How to get the best curtains for your space

As decorative elements and as investments, window coverings are among the most important items in a home, but it's difficult to get them right.

If you want to match your curtains with your walls, take a paint colour card with you when you go curtain shopping.
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Curtains are one of the first things you need when you move into a new house - if you want to get a good night's sleep and maintain any semblance of privacy, that is. When it comes to a list of essentials for a new home, curtains are up there with a bed and a refrigerator; you can take your time choosing almost everything else, but these three items are essential from the get-go.

At the same time, curtains can represent a significant investment. Good quality, custom-made drapery is not cheap, and anyone living in rented accommodation will be familiar with the frustration of moving to a new house and discovering that your existing curtains are too long, too wide or not long or wide enough for your new set of windows. Unless you are downsizing significantly, it's unlikely that you'll have the same problems with your furniture and accessories.

It is possible to get your curtains adjusted, of course. However, while shortening them is a simple procedure, having them lengthened is a more costly and time-consuming affair - and an added hassle that you probably don't need after a big move.

Nonetheless, getting the right curtains for your space is essential, and not just because they block out the light and protect your modesty. They are also an important decorative feature. "The majority of the floors here are stone, and the walls are usually just painted, so curtains can make a huge impact on a room. For example, you can use more fabric to soften a room," says Anna Larson, an interior designer at the Dubai-based soft furnishings company Home Specialists.

As with any investment, the first step in acquiring curtains is deciding how much you want to spend. If you are looking for a longer-term solution, it is worth buying custom-made drapery. For a quick, shorter-term fix, ready-made curtains are a good option. When it comes to value for money, Ikea is always a good bet, and offers pairs of curtains for between Dh59 and Dh375. However, you will need to spend extra getting them lined and then hung properly.

Needless to say, any shopping trip should be preceded by a thorough measuring session. Make sure to note the dimensions of your windows and sliding doors, and also think about colours and patterns that might tie into your existing interior scheme.

"When buying ready-made curtains, read the instructions on the package," says Maudalene Wagner, an interior designer at the Dubai-based turnkey design company Zen Interiors. "Curtains are usually sold in pairs and the dimensions of each curtain will be shown on the package. The total width of both curtains should be at least two times the width of the track or pole.

"If you want to match the colour of a curtain with your wall paint, wallpaper or cushions, then take a colour card or a sample of the fabric or wallpaper with you when you go curtain shopping," Wagner says.

Whether you are buying ready- or custom-made curtains, it is important to have a clear idea of what you want your curtains to achieve, and this will vary greatly from room to room, explains Carla Conte, the founder of Brand Creative, a company specialising in retail interiors, graphics and strategic branding. There are a number of questions that you need to ask, says Conte, whose mother spent 30 years running a successful drapery business in Canada.

"Do you want them to frame a view, or block out all semblance of light? It will largely depend what room you're dealing with. Is it a room requiring privacy and complete blocking of light at certain times of the day? Do you have a great view that you want to take advantage of but also the option of covering up should you need to?"

In bedrooms, it's advisable to opt for a full-length curtain with blackout lining. If you are also trying to block out sound, try interlining, which is sewed between the curtain face fabric and the lining and will act as a noise barrier. It will also improve the drape and hang of the curtain. Curtains with eyelets are best avoided in bedrooms because they will allow sunlight to filter through. For the best results, place a pelmet over the top of the curtain to shut out any remaining vestiges of light.

In other rooms, you may not want to obscure the view at all. "If the space is a living room with a beautiful view over the ocean, you might want to enjoy the view to its maximum and invite as much sunlight into the space as possible," says Wagner.

"In this case, a dress curtain or dummy curtain is a good choice. This is a curtain that cannot be opened or closed but simply frames the window for decorative purposes and allows natural light into a space. The width of a dress curtain is only 150 centimetres, so you will save a lot of money by buying less fabric."

One of the most common mistakes that people make when it comes to curtains is selecting the wrong fabric. As Conte points out, you can't use the kind of materials that you would for standard clothing, and neither can you use heavy upholstery fabric because neither will have the required "drapeability".

Zen Interiors uses a type of polyester fabric that looks and feels like a silky satin, but is completely crease-free. "It is ideal for the weather conditions here. It also looks and feels fabulous and gives a space an instant feel of glamour and luxury without breaking the bank. It is light and airy and will not influence the quality of natural light in a room," says Wagner.

Larson is seeing growing demand in this region for linen curtains, and suspects that this is linked to growing awareness of sustainability issues. "In Scandinavia and northern Europe, linen is one of the main fabrics being used, but it's now becoming more in demand here. I think it's linked to the whole eco-movement. People are going back to basics and want a more natural look. I personally like the texture, and the fact that it can come in a thicker fabric and can also come in a light, almost see-through version."

But choosing the fabric is only the first step when it comes to buying curtains. Selecting the right rail or pole to go with the curtain is equally important, as is making sure that your curtains are hung properly. Many people will spend their entire budget on the curtain fabric and then skimp on the rails and poles, says Wagner.

"They will use the cheapest rails and poles that do not work properly when opening and closing the curtains," she explains. "Another common mistake people make when hanging curtains is to hang them too low. When a curtain rail or pole is hung too low, it crowds the window and makes the ceiling appear lower and the room appear darker. To make your ceilings appear taller and let more light in, hang your curtains higher."

With so many factors to consider, once you have made the decision to invest in drapery, it is a good idea to consult with an expert, says Conte. "A true professional will be able to assess the light quality within the room, ask you questions about the function of the room and also help design a style that will coordinate with your interiors and furnishings. If you try to figure this out on your own, you may end up creating an eyesore in the room, or worse - spending money on a custom-made item that doesn't fulfil your functional needs."

How to

Width If you are buying ready-made curtains, the total width of both curtains should be at least two times the width of the track or pole.

Size Consider Roman blinds for smaller windows and bay windows.

Height Don't hang your curtain rail or pole too low. It will make the ceiling appear lower and the room darker.

Cleaning Don't wash your own curtains, says Carla Conte. It is difficult to iron a pleated piece of fabric and there is usually shrinkage. Have your drapery dry cleaned - it will add years to your investment.