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Decorating Advice

All About Curtains

By 03/13/2011April 1st, 202442 Comments

For years I have saved clippings of my favourite looks in curtains or drapes and have carried them around in a binder in my car so that it’s easy to show clients what I’m designing when it comes time to discuss curtains.  I love drapery, they instantly add softness and vertical height to a room, not to mention changes the feeling. I mentioned it here when my living room curtains went up. It’s hard to convey in a post though, it’s something you instantly feel when you are in the space.

I have wanted to post my favourite headers and treatments for a while. This way they are virtual and even easier to view on-line. Please forgive the lack of sources on some, they are clippings I’ve had forever, also I photographed them because I haven’t figured out how to work my scanner so they’re not perfect.  I’m starting with a header I specify a lot, it’s called a pasha pleat or ‘top-pinched pleat’.

A regular ‘pinched pleat’ is usually 4” (below), pinching it at the top (see the one on the right between the bracket and the finial?  That’s exactly what it looks like) makes it look more contemporary. These drapes come with hooks from the work-room and they are hung on rings similar to this one:

By the way if you have ‘off the shelf’ curtains hung up, make sure you have one ring in between the finial and the bracket like in the above image. When you hang them yourself it’s not as obvious that you should have one on the outside of the bracket.
Interior by Samantha Pynn
Here is the traditional 4” pinched pleat.  It’s the most common pleat and you’re usually guaranteed to find it underneath a valance. If you have tall windows and a large room, a 6” pinched pleat works well. Also silk looks best in this traditional header, I would not use a top pinched pleat with it.

You can start to see why so much fabric is required.  If you measure your window (don’t forget to add length for stacking so you don’t cover up the window with fabric) you then multiply that figure by 2 1/2 or 3 divided by 54 inches (fabric width) and that is how you determine how many panels you need for any given window.  One is usually too skimpy and that’s when the curtains really scream IKEA.

Fullness is very important.  Custom drapery is not inexpensive, however it really transforms the look and feel of a room.

I have always loved this treatment with the sheers covering the window on top of what appears to be a window seat. Notice the hem is 6” instead of 4”. Since the hem is at eye level it’s more visually appealing.

This is an inverted pleat. Notice the effect is quite flat at the top, not suitable for just any window but here it looks terrific with the sheer roman shades. Also these drapes are stationary and used strictly for decoration.

This photo I’ve had for a long time as well, I love the soft effect of this simple roman shade with the 4” band sewn all the way around it.  Notice it’s hanging on a slim rod as well.

This is a grommet curtain. Here is the same look with grommet curtains from IKEA. I love this treatment, it’s contemporary and doesn’t require as much fullness as regular pinched pleats although the labour costs a little more because each grommet needs to be attached to the panel.

Make sure you specify the right colour so that they match the rod you choose.

These drapes are clearly custom made with 2” banding framing each panel however they are sewn flat and hung on the rod with rings and clips (below).


This is an easier look to achieve when sewing your own curtains because you can simply clip them on but keep in mind they are better as decorative, stationary side panels as they are hard to draw back and forth if you need them for privacy and light control.

This is one style of a goblet pleat, there are a few but I like this one because it’s more contemporary and different from the 4” pinched pleat.

Here is a closer look. I specified this header with these drapes in this loft that I designed. See how the panel on the left side is wider than the other two?  You can see if you look above the drapery that its actually covering the wall next to the window, but because the wall is covered with drapery it gives the illusion of a bigger window.  So if you have a small window, dressing it with panels on both sides makes it look larger in addition to adding scale and balancing other items in the room.

Interior by Maria Killam
I also specified them for this client (below) in their dining room and library. I love horizontal stripes, you can see the colour better and it’s more European.
Interior by Maria Killam
In this living room (below) I specified mock roman shades because we covered the windows with motorized sheer weave roller shades for light control which are underneath each one.
Interior by Maria Killam


You can see the roller shades here (below). A mock roman valance is also a great, clean, contemporary look and a less expensive alternative to a full roman shade.
Interior by Maria Killam
Another valance treatment I really like is this one (below). It’s called a boxed pleat valance and its also great over top of kitchen windows, without panels of drapery.
Here it’s shown with full drapery panels and it’s curved, which is unusual.

This is the home of Larry King, decorated by his wife’s sister. I took this image from an Architectural Digest years ago. This is a simple treatment (okay I know this image doesn’t look simple) because you can just take a panel of fabric even if it’s unfinished and staple it up on the wall if you really wanted to. Here they are hung on tie backs, a very traditional look.

I have always wanted to do this for a clients space. Such a great idea to simply dress the wall with curtain fabric to achieve the effect of a window.

This is Sarah Richardson’s home (from a few years ago). It’s kind of hard to see but look at this simple pooling sheer which runs all the way along a track attached to the ceiling across the large windows in this living room.

Here’s a closer view, sorry about the writing. . .
How about this floor to ceiling rough linen shower curtain?  Is this fabulous or what?
This is the closest to tab top drapery that I would consider for any window and these are still probably custom made. It’s a great, beachy, casual look.
The reason I don’t like tab tops (above) is because they are sold everywhere ‘off-the-shelf’ and scream IKEA in my opinion. They are better than nothing though, so if they are the right colour for you and they are a price you can afford, snap them up quick! Just be sure you hang the rod high enough above the window so you don’t see the casing or heaven forbid the window through the tabs.  Not a great look 🙂
Romantic Bedroom Curtains
The one good thing about the 80’s was that we just wrapped drapery fabric over top of rods and tracks to achieve this kind of look:
When I was married, many moons ago, we had a large bedroom with lots of windows, so I had my mom sew up some sheers to hang in front of the windows and then draped fabric over the rod just like this image above that I had found in a magazine.  Very old, but I loved it at the time!


Here is a ruched, rod pocket, also a lovely romantic effect and probably not so hard to achieve on your own.
Another kind of ruching it looks like. This one I’ve never had made, but it’s pretty.
When you first start out designing curtains for clients, a good workroom is an absolute necessity as well as a great installer.  I have worked with the same installer for 7 years and he has saved my butt so many times because there are so many different ways to hang curtains and window treatments, it takes a lot of experience to get it right because there is always a certain amount of tweaking that goes on in the clients home.
When I was at High Point last year I was having a conversation with another designer about the difference between drapery in the East vs. the West.  We are way more casual here in the Westcoast, my blogger friend Kimberley Grigg from Knotting Hill Interiors in Myrtle Beach frequently designs elaborate treatments like this one in this fabulous dining room below.  It’s no wonder her blog is called It’s so Fabulous.  It really is.
Interior by Kimberley Grigg

If you don’t have curtains in your home yet and can’t afford custom, I would suggest buying the drapes first because there are so few options ‘off-the-shelf’ it’s best to find the ones that work best for your space and then buy other pieces to coordinate.  If you need custom drapery, contact me.

Which look is your favourite?

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

Related posts:

Easy way to Create Drama with Drapery
How to Measure for a Curtain Rod
Managing Client Expectations

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  • Luciane at says:

    Hello Maria,

    This is the perfect timing for me! I'm searching for the "perfect" curtain for my living room and I felt a little overwhelmed about it. Thank you! I'm listening!!! 🙂

    Have a fantastic weekend and thank you for your comment on my blog! It's always great to see you there.


    Luciane at

  • Tammy@InStitches says:

    You know I love this post. There's no way I could pick a favorite because I get to see so many different styles. It seems like a lot of people want panels and roman shades lately but I love to make window treatments that are challenging !

  • Roses @ StrictlyRoses says:

    What a great post. I've struggled with picking curtains for years. You were very through and I think I know have a better handle on all my options 🙂

  • Loretta Fontaine (APPLESandRUBIES) says:

    Maria – The simple roman shade with the 4” band sewn all the way around it – what a great look!


  • cindy says:

    Hi Maria! GREAT article.
    Agree that drapes are usually essential to finishing a room. I'm not a fan of pouf and layers or elaborate styles, simple will do. You know that photo of that bathroom with the linen shower curtain and the wood mirror? I have that tacked on my wall!!!! I LOVE IT! I think it was in Domino Decorating book. I painted the lower bead board in my bathroom the color of Hershey chocolate (which of course made my tiny bathroom look huge) and have to make the linen shower curtain. Thanks for the reminder – back on my to-do list!

  • cindy says:

    Ha! I just took a longer look at the first picture – I'm in love with the big old dog in the silver tub!

  • Grace @ Sense and Simplicity says:

    What a great collection of curtain styles. I have always made my own curtains so I go for fairly simple styles, but definitely not tab-top (don't worry). This will definitely be a good reference post.

  • Karena says:

    Wonderful examples of georgeous drapery styles!! I have always loved yout lavender and green room!

    Art by Karena

  • Anonymous says:

    Are there any good drape options at reasonable cost for a sliding dining room door? The space also has a small window above the slider (approx 15" x length of slider). Ceilings are tall.

    Thank you for providing a helpful blog.


  • Infatuated with Homes and Gardens says:

    I really like the second photo, as it is is functional and unfussy:)

  • Linda in AZ * says:

    * FAAABULOUS TIMING, Maria… for me, at least!!!

    … and that first pic? Well, the curtains are very similar to what I'm doing in our FR so of course I adore them, the bathtub is undoubtedly DIVINE and MOST SPECIAL of all is… ta daaa (!)~ THE MOST PRECIOUS DOG!!!!

    I always enjoy seeing that space you did w/ the pale green couches, etc~~~ it's always just so REFRESHING & LOVELY to see, and even makes me want to literally "go green!"…!

    Thanks for a most lovely AND INFORMATIVE blog this morning!!!

    Warmest wishes,

    Linda in AZ *
    [email protected]

  • pretty pink tulips says:

    I have custom draperies in most of my house and even brought them to my current home from my prior one…because they are very expenseive!

    I favor different treatments for different rooms, but my favorite curtains are my silk satin cream curtains in my dining room with a 3 inch leopard tape along the inside edges.

    And, I love mine ballgown length….a tad more than kissing the floor!

    xo Elizabeth
    ps: I'm on the East Coast….so I agree, we're a tad bit more formal here than the West Coast.

  • Pink Overalls says:

    Thank you, Maria! You've given us a mini-encyclopedia on window treatments, including all the little insider tips like what does and doesn't work, what the right terminology is, how to stretch our budgets, what to avoid, and which styles work in particular cases. You really tell it like it is.

  • Dovecote Decor says:

    Hi Maria: We do use more formal window treatments in the East. Also, I would say more pattern, color and valences. The trend is distinctly moving towards simplicity, though.

  • Amy @MaisonDecor says:

    Hi Maria, I read this post with great interest! I make custom drapes and have done so for over 20 years now. And boy have things changed over time. Many people do NOT do custom anymore, and I think it is because of the offerings of stores like PB and Restoration Hardware and the online exposure and education people are getting. You can use ready mades to great effect if you don't have issues like huge windows, extra high ceilings, and architectural details that need to be incorporated. You are right that installers with experience are worth every penny. I install all of my drapes, and don't trust anyone to do it as well as I could knowing all the things that make a finished drape look fab. East coast drapes do tend to be more dressy and traditional than west coast styles. Top treatments are pretty much a thing of the past, and panels with great fabrics and interesting hardware is where its at. Take a look at my portfolio for more cool drapery ideas if you have a chance.

  • Elle Uy {SWITCHEROOm} says:

    Bookmarked!! This will surely come in handy every time I need to put up some drapery. Thank you for always posting very useful and thorough articles.

    Love your blog, as always!

  • Anonymous says:

    I would love anyone's opinion and comments….

    I always wondered where to hang the rod? How high above the window? And where should the curtain fall?


  • says:

    Custom window treatments make such a HUGE difference, yet it really takes part engineering skills to keep from losing money on them. I went through a training program where we spent 2-3 days focusing just on pleated draperies alone!!! But there is nothing like sketching out a total unique and custom window treatment and then watching it get installed and coming to life… It's a real thrill to see how fabric can totally transform a room!

  • Cherie says:

    Informative plus, Maria. Thank you. Curious what your opinion is on window brackets, rods, etc is. To what extent should those "jewelry" elements stand out or fade to highlight the curtain/panels? A happy melding would be the goal but also an art to achieve.

  • Anonymous says:

    Maria, this is a great post. I have been having an ongoing conversation with a designer about new drapery for my foyer. Can you please do a post on rods. It would be really helpful.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Anonymous #1,
    I don't know of anything specific for sliding doors and I know they are a pain to cover, vertical blinds really belong in commercial buidlings so I agree that curtains are a good option.

    Hi Cathy,
    There are so many heights to hang drapery but the average rule of thumb is to hang the rod approx. 4-5 inches above the window. If you have a lot of space between the window and the ceiling sometimes installing the rod close to the ceiling makes the window appear bigger.

    Dear Anonymous #2, A post on rods would be short from me as I pretty much use 1" rods because I like the contemporary look of them (they can be reinforced for a long window or you could use a channel rod if you really need extra support.

  • Anonymous says:

    Do you use buckram in your top pinch pleat curtains?


  • Marlo says:

    I feel better now that I've read this. Why? Because last year I ordered silk drapes with the top-pinch-pleats because I wanted a more contemporary look and the drape lady (that's what she calls herself) made a mistake and ordered them as French Pleats. When they were delivered and I noticed the error my heart just sank. She offered to take them back, turn them upside down and sew them with top-pinch-pleats but I said no because I worried that the bottom of the drape would show some damage. I could have argued and refused to pay the balance but…I don't know…I just couldn't do that.

    Well, now I feel better about them because you said that silk drapes look better with a traditional header. Thank you for making me feel better! I didn't know that about silk drapes.

    By the way, after an expensive mistake like that I will never use her services again.

  • Anonymous says:

    Tab top can be very tailored . . . Just did a a man's office with linen curtain trimmed with leather tabs, and horn buttons on the leather where they attach to the linen. Very sophisticated and tailored.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Anonymous,
    I was talking about store bought curtains. Custom tab tops are a completely different story as you've just outlined.
    Thanks for your comment,

  • Loribeth says:

    Thank you for this post!! I have been looking for some current ideas for my windows in the living room. When my husband bought our house, he bought and installed vertical blinds. This was before he knew me, because I wouldn't have EVER allowed them to be put up otherwise. But now I'm struggling to convince him that curtains would be better, because he likes the convenience of the blinds. I guarantee, blinds will NOT be going up in our next house!!

  • Donna says:

    Hi Maria, This is such a great post! I love curtains and have made quite a few drapes for friends. Funny though..I bought mine with the huge rivets in them. The fabric was much less expensive as drapes than it would have been as 'fabric'. I love using the clips to simple looks 'clean' to me. I also love that pooling effect on the floor. How embarrassing! My new drapes sort of 'flare' out at the bottom because they are too high off of the floor. Oops! I'll have to lower our rods soon.

    BTW, I did a post on how to make a 'fabric shower curtain' but honestly it would have been perfect for drapes too. They turned out so pretty! You might like to see it. I've never shared a link before in a comment..I hope it's 'kosher' to do that. :o) But I thought you would like it considering the topic today.

    That photo where you showed the three drapes (one wide at the left) then a center and a right panel was perfect! That is a great way to solve a design problem like that. I was helping a friend and she had a similar problem. She had small windows and we didn't want to do the usual two panels per window because it was too busy. So we did a wide left panel. Three panels looked so much nicer than four sets of vertical lines.

    Such a super helpful and informative post Maria! I loved it and will be bookmarking this one to save for the next time I make curtains, which will be soon I'm sure. :o)

    Donna @ Comin' Home

  • Anita Junttila says:

    I love the drapes in Larry Kings home. The way they billow and fall to the floor and the top looks gorgeous. They look soo extravagant! Maybe for my bedroom? Yummy

  • Wendy says:

    I really enjoyed this post and learned a lot. My one question is: Are the top-pinch pleated drapes, as you show them installed, any easier to open and close than the ring-with-clip ones and, if so, why?

  • Anonymous says:

    I have been making drapes and roman blinds for friends and family for a few years. I still have so much to learn. You didn't mention the back tab curtains. I found them really easy to make and the ones I made look very nice. What do you think of them? I love making roman blinds because they look so professional when completed and don't require yards of fabric. Working with all that fabric is a challenge when you don't have a workshop.

  • MD Interior Design says:

    Well, it's autumn here in Australia so I've already stocked up on woollen and cashmere socks, a beautiful german designed pair of suede boots, and some fur lined slippers (Which my husband loves…not!) I'm a spring colour palette but all the clothes here are autumn colours at the moment – browns and khaki's (not my colours)so I'm struggling to buy anything new, which is a shame because I love, love, love clothes!

  • JustOla says:

    Maria, Thank you for this interesting post. I grew up in a contemporary in the woods, with lots of big windows and almost no curtains, and thus have always had a strained relationship with them. In my own home, I struggle to find curtains that I like – they generally feel so 'traditional' to me – so many rooms have gone without… and I know they'd look better with. You have some great photos in here, so thank you for sharing.

  • Inspire Me Heather says:

    Great stuff Maria! I featured this one in my project curtains post today too – have a lovely weekend!

  • Janis says:

    I really enjoyed the information contained in your site. I need help. I ordered custom sheers from a reputable drapery dealer and they were over 1 1/2 inches off the floor. Isn’t that too short? I thought they looked awful. She raised the pins on the sheers and that dropped them to the appropriate length, but I want to add draperies now, and she doesn’t know how to hide the dropped pin line at the ceiling (9 ft walls). She suggested cornice boards, but I don’t care for that look. Can you help with some suggestions? The sheers are a light taupish/gold, but the white tracks show at the ceiling line. Is that correct? Please help. I’m out a lot of money.

    • Maria Killam says:

      It’s their mistake and they should correct it. It’s what I would do if I made that kind of mistake. The only way to fix it is to perhaps add a 3″ band of contrasting colour all along the hem and along the inside panels of the sheers. That might be pretty. Maria

  • Hi Maria
    Lovely post.
    I’m just wondering if you know where I can purchase the grommets themselves in bulk? I have to make 10 curtains! Places like Lincraft sell them but they don’t seem to have ‘backs’ which is confusing.
    Any help would be much appreciated.
    Kind regards

    • Maria Killam says:

      Any place that sells drapery rods to the trade will usually sell grommets but I don’t know of a place on-line, sorry. Maria

  • Julie Yancey says:

    I recently had some drapes cleaned. My husband tried to rehang them with the original wooden rings, but it appears there is more fabric needing hooks than we’re there before. The drapes were here when we bought the home over a year ago. Is there a recommended spacing of hooks for long drapes?

  • Thank you so much for the invaluable information. I have been sewing my own window treatments and other home decor essentials for years. Recently, I have branched out and started sewing for others. Learning new tricks/tips to save time or enhance your projects is an ongoing process!

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