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 curtains — 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).
Best sheer curtains
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.
Best solid curtains
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 true blackout curtains, 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).
Best patterned curtains
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.”
Best custom curtains
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 custom curtains with a more classic pleated look, designer Alyssa Kapito suggests going with a pinch pleat. “I like a classic pinch pleat with no trim. It’s not too traditional and not too modern,” she says, adding that the simple silhouette of pinch-pleat curtains goes well with a streamlined bronze curtain rod. —Additional reporting by Miranda Agee
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