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Home decor 101: The difference between curtains and drapes

Window dressings are created with design and functionality in mind. Beyond just sprucing up your bland window, certain dressings offer the ability to add privacy to your home, block out the sunlight, and obstruct any unsightly views outside. When it comes to choosing between curtains and drapes you may be thinking: What’s the difference? Well, there are some key differences that may make you favor one of these window dressing masters over the other.

Large living room with blue and white curtains
Africa Studio/

What is a curtain?

Leaning more toward the design benefit of window dressings, curtains are made from lighter, more sheer fabrics. They are fabric panels that are typically sold in pairs, allowing you to line both sides of a window with ease. Curtains are commonly used around the house, whether it be in the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, or living room. They typically are not used to block out all sunlight but can help keep a room dimmer and cooler to a certain extent.

Curtains are typically hung on rods that span across the top of the window, parallel to the sill. Built with a sewn-in sleeve, you can easily slide the rod through the curtain’s open sleeve for quick installation. Typically, curtains are designed to hang just above the window and can reach anywhere from just below the window or its sill all the way to the floor.

Available in various fabrics, colors, patterns, and styles, there is no particular look to a curtain other than the fact that it is usually more sheer and is often paired with shades or blinds. Shades and blinds offer sun-blocking capabilities, allowing your curtains to hang around and look pretty.

What is a drape?

Although similar looking to curtains at first glance, drapes are quite different. Drapes are sold in pairs, just like curtains, in order to form a symmetric design on both sides of a window. Different from curtains, however, drapes are designed with thick, heavy fabrics that are perfect for blocking out sunlight. This is why drapes are typically preferred in bedrooms. While drapes work great with regular windows, they are more often used to line extra-large windows and French doors. They also typically feature some kind of draping across the top, which is normally not seen in curtains.

Drapes are hung similarly to curtains. Resting on a rod that spans the window or set of French doors, drapes are pretty simple to install. They are hung just above the top of the window and always reach to the floor, sometimes pooling a little on the ground. Although the main purpose of drapes is to block out sunlight, design is an important aspect of this window dressing, too. Drapes are sold in a variety of designs, fabrics, and styles. You will often see them used at royal or fancy buildings and estates to give an air of sophistication. Because of this, they rarely lack in style.

What are the main differences?

Although both are sold in pairs, hung on rods, and can reach the floor, there are a couple of main differences between drapes and curtains.

The fabric is what sets these two apart. Drapes are designed with thick, heavy fabric that is made to block out sunlight. This is why you will usually find them in bedrooms.

Curtains, on the other hand, are made with more flowy, sheer, fashion-forward fabrics. Curtains have the ability to add a bit of design to a room and need to be paired with shades to block out excess light.

Additionally, drapes are always hung from above the window to the floor. While curtains can be hung to reach the ground, more often than not their length will stop just below the window or the sill.

When to use each

Bedroom with white drapes
Elena Elisseeva/

There is technically no right or wrong way to use curtains and drapes as long as you love the overall design. Each one, however, tends to do better in certain situations. For example, drapes are great for bedrooms, French doors, and huge windows. Curtains are ideal for regular-sized windows like in the living room and for smaller-sized windows like in the kitchen and bathroom.

Curtains and drapes both offer numerous benefits from interior design and functionality perspectives. While each one tends to do better in certain areas of the home, you can’t go wrong with either of these great window dressings. Drapes will help you get that blackout effect in your bedroom without the need for shades or blinds. Curtains, on the other hand, are perfect for adding a pop of color or pretty, flowy design to your living room, kitchen, and bathroom. The important thing is to choose the colors and designs you love while considering the benefits of each of these window dressing winners.

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