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Should Curtains Touch the Floor? Your Curtain Questions Answered

Curtain questions come up frequently in interior design. Should curtains touch the floor? How do I hang curtains in a bay window? Are long curtains on short windows appropriate?

Today I wanted to address some of these common curtain questions and discuss the best choices for window treatments in your home. If you have a few windows that could use some coverage, read on!

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

Should You Always Have Curtains on a Window?

The first question about curtains that often comes up is, are they even necessary in the first place? Should you always put up curtains? Are they still in style, and do they go with every space?

Some curtains fit specific window styles. For example, are you wondering how to hang curtains in a bay window? You may be better off going with a window treatment like a shade. Depending on the location and type of window, curtains are not always the best choice and can sometimes detract from the overall look. But more often than not, curtains provide both utilitarian and aesthetic benefits.

Windows are meant to let in light, and if you've designed your home with plenty of windows (as I highly recommend), you’ll want to carefully plan the right window treatments to keep that natural light flowing into your home.

So, while curtains are certainly not a necessity, they do serve several purposes in a room. The reasons you should choose curtains are:

  • Privacy from the outside

  • Controlling light

  • Protecting furniture and floors from fading

  • Adding to the aesthetic of the room

  • Helping minimize heat loss in a room

  • Muffling outside noise

Of course, there are other window treatments besides curtains that can be quite effective too. It really comes down to personal preference and the look you are seeking for a specific room. Curtains give you another opportunity to have fun with your décor, complement the surrounding furniture, and bring in colors, patterns, and textures.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

Blinds and shades are other options that offer similar protection and may fit better with certain aesthetics. You aren't limited to the plastic Venetian mini blinds of decades past, either. There are honeycomb blinds, pleated shades, minimalist window shades, roman shades, woven wood shades, and more. Basically, you have lots of choices when it comes to window treatments.

Many people like to double up their window treatments, combining a shade or blind with curtains. This option can offer more flexibility when you want just a little coverage or would like to allow in light while maintaining privacy. Keep in mind, though, that layered window treatments can also seem a little fussy and have lost a bit of popularity over the last few decades. Although, I’m still quite partial to a woven shade paired with stunning drapes—especially in a bedroom. But many people are opting for sleeker, more minimalist window treatments. If you have beautiful windows, less is often more.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

Today's smart shades change position in relation to the sun. They can be an investment to install, but once they’re in place, you can control privacy and sun protection with the click of a button from your phone. If you’re considering window treatments, starting with smart shades is a wise choice, especially if your home already has deep smart integration.

Another concern with curtains is allergies. As with any linens in your home, curtains can trap dust and cause problems for those very sensitive to allergens. Of course, curtains can also help reduce the number of allergens that enter through your home windows by offering another barrier line of defense. So, if you choose to have curtains, dust and vacuum the surrounding window, and clean your treatments regularly.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

Choosing the Right Curtains for Your Window

Ultimately, curtains can really bring a lot to a room aesthetically. Depending on your décor style, curtains can help a room feel polished and “finished.” Curtains protect a window, add to the coziness and comfort of a room, and look beautiful.

But how do you choose the right curtains for a window? First, look at materials. For a more formal room, you may want to coordinate curtains with other fabrics used in a room—for example, throw pillows, accessories, or accent pieces.

That said, these days, most people are opting for a less "matchy-matchy" style of décor and instead choose patterns, shades, and textures that add to, but do not take away from, a room. Curtains can be an excellent way to mix patterns and incorporate interesting fabrics—silk, linen, and cotton into the room. Choose a material as natural as possible and look for curtains that are organically or naturally dyed. I personally prefer a light, airy fabric that still lets in the window light.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

In a bedroom, you may want to choose drapes or curtains with a heavier or darker fabric that can keep the light infiltration to a minimum. In short, drapes are lined (and typically heavier) than curtains. Older homes may benefit from slightly thicker curtains as well, especially if the windows are older. Curtains offer some insulation and can slightly reduce drafts.

Should Curtains Touch the Floor? What is the Right Length for Curtains?

The length of the curtain is called the "drop length." The drop length measures from the top, where the curtain hangs, to the bottom edge. When choosing curtains for a room, how long should you go? Should curtains touch the floor? The answer is generally yes. The drop length should be to the floor.

When in doubt, err on the side of longer curtains. Whether or not you should puddle the curtains at the bottom is really a matter of personal preference, but for the most aesthetically pleasing and appropriate look, curtains should run to the floor. If you choose to puddle, you'll want at least 3-4 inches of fabric or so to make the puddling appear deliberate.

Design + Image: Studio McGee

If you want to make a window appear larger and a room appear taller, try hanging curtains far above the window. I always prefer to hang the curtain rod as high as possible to make the window appear large and expansive. This trick is especially important in older homes, where ceilings are often a little shorter, and windows may be set a bit lower.

Many curtain setups include tiebacks to pull the curtain back on the sides. They may also include sheers (a thin, semi-transparent piece of fabric covering the window most of the time). Draperies usually refer to the thicker fabric that blocks light and hangs over the sheers. Finally, a valance or swag may run across the top. Many of these pieces are superfluous these days as people don’t often choose the heavier formal window treatments of years past.

Design + Image: Josh Yöung Design House

If your décor is decidedly more traditional, you may want to include some of the above components in your window treatment look. They can still be beautiful, especially when done carefully. Sheers will often have a drop length that reaches the floor but typically won't puddle like drapes or curtains. If you use tiebacks, you can still puddle the curtain, but it can feel a little heavier. Style your curtains using trial and error to find a look that feels best to you.

How Should the Curtain Set on the Rod?

Valances definitely aren’t as common as they used to be, but valences and valence boxes can help to hide the top of the curtain, where the rod pocket runs. Exposed rods have become much more popular over the years. A curtain rod offers an opportunity to incorporate a bit of hardware or another material accent into your room décor.

There are many different types of curtain styles. Curtains with grommets or eyelets can weave over the rod and create a casual, modern effect. Curtains with a rod pocket look more rustic and may fit certain décor, such as farmhouse-style looks.

For clean lines, a box pleat top is flat, with hooks that fit over an exposed rod. Pinch pleats, tailored pleats, and goblet pleats are more formal, traditional looks that also work with an exposed curtain rod. In previous decades, a valance or swag across the top of the curtain would camouflage the rod if desired. Of course, the seam side should always go against the window, no matter how you hang the curtain.

If you choose exposed rods for your curtains, you'll also want to look at complementary finials. Many varieties and options are available—everything from sculptural birds to geometric metal designs to crystal. Like choosing cabinetry knobs and other hardware, finials give you a chance to add whimsy, style, and personalization to your home. I’m personally a fan of “less is more” when it comes to finials—or utilizing a rod with a simple but elegant French return style. Should you choose metal tieback hooks for your curtains, you'll want to ensure that your exposed curtain rod and finials blend with the tiebacks.

Curtains in Other Areas of Your Home

Of course, windows aren’t the only place for curtains in your home. Shower curtains and privacy curtains in the bathroom are quite popular. There’s also been a recent uptick in the instances of café curtains under kitchen and bathroom sinks.

Design: Light and Dwell | Photography: Amy Bartlam

Any time you include fabric in a room like a bathroom or a kitchen, you’ll want to choose materials that are natural, breathable, and quick-drying. Look for linen, cotton, hemp, and even fabric made from bamboo for great options in these high-traffic, high-moisture spaces.

Traditional vinyl shower curtains can off-gas, presenting a possible hazard to the air quality of your home. In fact, researchers discovered that a typical PVC shower curtain gave off 108 different VOCs, and they remained present for over a month. Curtains tested included phthalates, toluene, xylene, methyl isobutyl ketone, ethylbenzene, and phenol—all potentially toxic chemical compounds.

Design: Campbell House | Photography: Madeline Harper

Many shower curtains are treated with mildew-resistant chemicals, which can be dangerous to the safety of your home. If you choose a traditional shower curtain over a glass shower door, look for untreated and PVC-free curtains and liners, PEVA, or EVA (safer alternatives to PVC), or better yet, look for natural materials instead. You should set shower curtains outside of your shower, and if you choose a quick-drying fabric, you shouldn't have an issue with mold and mildew.

As for under-sink curtains in the kitchen or bathroom, look for similar fabrics that dry quickly and are easy to clean. These offer a charming way to camouflage pipes and storage, and they tie in perfectly with certain decorating styles. Look for durable fabric and consider securing the curtains at the top and bottom, particularly if you have children or pets to keep out from under the sink.

With some savvy selections, curtains can really create a welcoming, well-curated space. Have fun with curtain selections and use them as an opportunity to incorporate color, texture, and design into your home.

What are your favorite curtain-choosing tips? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

X Lauren


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