Curtains are a prime consideration for many of us, but choosing just the right design, getting the sizing right, and tying acres of material to the other characterful colours and patterns in the room, can be puzzling.
With modern double and sometimes triple glazing, where privacy is not a primary concern, what is the argument in favour of having curtains at all?
Catherine Bohane, owner and designer at Interior Solutions, Carrigaline, has a passionate, as well as a business interest in the success of individual materials.
“Curtains can help to control the amount of sunlight in the room and are one of the most effective elements capable of bringing about a dramatic change in the look of a space. It’s not just about the ambience. The aesthetic talents of curtains and the quality of light can really influence our emotions as well.”
Surely blinds can do everything a curtain can do, and pull more neatly out of sight?
“Curtains can help create a more relaxed or ‘homey’ feel’, and are great for lounge and living areas matching any decor scheme. They really dress a window where blinds might be functional,” says Catherine.
In short, blinds , in most cases, offer privacy, and the combination of curtains and blinds offer ‘design’ or decorative solutions. “Blinds used alone can be fantastic in a minimalist approach. Roman blinds are all the rage at the moment with particular emphasis on florals and bold prints.”
A curtain is not a stationary element — it moves from closed to open — its impact changing from a pillar of colour to a considerable banner. Then there’s that characteristic drape singular to the weave and weight of the textile you choose.
Unless you are going for a billowing sheer, a curtain should have substance. Still, if the fabric is too hefty, it won’t fold up neatly. Too light and the sleek fall to the floor will be compromised. Curtains in silk, linen and velvet are classic choices for fall and drape, and there are many synthetics that perform equally beautifully.
You can add to the drape qualities of a curtain by adding weight and support with lining and interlining. Lining will also delay fading, and if you do have draughty windows, insulated liners are crucial. If you’ve ever seen a dress designer or tailor at work, you may have noticed them pull out a couple of metres and test the drape, fall and nuances of shine and colour of a fabric held over their arm to the floor.
Don’t be afraid to try this yourself next time you go to choose fabrics, using material from a bolt, rather than a book, with the permission of your supplier.
Curtains only have a practical length to cover the open space created by the window void, but a potential height above the window reveal. This is a juicy little area to play with and by going higher here than expected, you can not only make the curtain more impressive, but increase the perceived height of the wall itself. What’s to be avoided at all costs is a mean look — add that extra metre of fabric to finish your soft furnishings luxuriantly.
“When measuring make sure you go at least 15cm/6” up from the window reveal - higher if you’ve got high ceilings. The idea is to go as high as you can to give the appearance of height in the room. Allow anything from 18cm/7” to 23cm/9” outside each side,” says Catherine..
“When it comes to the floor, the cardinal rule is not to go too short. A ‘kiss’ where the fabric just touches the floor is ideal although most people prefer a light drift off the floor (Around 1.25cm to prevent wear to the hems).
“Pooling or puddles (where the fabric pools on the floor) in the right place and the right window can make a dramatic formal statement and can be very effective,” Catherine says.
Keep in mind when hanging anything around your windows, that the primary directive for the window must remain the same. If the curtains are obscuring the path of light and passive heat gain — then pull the curtain treatments further back. Fit your chosen pole before measuring for ready-mades. For pencil pleats, the curtains will be the width of the track or pole. For eyelets. the curtains will be 2 times the width of the track or pole. For tab top – 1.5times the width of the track or pole.
Obviously, this is an area to cut your cloth to meet your measure, financially, but even off-the-shelf curtains offer a wild variety in terms of quality, choice and design. It’s always worth pricing up the bespoke against the commercial.
The in-house design team at independent retailers are keen to show just what they can do in side-by-side comparisons with top flight ready-mades (ensure you compare like with like, and that won’t be the cheapest flowery darlings you can find online).
Many design houses, including Interior Solutions, go a lot further than the curtains, offering upholstering and window treatments as part of a suite of soft furnishings and even wall coverings to make an entire scheme. Having the skills and input of a fabric specialist to put a family of fabrics together or to coax a unique marriage of colour, line and texture, can save you leg work when building up the look of a whole house.
“Buying off the rack you won’t always get the sizes you may need, whereas getting curtains made allows for a much greater choice in not only headings, but in the weight and quality of the linings,” says Catherine.
“This will make an enormous difference to the look of your curtains — and the length of time you get out of them. Matching the clean sharp lines of blinds and curtains with wall covering can be stunning. It can help turn a space into something really special and we are finding more and more people are using a play of curtains, blinds and paper to put their stamp on a full scheme.
“The vast array of colours (stripes and florals) we can offer today is fantastic and really make a space sing,” she says.
* Interior Solutions, Kilmoney Road, Lower, Carrigaline, 021 437 2353