Choosing the Right Curtains for your Space

How to choose Curtains

Selecting curtain fabric to suit a room, colour, style and property is hard but it’s incredibly fun.

Curtains add softness and texture to a room. They can add drama or romance, and lift a space to make it really sing. Often, they are what is holding a room back or making the space feel whole and complete.

However there is a lot to think about and consider when choosing new curtains because they are an investment and are likely to be with you for a long time.

Understanding lengths, widths, styles and curtain headers can be a little overwhelming if you haven’t done anything like this before so allow me to help you decode the world of curtains.

Do you need curtains?

You may have asked yourself, do I even really need curtains?

When I was much younger, I didn’t love curtains. I saw them as quite old fashioned and I think in truth, I wasn’t sure where to begin when it came to choosing them. I was probably also a little afraid of being bold and using pattern, and I hadn’t experienced just how transformative the right curtains could be.

Aside from the obvious reasons to buy curtains – light control, privacy, temperature control and sound absorption – curtains add texture and softness to a space. They can introduce colour and frame an otherwise stark window.

Some rooms and windows need curtains. The space cries out for them.

Others don’t.

As an interior stylist, it’s my job to understand when a room cries out for curtains, and when it doesn’t.

Here’s what you need to do. Stand in the room and assess:

  • Does the space feel cold?
  • Could the view outside benefit from framing or obscuring?
  • Do you feel as though the room is missing something? Does it feel unfinished?

If you answer yes to at least two of the three questions above, it’s likely that your room will benefit from curtains.

Where to search for curtain fabric

Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a local fabric supplier to turn to, you’re likely to begin your search for the right curtain fabric online.

One of my favourite sources of fabric inspiration is Designers Guild, which displays a huge selection of printed, plain and textured fabrics in every colour and material to suit any space. Once you’ve found a selection of materials you like, you can order samples or find your nearest stockist via the Designers Guild website.

Another great fabric source is TM Interiors, who supply a huge range of fabrics and will make your curtains for you too. They even offer a curtain measurement service if you’d like to completely hand over the responsibility to a third party. These guys price competitively but are a little slow when it comes to communicating on the specifics and actually getting an order placed. If you can be patient and chase for a response, they’re a good choice.

One other company that comes highly recommended is Jane Clayton & Company; run by and for interior designers. I haven’t used this company to actually make curtains for me but I have purchased wallpaper and fabric from them before and they have a brilliant range.

During non-covid times, another fantastic source of inspiration is Design Centre Chelsea Harbour which brings together the best in big design names shaping the interior landscape. This is a destination better suited to top end budgets if you’re looking to buy.

Deciding how curtains should hang and where your curtains should drop to

I find this part quite exciting as it involves visualising the end result and deciding on the look you want to achieve.

Positioning the pole or track

As a rule of thumb, your curtain pole or track should be between four and six inches (10-15cm) above the window frame and extend at least six inches (15cm) either side of the width of the window (excluding finials) if possible. The wider the extension of the pole either side, the more curtain fabric can be drawn off of the window during the day, allowing more light in when the curtains are open.

Floor length curtains

Floor length curtains are timeless and work well in virtually any style of room. They are the most popular curtain length for this reason.

Choose whether you’d like your curtain just touching the floor or whether you’d like your curtain to puddle, depending on the look you’re going for.

Just touching the floor is a practical option and works well with curtains that will be drawn frequently, in high traffic areas or in households with children and pets. Touching the floor curtains always hang well. Opt for the curtains to sit no more than half an inch above the floor to avoid them looking too short.

Puddled, floor length curtains are both sumptuous and romantic, albeit less practical. Depending on how much fabric you leave puddling on the floor, you might achieve a more relaxed look or a more formal and extravagant one. There are three different types of curtain puddle:

  • Break puddle – between ½ and 1inch – to give a small break at floor level to the curtain
  • Medium puddle – between 2 and 4 inches – gives a defined puddle without it being too large
  • True Puddle – between 6 and 16” – gives a luxurious full puddle

Consider practicality as well as aesthetics. I find a medium puddle is usually enough for most homes, and I’d usually reserve a true puddle for larger properties with enough space to separate the puddle from practical life!

Sill-length Curtains

If you live in a cottage or have teeny tiny windows like me, you may opt for sill-length curtains.

Here, you may choose to have your curtains just touching the window sill (no more than half an inch above it), or sitting slightly below it – around three inches (7cm) usually works well.

It’s important to carefully measure sill-length curtains as its usually very apparent and difficult to disguise if they are too short or too long.

Remember, whether you opt for sill-length or floor length curtains, it’s better to have them too long than too short as they can always be taken up if necessary.

How to measure for curtains

The biggest mistake people make is in measuring the window rather than the curtain pole. This is actually the more difficult option!

Step 1 – measure the width

Measure the width of your curtain pole or track, excluding finials. Let’s say my curtain pole is 240cm wide.

Step 2 – decide how full you’d like the curtains to be

If you’re opting for a very full, gathered and lavish look, your curtain maker may advise you to go for three times the width. For a less gathered look, they may advise you opt for between two and two and a half times the width.

You’ll rarely be encouraged to go for less than two times the width as this can affect header spacing and make the curtains look too sparse when drawn. But its entirely up to you!

Let’s say I’ve chosen to go for two widths. I’d require each one of my two curtains to be 240cm wide. So that’s 480cm of material width required across one window (double my curtain pole width).

Step 3 – measuring the drop

If you are using a curtain pole it is important to measure the curtain drop from the eye of the curtain ring to your desired drop length. The curtain will hang from the ring not the pole itself. If you are using a track, you will measure from the track.

Depending on the curtain style you choose, measure to the sill, just below the sill or to the floor, and adjust accordingly depending on the look you are going for.

Step 4 – the extra bits you didn’t consider

If you are having your curtains made, it is probable that your curtain maker will take care of these extra details for you.

However, if you’re ordering the material yourself, you will need to consider the following:

  • Add around 10cm for curtain hems
  • Add around 5cm for curtain head (dependent on the header you choose)
  • Consider both vertical and horizontal pattern repeat as your curtain maker will need to match the pattern as they go and there will be wastage
  • Add on an extra 20-30cm overall just to give a little spare / flexibility for starting the pattern repeat at a good point

Curtain measurement example

Let’s say that I have concluded that I will need 13.6 linear meters of a 1.45 meter wide fabric for two sets of windows on the basis of the below:

Both windows are the same height, and from the eye on the curtain hoop to the floor is 183cm.

I then add 2 x 10 cm for the hems, i.e. 203cm

Then added 5 cm for the head, i.e. 208cm

Then added 10cm for pooling on the floor, i.e. 218cm total drop

I then divide 218cm by 68cm (the vertical pattern) and round up to the nearest full pattern which means that I would need 4 patterns at 68cm i.e. 272cm

The width of the first curtain poles is 240cm wide, meaning each curtain will sit on a 120cm pole. As the horizontal pattern is 72.5 cm and the fabric comes in 145cm widths and I want the curtains to be very relaxed, I have opted to go with 1.5 x fabric width for each curtain, i.e.  217.5cm giving a fullness ratio of 1.8.

The second window is a lot narrower and using the fabric width at 145cm for each curtain gives us a greater ratio than the larger window so we were going to order material on this basis.

So I have calculated that I would require 5 fabric widths (145cm) each at a length of 272cm, i.e. 1,360cm of fabric.

Deciding on a curtain heading

I actually think a lot of curtain headings are pretty dreary. For me, curtain headings should be quite nondescript and unnoticeable.

At the beginning of my interiors journey, I found that advice on which curtain heading to choose was scarce, and that most curtain makers only worked with the standard styles and didn’t often volunteer much in the way of alternate recommendations.

Having ordered countless curtains now, I realise that you can pretty much make up your own header style if you know what you want.

Here are some standard curtain heading styles:

Pencil pleat is still the most popular pleat. It is a versatile pleat that suits both country home curtains and more modern varieties, and gives a fullness to the fabric. Double and Pinch Pleats are the next most popular option and can give a more formal look to curtains than pencil pleat.

I decided that I wanted something like a relaxed pinch pleat for the most recent set of curtains I had commissioned. Something that looked like this:

I asked my curtain makers what this header was called and they didn’t know. They said that they thought it was just a loosened version of a pinch pleat and that they were happy to replicate for me.

So be creative! Find examples of work that you like and see if you can alter standard curtain headings if you can’t seem to find one that fits.

It’s curtains for this post

While I could go on for pages about the different details to consider and techniques to apply when searching for your perfect curtains, I’m sure that this is enough information to help most of you find your perfect pair.

If you’d like me to write more on colour schemes, pattern and curtain fabric selections – or anything else – please just let me know in the comments.

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