Design 101: Perfect Drapery

By Paul Miller

Interior Designer, IDS Professional Member

One of the most impactful features of a room can be window treatments.  The most classically appealing of these is drapery.  Whether fully operating or stationary, drapery adds pleasing vertical lines while providing additional expression to the design through textiles. 

To help demystify these treatments, here are the factors I keep in mind as I design drapery for my projects.

Find The Function

Drapery can be used to block out light, provide privacy, and improve the thermal condition of a space.  A variety of linings and interlinings are used to achieve the desired effect.  When a primary treatment layer such as wooden blinds, shutters, or shades is preferred to meet the functional needs, the drapery can be made as stationary panels that hang at the window for aesthetic purposes only.  In rooms that have little to no fabric in the furnishings, such as a dining room, drapery panels also enhance the ambiance and improve acoustics. 

Photo: Stacy Zarin Goldberg  As seen on  Home & Design Magazine

Photo: Stacy Zarin Goldberg

As seen on Home & Design Magazine


Work The Angles

Drapery is most pleasing to my eye where there is ample space between the top of the window trim and the hardware.  The exact amount that the drapery should hang above the window is determined by ceiling height and other architectural factors. 

The leading edge of the drapery should cover as little glass as possible when open, so it is important to add extra width to the finished dimensions.  A general rule of thumb is to make the treatment thirty percent wider than the window for functional panels.  For stationary drapery, depending on the size of the window and the amount of fabric in each panel, I add between twenty and thirty inches to the window width. 

Plan for a hem three quarters of an inch above the floor for a tailored look.  To create a more relaxed appearance, measure for the drapery to hang with an inch brushing the floor; for a luxurious puddled effect, the drapery should be six to ten inches longer than the measurement from rod to floor.

For a low-key window treatment, subtle patterns and soft colors are ideal. Photo: MakeNest

Vibrant, graphic prints make a statement when the windows are the focal point. Photo: MakeNest

A supportive fabric can highlight a specific color without carrying the full palette. Photo: MakeNest

Choosing The Fabric

In rooms with lots of windows the drapery fabric will inherently have a large impact, so the fabric should be chosen with one of three objectives: establishing a strong focal point; supporting other graphic elements; or blending into the architecture. 

Typically large-scaled prints, like florals or geometric graphics, make a fantastic focal point, although a solid in a bold color can achieve a similar effect.  Look to medium to small scale patterns or less saturated solid colors to support stronger features that exist elsewhere in the space.  A solid fabric with an interesting weave in tones that contrast minimally with the color of the walls is the best way to introduce drapery that is meant to be a subtle addition.  Always protect fabrics from sun damage with quality drapery lining.

From The Top

The header of the drapery is the uppermost edge, where the fabric may be gathered into pleats, sewn into a pocket that gathers over the rod, or made with tabs that loop over the hardware. 

For functional drapery, tab tops are impractical because they do not glide along the rod as easily as rings.  I prefer a pleated header, which tailors the fabric into consistent folds.  There are many pleat styles to choose from; some, like goblet and cartridge pleats, become sculptural features, while others, like a European pleat, offer more subtle styling.

The Devil In The Details

Once I am certain of the level of impact I want from the drapery, and have begun to narrow down fabric selections, I decide if and how I would like to embellish the treatments.  A bold print with lots of colors might well stand on its own, but using a decorative band on the lead edge is an opportunity to highlight a specific color.  For drapery that is intended to lie low and allow other elements to shine, an embellishment might be a discoverable detail that is equally subtle, such as a small pom-pom fringe in the same tone as the fabric.

Hardware plays a significant roll in the finished look and function of the completed.  Dense fabric, bold patterns, and dark colors make drapery look heavy and are best complimented by substantial hardware.  Light colored drapery and sheers are well-balanced with lighter hardware. 

Generally I prefer finials that are relatively subtle, but there are projects where a dramatic finial is the perfect choice.  The finish on the hardware should never looked contrived and must always compliment the fabric, while being in harmony with other finishes in the space. It is not necessary to match metal hardware to the metal of light fixtures and door knobs, although the finish should be compatible or contrasting. 

Drapery hardware can either blend quietly into a design or act as jewelry to heighten the drama of the treatment. Photo: MakeNest

I hope these insights into drapery help make sense of the amount of planning and care that goes into the creation of a beautiful window treatment.  The addition of drapery to a room can transform a space into a welcoming, exciting, and comforting oasis.

Paul Miller


Want more Design 101? See the previous post in this series - Kitchen Design.

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