Window Treatment Ideas: Drapes vs. Curtains, Shades vs. Blinds, and Beyond

Need window treatment ideas for your home? If you aren’t sure about the difference between drapes and curtains or shades and blinds, we’ve got your back! This rundown of various types of window treatments will give you the inside track. Because despite its light and fluffy connotations, “window dressing” can have a dramatic impact on a room, and not just in terms of decor.

“Window treatments often serve as a way to provide privacy for those inside the building, while also helping to control the levels of natural light,” explains Christine Burdick, owner and lead designer at Christine Burdick Design in Burlington, VT. “Window treatments can also help with the cooling or insulating of a room.”

To help you figure out which type of window treatment is best for you, check out the various styles below, and the pros and cons of each.

Window treatment ideas: Shades vs. blinds

Shades are soft panels of fabric that are attached to a frame. They come in various lengths, widths, fabrics, and textures, and a cord is used to manipulate them up and down.

If you’re looking for shades, you’ll find lots of options. Roman shades will pleat when drawn up, while balloon shades jut out, providing a puffy appearance. Tie shades must be tied on each end to remain up.

“Shades fit into the window frame, not above the frame like curtains or drapes,” says Dawn Stafford, interior designer and CEO of Gathering Souls in Washington, DC.

“To allow light, the shade must be lifted entirely,” Stafford notes. That means if you need privacy, you’ll have to sacrifice natural light in the process.

Modern bathroom design
Modern bathroom designAlice Lane Home Collection

Blinds, on the other hand, are window treatments that open and close with a cord. Unlike shades, they’re not made from one piece of material. Instead, blinds have louvers or slats, which open and close. This lets in light but can help maintain privacy at the same time.

Blinds tend to be made of wood, vinyl, bamboo, or aluminum, and they come in a variety of sizes to fit various windows. Another consideration: The size of the slats in the blinds. Typically you’ll find half-inch or 1-inch miniblinds, and 2-inch slats called Venetian blinds, which are a bit more durable.

Contemporary bathroom design
Contemporary bathroom designShaw Floors

Window treatment ideas: Curtains vs. drapes

Curtains are one of the most popular types of window treatments on the market. Typically sold in pairs, these panels come in a variety of colors, fabrics, and sizes, and they can be installed alone or over blinds or shades. Curtains hang from curtain rods, which are installed with supports above or beside the window frame. They usually have tabs at the top, through which a homeowner can feed the curtain rod.

Traditional family room design
Traditional family room designThe Yellow Cape Cod

Drapes are often confused with curtains, but the two are slightly different, Stafford says. “While drapes are also fabric panels, drapes are lined, and typically the lining blocks incoming light, which makes them perfect to use in bedrooms,” she says. “Draperies most often are the length of the top of the window to the floor and many times allow for a puddling effect.”

Another difference? “Drapes are usually custom-made in luxury fabrics to fit exact window specifications,” according to Stafford, and they tend to have more of a formal appearance than your garden variety curtain.

Eclectic bedroom design
Eclectic bedroom designThe New Design Project

Window treatment ideas: How to pick a window treatment

Choosing the right window treatment for your home tends to come down to function, says Jessica Weigley, co-founder and designer at design firm Síol in San Francisco.

Weigley suggests asking yourself the following questions before deciding on a window treatment:

  • How much light or view do you want to allow through?
  • Does it also need to insulate or dampen sound?
  • What do the window trims, ceiling, and nearby walls allow in terms of mounting?
  • Do you want the windows to disappear or be a focal point for the room?
  • How does it create a composition with other aspects of the room?

Here’s which type of window treatment is right for you based on your objectives:

To let in light but maintain privacy: Blinds allow light in, but without sacrificing privacy.

To block out light: Drapes, with their added layer, block out light and are thus popular for bedrooms. They can also insulate against heat and cold.

To make a decor statement: Curtains tend to come in fabrics with patterns and colors that make them a focal point, and they can be used to cover up blinds or shades that are less aesthetically pleasing.

To save money and maintenance: For homeowners with a tight budget, roller shades are often the least expensive option, Burdick says. Depending on the size of a window, roller shades run from $20 to $100, and the flat surface makes them easy to clean.