No, Curtains and Drapes Aren't the Same—Here's How to Choose The Right Option

Room with neutral curtains

LeClair Decor

One of the first things you do when moving into a new space is cover your windows. Not only will the right window coverings provide privacy and warmth, but they can transform a room aesthetically, too. Getting your window treatments right is essential to crafting the most comfortable, beautiful room.

But when it comes to curtains and drapes, what do you do? Often, drapes and curtains are used interchangeably, but they actually are two different materials. Read on to find out what differentiates the two and get expert advice on choosing curtains or drapes for your own home.

What is the Difference Between Curtains and Drapes?

Living room with black and white colors

LeClair Decor

You've probably used the two words interchangeably—but as it turns out, a curtain and a drape are not the same things. Drapes are typically made of a heavy, rich fabric, and are hung from a rod above the window. They offer an elegant feel and typically extend from the top of the window and puddle on the ground.

Curtains, on the other hand, are typically unlined and much sheerer than a drape. They allow light to filter in, but therefore don't offer the same privacy as a drape. Similar to drapes, though, they are sold as a pair or individually, and hang from a curtain rod above the window. While curtains can extend all the way to the ground, they can also stop at the bottom of the window.

When Should You Choose Drapes?

Window with heavy curtains

Ashley Webb Interiors

Deciding between a thick, heavy fabric and a thinner one requires you to consider how you'll use the room the most. According to Eugenia Triandos of Hibou Design & Co., "The level of privacy required will determine whether you will select drapery, curtains or both." When designing a room, she typically opts for drapes in any room that requires more privacy—think bedrooms—or a more formal feel.

If you want to add even more texture and visual appeal to your space, consider adding both. "We often like to combine sheer curtains with thicker drapes that provide privacy and block out natural light," Triandos says. Consider layering a thick velvet drape with a sheer curtain in an elegant office space or dining room.

Drapes are also a great choice anywhere you want to reduce noise. Need to soundproof your bedroom? Hang a heavy drape to help filter out noise.

Red curtains in a room
CB2 Velvet Copper Curtain Panel $139.00

When Should You Opt for Curtains?

Dining room with sheer curtains

Ashley Montgomery Design

A curtain is a great option in any room where you want to add a window curtain for texture, but do not need to block out light. A sheer panel is a great choice in a family room or living space—the flowy, casual nature allows for a more relaxed look without sacrificing all privacy.

Consider curtains in any room that requires a lot of natural light. While drapes can be opened, they tend to add a heavier feel to a space. Opt for thinner fabrics wherever you want the most light control.

Pottery Barn sheer curtains
Pottery Barn Belgian Flax Linen Rod Pocket Sheer Curtain $79.00

How to Pick the Right Size

Whether you opt for a curtain or a drape, choosing the wrong length is a common mistake many homeowners make. "We often see curtains panels installed on the frame or directly over it, and the panels don’t extend past the window frame," Triandos says. "This makes your window appear much smaller than it should."

Instead, Triandos says to install your panels as close to the ceiling as possible, typically about 1-2 inches from the crown molding. When it comes to width, hang your curtain rod a few inches wider than the window to give space to draw your panels. This will frame your windows while still allowing the maximum amount of light to filter in.

Whether you opt for drapes or curtains, the rules are the same when it comes to finding the right size for every window.

How to Pick the Right Color

Living room with sheer white curtains

Ashley Montgomery Design

Once you've narrowed in on drape or curtain and measured to ensure you know the right size for your window, it's important to decide what color or pattern works best in your space. Curtains and drapes come in millions of different styles, so it can be overwhelming to decide how to pair them with the rest of your décor.

"When selecting the color of the curtains, we consider the contrast to the walls, as well as bringing in a color that’s relevant to the rest of the decor," Triandos says. Pick one or two main colors from your palette and pull them through in the curtains. You'll want to stay away from overly trendy patterns or designs, or you'll risk having to replace them often. Instead, opt for simple, solid panels that play well with your color scheme.

But, should your window treatments match throughout your home? If you have an open concept home, Triandos suggests keeping the treatments uniform throughout the shared spaces. Otherwise, feel free to mix and match to suit each room best.