Whenever I think about window treatments, an anecdote from one of my favorite childhood books, “Amelia Bedelia” by Peggy Parish, always comes to mind.
If you don’t know Amelia, she is a kooky housekeeper who, in every book, misunderstands her employer’s directives. In one scene, Amelia is asked to “draw the drapes,” but rather than pull the curtains closed as her employer asked, she takes out a pen and paper and literally draws a picture of the fancy living room curtains. The scene always struck me as funny not just because of the farcical play on words, but also for the absurd formality of it all — I mean who really ever draws the drapes unless they are staying at a hotel?
Well, as it turns out, I now do, but that wasn’t always the case. I was always more of a “let the shade down” kind of a girl. In fact, most of my window treatments in past and present homes have been unfussy Roman shades, wood or tortoise blinds. The only curtains I have ever had have been in my living room and/or dining room and, given the purpose of the rooms, have never needed closing. But all that has changed.
In my newly decorated bedroom, I have three sets of floor-length ivory linen curtains that have leading edges piped in thin red grosgrain trim. They are elegant, tailored and crisp — very unlike Mrs. Rogers’ fancy swags — but, like Amelia’s employer, I insist on drawing them closed. In fact, I take great pleasure in pulling them tight every night, not because I need privacy (there is not a house anywhere in sight) but because the task seems special, even luxurious. The action makes me feel like I am indeed staying at a hotel, and the ritual of opening them in the morning has become my own kind of sun salutation.
What led me to finally curtain-up? The architecture of the room demanded it; I have two windows in the bedroom and one large French door, and because I wanted to treat them all the same, curtains were really my only option. I kept them as simple as possible — no ballooning, pelmets or valances — but even so, they were expensive, mostly because of the sheer volume of fabric needed. (Decorators always say the money is in the curtains!)
Know this: For curtains to look really good, they need to be full. When closed, they should fully cover the window while maintaining a few soft folds for volume. I usually measure the window, add about four or five inches to each side (to account for the curtain rod), then double that dimension — so a 36-inch window gets about 88 inches of fabric width. Most fabric is 54 inches wide, so to avoid wasting any, I use a width and a half for each panel (54 inches plus 27 inches equals 81 inches).
If you want an even fuller, ball-gown look, multiply the width of the window by three. If you are buying pre-made panels, you might want to buy at least two for each side of the window. To me, it is far worse to hang curtains that are too small than to hang nothing at all. As for length, mine just skim the floor, but if you want them to pool on the floor, add six to eight inches to whatever your rod-to-floor measurement is.
Elizabeth Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”