Window dressings: curtains and blinds

Choosing and designing the most suitable window treatment for your home.
The most important thing to start with is to review what you have. Windows should not be considered out of context with the rest of the room. Consider the positive features of the room and its weaknesses: is it large or small, used mostly in the day or night, in a dark basement or on a sunny upper floor?

There are many styles of window treatments and reasons for choosing them. We will be looking at blinds and curtains in particular.

The key reasons for hanging fabric at the window dates back many centuries but still apply today. These include privacy, sunlight glare, excluding drafts, retaining heat in winter and keeping rooms cool in the summer.

To overcome these challenges you need fabric that is easy to manipulate and has movement. Other things to consider include whether you want low tech, or if you need electric systems to operate as part of a home automation system. The options are as wide as your budget.

Both blinds and curtains offer advantages, which is why they are often used together.


Blinds get their name from the fact that they blind a viewer of a window, not allowing them to see the insides of the room. They are also used to reduce sunlight, helpful when protecting delicate finishes and fabrics.

They are an inexpensive option that is effective at keeping light out and are easy to match the style of a room. There are a variety of styles and materials, ranging from fabric, plastic, metal, bamboo and wood.

But they are more fragile than curtains and might be impractical for very large windows because of the weight and size of the fabric. They can also collect more dust and can be hard to clean.



Curtains can be made up from many different fabrics, achieving many styles and lengths. If interlined they are more efficient at keeping in heat. They will provide a greater acoustic barrier if the fabric used is well considered. If you use more fabric, they will be more expensive and take up space on either side of the window (known as the stack-back).

Dress curtain choices or added accessories include voiles, valences, pelmets, swags and tails, and poles.

Consider the style of the window

* Is it longer than it is wide, or wider than it is high?

* How does it operate - is it a casement window (side hinged) or a sash window (slides up and down)? This is an important point if the window treatment isn’t going to obstruct the opening of the window.

* Most period London properties have sash windows, which have been around since the last half of the seventeenth century. The main advantage of a sash window is that the operation is not inhibited by most window treatments, while casement windows (unless they swing outwards) can be disrupted.

* Consider the size of the walls on either side of the window; some modern buildings have windows awkwardly placed so that there is only a narrow space on one side of the window.

* Check the depth of the lintel (space between the top of the window and the ceiling) again this may be limited and will impact on the choices open to you. This will lead you to consider whether or not to have a pelmet or valence, which would hide the tracks on curtains and perhaps consider the use of a pole system.

* If considering blinds you should think about whether the blind should be positioned inside the window recess (called a reveal) or wider than the window in line with the wall.

Your options

One of the safest options is to refer to an industry recognised Interior Designer, or Design Consultant - usually either SIBD (Society of British Interior Designers) or BIID (British Institute of Interior Designers) qualified - who can walk you through the process, work with you to identify your aspirations, budget and personal design taste, suggest the appropriate system to use, and help you select one of the many beautiful fabrics which exist in the market today.

For example, if you “must have” silk at your window, then be aware that direct sunlight and humidity will weaken the yarn of the fabric and mean you will be replacing the fabric earlier than if you used one of the many polyester mixtures available, which have hugely improved over the synthetic fabrics available in the past.

Linens and natural fibres are also wonderful to use, and don’t be put off by worries over creasing as these can be overcome by the correct mixture of yarns and manufacture.

If you want to research your fabric choice more fully, visit the world’s largest fabric house JAB Anstoetz at Imperial Wharf, London SW6 - where you will find a goldmine of fabrics and design choices - or one of the other fabric showrooms nearby. They can also advise you about interior designers who can provide a solution to suit your taste and budget.

* Simon Cavelle is an international interior designer and a founding member of the Society of British Interior Designers (SBID). Pictures and window treatment advice provided by JAB Anstoetz, 17 Imperial Wharf, London SW6 2UB; 020 7348 6620;

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