent Johnson

Recently, trends have taken a turn toward stripes, florals, and Jaipur-inspired patterns, as well as muted shades (think light pink). Tailoring is simplified, says Lee Cavanaugh of ELLE DECOR A-List Titan. “We’ve simplified all of our window treatments in the last decade to straight panels and flat Roman shades,” she says.

But this does not necessarily mean that it is not decorated. “We’ve seen more interest in adding embellishments like ribbon, pompoms, or rickrack—all these fun little items that would have looked cute even five years before Grandma,” notes Davina Ogilvie, founder of Wovn Home, a window treatment company. However, some styles don’t budge properly from the Wayback Machine: “Balloon shades, swags, and jabots covered in ropes and tassels,” Cavanaugh says. “I could go on, and most of the guys in our office have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Hunter Douglas woven wood shades in Parker Bowie Larson's home office

The best treatments respect the idea that windows are your home’s original lights. “Views and natural light are critical to designing a space with a strong indoor-outdoor connection, which is increasingly being prioritized,” says Christine Marvin, director of marketing and experience at Marvin Windows. “Enormous amounts of glass let the window speak for itself.” And designers back her up on this, too: In a room with full-height windows, or a brownstone where the back wall has been blown out and replaced with floor-to-ceiling glass, “you might not want to rock it with hundreds of things.” “From yards of fabric,” Cavanaugh says. Alternatively, sun shades or Roman blinds may do the job.

If you want sunlight but also crave a bit of privacy, use a café curtain—another staple for which Ogilvy has seen a rise in demand. “You might remember it from your grandmother’s kitchen window, in splattered handwriting,” she says. “But now people want them in white linen, with flowing pleats. It’s a modern, gentle idea but also ethereal.”

Jewel-toned blue and green bedroom with scalloped window curtains

In a lush, garden-inspired New York City bedroom by Patrick Mele, custom lambrequins by Jonathan Robinson sit in a jade-colored silk ripple by Schumacher.

Something dewitt

The streamlined look can still be layered — with sheer curtains or Roman shades behind the curtains, says Adam Skalman of The Shade Store, and maybe even with a valance (but nothing too ’80s-loving). A dimensional approach like this can be both decorative and climate-friendly, since window treatments can keep rooms cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, especially if you choose lined curtains. Cavanaugh notes that treatments should remain generally consistent throughout the home, except in the bedroom, where an opaque lining may be preferred. Keep these functional benefits in mind as you look at the estimate (which may be staggering). “Window treatments are often the last item in the budget, and people might say, ‘I think I can live without them,’” Ogilvy says. “But then they do, and they say, ‘Oh my God, this is the final thing.’”

November 2023 Elle Decor cover

This story originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of ELLE DECOR. Participate

(tags for translation) Curtains

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