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10 Professional Tips for Getting Custom-Looking Window Treatments on a Budget

window treatment

Designed by Emily Henderson Design; Photo by Sara Tramp

Window treatments can make or break your home—as well as your interior design budget. “Window treatments can cost a fortune ... if you go the custom route, that is,” interior designer Farah Merhi, author of the bestselling home design book Inspire Your Home, tells MyDomaine. While many designers encourage investing in your window treatments by going the professional route, there are many ways you can make store-bought curtains, drapes, shades, and blinds look like they were professionally installed.

“More and more brands and stores are carrying sets of panels and sheers that look like they have been custom made for you without the cost,” she explains. “Beautiful fabrics, colors, patterns and textures. So many choices.”

Here are 10 tips from the pros on how to dress your windows on a budget:

1. Measure Precisely 

Before you pick out any colors or patterns, make sure to properly measure your windows, urges Merhi. “The trick is to make sure you measure your windows and walls to ensure you get the right length,” she explains. The rule of thumb? Make sure to hang your panels so that they are at least touching the floor. 

2. Exaggerate Small Windows With Long Drapes

curtain rod
Crate & Barrel Matte Black Room Darkening Curtain Rod $70.00

One trick for maximizing small window sizes is installing drapes floor to ceiling/crown regardless of casing location, suggests Philadelphia and New York City interior designer Sabrina Piazza, founder of Living Quarters Interior Design. “Maximize width as well, and install wall-to-wall with longest allowable drapery rod,” she explains. 

3. Double Up Your Drapes

“The fullness of a window treatment is what creates a sense of luxury,” interior designers Matthew Wetzel and Donald Thomas of Thomas Matthew Designs explain. They suggest doubling up off-the-shelf drapery for each stack. “If your window requires three panels, you really need six,” they explain. 

4. Or Double Up Your Rods

gold curtain rods
Crate & Barrel Brass Double Curtain Rod and End Cap Finial $160.00

You might notice that most professionally designed houses feature window treatments with double rods. “Traversing drapery sheers and blackout curtains are also a great way to maximize options for light control and privacy with a layered look,” Piazza points out. “They allow two separate drapery treatments to open and close independently in front of one another for a variety of functions.”

If you go the double rod route, the stationary decorative panels should go on the front rod, while functional sheers work best in the back.

5. Attach Your Own Trimmings

Custom drapes often feature tasteful and attention-grabbing trimmings. While you can find these features on curtains from stores like Pottery Barn, Piazza suggests purchasing unembellished panels and attaching trimmings yourself. “Buy panels the nearest size down from your window opening for inside-mount, measuring in top and bottom of the opening for the correct size,” she explains. Then, shop around at trimmings stores (her favorites are M&J Trimming, Samuel & Sons, local fabric stores, and Etsy) and attach the decorative banding by sewing or hot gluing to outside edges for a custom look that doesn’t leak light. 

6. Find a Great Roller Shades Resource 

roller shades
West Elm Woven Cordless Roller Shades $190.00

If you are looking for wide solar or blackout shades that allow customized transparency, Piazza suggests checking out West Elm’s selection of roller shades in light filtering, blackout, basketweave, and woven options in sizes that range from 24”-72”. “They are a bargain price compared to other similarly sized vendors,” she points out. All you have to do is match the window frame color to your shade for an updated look. “Black and charcoal can look well-appointed in a modern space,” she adds. 

7. Try Top-Down Bottom-Up Cellular Shades 

cellular shades
Real Simple Cordless Top-Down Bottom-Up Light Filtering Cellular 72-Inch Shade $50.00

If you live in a modern space, at street level, or simply need to add a little privacy in the bathroom, you should definitely check out top-down bottom-up shades. “They allow maximum privacy while still allowing light and a view from the top,” Piazza explains. She suggests checking out Bed Bath and Beyond’s Real Simple collection, which has rave reviews. “From experience, these are easily installed and hold up even under toddler maneuvering!” 

8. Splurge on High-End Hardware 

Hardware can make or break your design, so avoid scrimping on it. “Try to avoid hardware and rods that show screws or any working components,” suggests Wetzel and Thomas. “It’s best these are hidden out of sight.” Also, make sure the thickness is in scale with your room's dimensions and ceiling height. Piazza also suggests purchasing a subtle telescoping design with small rings that self-returns into the wall without finials for room darkening. “This choice will mimic the highest end custom hardware on a dime and save on shipping, too,” she says. 

9. Source Your Own Fabrics and Make Your Own

Another way to save a lot of money is by purchasing yardage from an online source and making your own. Piazza suggests finding a vendor that offers samples—such as Spoonflower—to avoid making a costly color mistake. Just make sure you are buying from a positively-reviewed vendor to ensure the best quality.

10. Make Sure You Don't Miss the Return

curtain rod
Joss & Main Halewood Decorative Privacy Wraparound Single Curtain Rod $29.00

According to Wetzel and Thomas, nothing gives away an "off the rack" treatment more than a missing return. “A return is where the window treatment returns and connects to the wall and also blocks light from coming through the sides,” they explain. Worst case scenario, you may need to create a makeshift return by utilizing a hook.