The differences between window coverings like curtains, drapes, blinds and shades don’t have to be confusing. This simple guide will help you learn their unique charasteristics.
You’ve just moved into a new home or want to update your current space. Your window coverings are an important element of your decorating because they’re not only decorative but functional. There are a lot of choices and terms to learn, but really, it’s not hard.
The first things to consider are your requirements:
- What is the aesthetic you want: casual, formal, industrial, high-tech, rustic?
- What do you want to accomplish: light blocking/blackout or just diffusing, sound deadening, insulating?
- How much privacy do you want?
- What is your budget?
- How durable and low maintenance should they be?
Your options include drapes or curtains, blinds, shades, or shutters. These choices aren’t mutually exclusive. You can combine curtains and drapes or one of those with blinds, shades, or shutters.
Sound confusing? Don’t worry; this article will explain everything you need to know.
Drapes vs. Curtains
Drapes and curtains are similar. They’re both made from fabric and hang at least a couple of inches above and around the outside window frame from some type of rod. They’re vertically oriented.
The biggest difference between the two is that drapes are lined, made with heavier fabrics such as velvet, damask, or silk, and reach the floor or even puddle on the ground. Drapes are more formal.
Both drapes and curtains are usually purchased in pairs. They’re attached to rods by curtain rings, hooks, grommets, or fabric sleeves attached to the back of the fabric.
Drapes tend to be more functional because they insulate and make a space feel more private, while curtains are more decorative. They both add a bit of softness and richness to the room.
|Ambiance||More formal, elegant, striking||More casual and relaxed. Can be either functional or decorative|
|Fabrics||Heavier such as velvet, silk, damask. Usually a solid color and pleated at the top.||Lighter weight such as cotton, linen, or polyester. May be patterned or solid.|
|Light||Lined so they can function as a blackout barrier||Can be very sheer. Medium weight curtains diffuse or filter light rather than block it out|
|Privacy||Good for privacy||May need something under (blinds/shades) or over (drapes) to achieve complete privacy|
|Other Features||Noise-canceling, insulating to heat and cold|
|Maintenance||Professional installation and dry cleaning||Can usually install yourself and machine wash. Delicate fabrics may need hand washing.|
|Cost||Usually more costly||Can be very reasonably priced and purchased more easily at stores.|
|Layering||Can be used over sheer curtains, shades, and blinds||Can be used over shades and blinds|
|Mechanized||Either mechanized (smartphone-controlled) or use a drawstring to open.||Usually open by sweeping back on their rod.|
|Rooms||Bedroom, dining, living||Anywhere|
|Length||Starts above the window and must touch the floor.||Usually floor length, but can just reach past the bottom of the window sill.|
Here are a couple more distinctions to be aware of when it comes to curtains…
They are very lightweight curtains that diffuse light and provide a bit of privacy. They can be used under drapes. When the drapes are swagged back or partially opened, diffused light can enter while still preserving your privacy.
They only cover the bottom half of a window, with the upper portion remaining clear glass. You’ll see them in restaurants or most often at the kitchen sink window. They allow some privacy while letting the light shine through the upper half. They can be paired with a matching valance.
Helpful Decorating Hint!
If you have small windows you’d like to enhance, you can start your drapes or curtains a few inches down from your ceiling or crown molding (well above the window itself), and have them run to the floor. Your windows appear bigger, and it makes them more of a focal point.
What Is a Valance?
A valance is a band fitted outside the frame at the top of the window covering that hides the mechanics of the drapes, curtains, blinds, and shades. It can be matching or complementary to the window coverings.
Valances can either be made from the same material (fabric, wood, metal, vinyl) as the window covering or something completely different.
They can be very flat and sleek, or padded fabric. They may rise only a few inches above the window frame or much more. If you install the valance well above the window, you will make the window appear larger and more substantial.
Shades are made from a single fabric/material panel that can be raised or lowered through a variety of mechanisms. These are made from fabric, vinyl, and woven grasses such as bamboo.
Shades built from soft and flexible materials can be rolled or gathered up so that you can see the glass.
Shades and blinds are both usually fitted to the inside of the window frame. They can be custom-made or purchased in standard sizes from big-box stores or from specialty stores. Installing them is fairly easy and can usually be done by the homeowner.
For maintenance, most shades can be vacuumed with the brush attachment if they get dusty. You can probably spot clean any dirty areas. Of course, all of this depends on the type of material they’re made from.
Types of Shades
Let’s look at the different types of shades
They include the original shades that were made from vinyl that you might see in your grandparents’ house. The material wraps around a roller at the top of the shade.
Today, they can be made from fabric, narrow wooden/bamboo/grass slats, or vinyl. They may be sheer or room darkening.
There are several different ways they function: with a cord, cord-free, or motorized. You can even get roller shades with an attached solar screen fabric.
These form deep pleats that lay flat when the shade is raised. Fabric can be sheer or blackout weight.
Roman shades are elegant, tailored, and sophisticated.
Balloon shades form poufs when the shade is raised. It’s similar to a Roman shade, but instead of folds that lay flat, the fabric is gathered up in a few places forming poofy scallops.
These may be fastened up with fabric ties. Think of a curtain that doesn’t open horizontally but vertically.
Honeycomb or Cellular Shades
These are made up of single, double, or triple square to hexagonal cells or tubes stacked together. The more cells there are, the greater the insulative properties to help regulate your inside temperatures.
Depending on what fabric you choose, they can be light filtering or room darkening. There are several ways they can open: with a continuous cord loop if the shade is large and heavy, cordless by lifting a small handle, or by motors.
It’s possible to purchase shades that open from the bottom up and/or the top down. These shades allow you your privacy yet also allow light to filter in.
Pleated shades appear a bit like cellular shades because the fabric “zig-zags,” but it is a single piece of fabric — not cells glued together. They can be corded or cordless.
Again, these can be sheer to blackout and a variety of textures and colors. You can get a privacy liner so the outside will be a uniform white appearance.
These shades come in various weaves — either tight or open — of bamboo, straw, jute, grasses, or thin slats of wood.
These are a bit more rustic but add a warm feeling to a room. Prices range from very inexpensive to luxurious.
These are fairly expensive but will completely block the sun.
These are great for sun-facing rooms. They are made from sheer weaves so you can see out but they reduce the glare, diffuse the light, and prevent UV damage to furniture.
Blinds are similar to shades in that they fit inside the window frame. However, they have rigid slats/vanes/louvers that tilt to regulate and direct the amount of light let in.
In addition to tilting the slats, you can open or close the entire system using cords, motors, or cordless means.
Blinds give you the greatest control over privacy and light. They block out almost all light and give complete privacy when they are completely closed.
Being able to tilt the slats lets you control exactly how much light is let in and even directs the light. Being able to completely lift the blind, like shades, gives you almost complete access to the window.
However, they are less energy-efficient than some window coverings such as draperies and cellular shades.
With the exception of vertical blinds, the slats are rigid and horizontal (horizontal blinds are often referred to as Venetian blinds). Materials used include wood, metal, vinyl, plastic, bamboo, or faux wood.
Faux wood, vinyl, and metals are durable and moisture resistant, so these are good choices for rooms with high humidity, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and garages.
Blinds are easier to maintain than shades — they can simply be dusted or wiped down. They can also be very inexpensive.
They’re found in a variety of sizes, materials, and colors pre-made in home departments and big box stores. Of course, custom blinds offer a huge variety of options and sizes.
The slats come in different widths. Mini-blinds have ½” – 1” slats while standard Venetian blinds have 2” slats. Choose wider slats if you have a small window that you want to visually enlarge, choose wider slats.
Vertical blinds operate on the same principle – there are slats that tilt to regulate the light – but they are vertically oriented. They’re usually made from fabric-like materials, vinyl or metal.
These are perfect for very large windows, those that are wider than they are tall, and sliding patio doors. They can be completely swept to one side using a cord to allow easy access to the window.
These also have the added advantage that they require little maintenance since the shape of the slats allows very little dust to settle.
There’s one final window covering, shutters. Shutters closely resemble blinds since they have slats, but they don’t raise or lower like blinds.
Plantation shutters are permanently mounted on the interior sides of window frames.
The wood, vinyl, or faux wood slats are larger than on blinds that allow lots of airflow. There may be hinges, so you can open them to reach the window itself.
Plantation shutters require professional measuring and installation and are a permanent fixture, so they must remain when you sell your home.
Traditional interior shutters, originally found in New England (as opposed to plantation shutters in the South), have narrower slats that help insulate. These are a good choice if you have smaller windows and want a neater finish.
Window coverings are as important as any other piece of furniture in your room. They are functional yet decorative.
You can choose one or two of the types of coverings discussed that will give you the aesthetic, privacy or light regulation, durability, airflow, and insulation you want that falls within your budget.
Combining a curtain or drape with a blind or shade adds functionality, depth, and interest to every room.
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!