Curtain Buying Guide: How to Buy Curtains & Blinds

Learn how to transform your window into a beautiful interior design focal point with professional advice in our curtain buying guide.


Buying Guides

When done right, your window dressings will strike the perfect balance between form and function. We want our window dressings to look beautiful and help us manage light, sound and heat inside our homes.

With endless combinations of style, fabrics, colour and materials to choose from, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. To help you make the right choice, our team of Houseologists have put together a guide of all the information you need to know to pick the right window dressings for your room and measure them up without hassle.

01.Buying curtains and drapes – the difference

One of the most popular options for window dressings is curtains or drapes. The two terms tend to be used interchangeably but, strictly speaking, there are a couple of key differences between the two:

Curtains are made from lighter fabrics and are traditionally unlined. They can be custom-made or purchased ready to hang and tend to be more affordable than drapes.

Drapes are floor-length window treatments using heavy fabrics and lining to add weight. They are traditionally reserved for more formal spaces like a living room or dining room.

Fabric, colour and pattern are all important to consider when picking out the style of your window dressing. The colours you choose for your curtains or drapes will either help them blend with the décor or make a bold, contrasting statement. Accent colours and complementary tones will help pull together your palette, while bold colours will create an instant focal point.

02.Types of curtain headings

The top hem or heading of your curtains or drapes will contribute to the overall look of your window dressing, so consider these carefully as well.

curtain buying guide - curtain headings

Pencil pleats
Pencil pleats are the most traditional fitting – folds are gathered together closely and come in a range of widths from narrow pencil pleats to wider, flat box pleats. Generally with this hem curtains are hung using curtain hooks or rings.

Eyelet hem
An eyelet hem offers a fold that’s typically wider and more fluid, giving a much more relaxed, casual feel. Metal eyelets are hung from a curtain pole and are simple and durable – you can move them back and forth with ease.

Tab top
Modern, relaxed and informal, tab top curtains feature a row of fabric loops that hang from the curtain pole. It’s also possible to choose concealed tab top, where the loops are hidden behind the curtains for better light absorption and heat insulation.

Box pleat
Box pleats offer a more tailored, masculine look – the pleat hem lies flat in a squared styling, creating deep folds that run the full length of the curtain. This style works particularly well with textured fabrics and is available in a single, double or triple box pleat.

Pinch pleat
Pinch pleats offer a structured, tailored look – perfect for adding a touch of elegance to a more relaxed space. The top hem is gathered and pinched together in a single, double or triple fold.

Goblet pleat
Goblet pleats are very elegant and formal in style – pleats fall from rounded ‘goblet’ style folds that are stuffed to appear fuller and retain their shape whether curtains are open or shut.

curtain buying guide - types of pleat

03.Curtain fabrics

Getting the fabric right is an essential part of choosing your window dressings – the fabric you use will have an impact not just on the finished look but on how well it will hold up over time. While we might think of curtains as more decorative now, they still serve an important purpose – think about what you want your curtains to do and let that narrow down your search for the fabrics you use. Some of the most common functions include:

Light control
Curtains or drapes are a great way to filter or block light in a room. A sheer curtain will filter sunlight and help create a softer glow in your room, while a heavy fabric will help block it altogether. Velvet, velveteen, corduroy or wool-blend fabrics will all limit light – for maximum light control, add a blackout lining to your curtains to help make them completely opaque.

Noise control
If you have a room that faces out onto a busy street, noise control will be a priority for you. Choose curtains or drapes made with heavy materials like velvets and wools – anything fabric that could soak up and absorb water will work well to absorb noise, too. Deep pleats will also help catch and absorb sound and provide better acoustics inside the room.

Particularly in older homes, draft from the windows in winter can sap the heat from a room. If you need your window dressing to provide extra insulation, choose something that covers the windows, extending well past the trim and draping on the floor. Heavy fabrics like damask, tapestry, velvet and suede are all good materials for blocking out drafts. Special thermal and flannel-backed linings will also help make your room more energy efficient – the more layers you add, the warmer your window dressing will be. Interlining is another good option for insulation; here, an additional blanket is stitched between the curtain and lining to provide even greater heat and sound insulation, and will also help make curtains appear even more full and luxurious when hung.

curtain buying guide - fabrics

04.Buying window blinds

Blinds are an easy, practical option for your window dressings, particularly in busy spaces. They are more economical, space saving and attractive; with no need for poles and are much easier to fit compared to curtains or drapes. Blinds can also be adjusted throughout the day for different levels of light and privacy – this is great for rooms that have a bright glare in the morning but a softer, more welcoming light in the afternoon or evenings.

Blinds and hard coverings are particularly well suited to kitchens and bathrooms where there is more humidity and condensation – they can withstand moisture, repel unfavourable odours and are easy to clean.

curtain buying guide - blinds

There’s a huge amount of choice when it comes to blinds, and your decision will depend on the room, amount of space you have and what you want them to accomplish. The most common include:

Roller blinds
Roller blinds are made from a stiffened, treated fabric and operated by a cord and spring mechanism. They come in a range of options – blackout roller blinds will block the light from entering a room completely and can be used either on their own or behind curtains. Sheer roller blinds will filter light and add a hint of colour to your room, while daylight blinds will provide a balance between the two, letting some light in but blocking out any harsh glare. Roller blinds are some of the safest window dressings because they come with a spring release and extra material rolls away safely out of reach – perfect for children’s rooms.

Venetian blinds
Made from wood or metal, Venetian blinds feature horizontal slats that can be tilted up or down to filter light, as well as raised and lowered for optimum privacy. They come in a variety of widths, from very thin to chunky and thick.

Roman blinds
Roman blinds sit flat when lowered and form soft pleats when raised. The pleats are kept in place by dowel rods and operated by a cording mechanism. Like roller blinds they come in sheer, daylight and blackout options.

Vertical blinds
Vertical strips of fabric can be tilted or drawn using a simple chain control. Because they need to be fitted to the exact specification of your windows, vertical blinds need to be made to measure and come in a huge range of colours.

Shutters are hard window coverings that make it easy to customise light and offer extra security and privacy. You can choose full height, two-tier, half-height café style or solid shutters. Solid shutters will completely block out light and are great for large windows.

05.Window dressings

Measuring your windows correctly is essential to the success of your window dressings, so take the time to do it carefully. The measurements you need depend on the style of dressing you choose. Consider whether you want any finishing decorative touches to help complete your window dressings and add a little extra flare.

Curtain poles
Decorative rods are part of the room’s design and come in a variety of styles and finishes, from polished chrome to light timbers.

If you’re going to use an exposed curtain rail as part of your room design, consider finials as well – they can be simple or ornate, and will contribute to the style of your window dressing. A simple brass finial is great for a contemporary, Urban look, while a crystal finial can evoke a Chic and luxurious feel.

Tie backs
Decorative yet functional, tie backs are a quick fix way to add some drama and style to your window dressings. Using tie backs will allow light to flood into your space and can help create an attractive frame around the window. The tie backs you choose can range from the simple to ornate, and each will emphasise a different style – low-slung leather tie backs reinforce a simple, Chic look, while ornate, statement tie backs suit a Luxe look.

Pelmets conceal the top portion of a window dressing and are made up of short panels in matching or contrasting colours, fabrics and patterns. You can use them to add height to your window dressing or with blinds to create a finished look if you are short on space. There are dozens of different styles to choose from: fabric pelmets, also sometimes called valances, can come in the same style as the curtains themselves – box pleat, double pleat or pencil pleat are just three popular examples and can be made to hang straight or arched. Hard cover pelmets on the other hand, come in a variety of different shapes from simple styles like straight or arched to more intricate designs like stepped, scallop edge or even moulded ceiling cornice pelmets.

curtain buying guide - window dressings

06.Curtain length guide – careful measuring

Measuring your windows correctly is essential to the success of your window dressings, so take the time to do it carefully. The measurements you need depend on the style of dressing you choose.

For curtains
To measure for curtains, first decide how much of the window you want to cover – in general, curtains and drapes usually hang several inches above and to either side of the window frame. If you already have curtains installed, measure the total width of the track or pole rather than the window itself. Add an additional inch for overlap when the curtains are closed. Next, decide whether you want the curtains to fall to the windowsill, below it, or to drape on the floor. Sill-length curtains should finish half an inch above the sill – below the sill or on the floor depending on your own style preference. See our curtain calculator for more help.

For blinds
Blinds need a much closer window measurement. Measure your window from inside the recess, taking into account the measurement at the top, middle and bottom of the window. Reduce the width by 1cm for Venetian, Roman and roller blinds to allow for smooth extension. Then, measure from the top of the recess to the windowsill. For windows without a recess, add an extra 10cm to the width of the window and measure the length from the top of the fitting to where you want your blinds to end.

window dressing