Curtains: Not Just Window Dressing

If you've watched much PBS Kids programming lately, you'll notice there are quite a few programs whose focus is vocabulary development.   I have a story from my teaching days to give you an idea of why that emphasis is so heavy in educational television.   One day, when reading to my fourth graders, one of my students raised his hand.   When I called upon him, he said, "What does that mean?"   I had just read a description of a curtain being drawn across a stage.   My first thought was that he had never seen a stage or any production performed upon one.   So, I began to explain what a stage was.   "No, not that," he said.  "The "C" word.  What's that?"  

Curtains?   I started to explain what curtains were.   Some of the children spoke up and began to give their own descriptions, but many of them were describing blinds or shades.   After I described fabric to cover windows and how some people sew them or buy them ready-made, my student who asked the question just frowned and shrugged his shoulders.   "Well, that's stupid," he said.   "You just put towels on your windows."   Several students nodded their heads in agreement.   No one laughed.

He had a point.   When your parents are immigrants, working multiple minimum-wage jobs to pay for rent and food, curtains would not be a priority.   They would seem stupid, or foolish, certainly not necessary.   So, I realize this post seems frivolous and maybe a bit stupid.   I always think of that student and his comments when I am in the middle of the luxurious act of hanging new window coverings in our home.   I also feel a bit guilty that I have such luxury, but I try to make wise purchases that will last a long time.   It's meant waiting several years to cover some windows and that was not a problem because of the very nice blinds that were already in our home.   This blog's main purpose is to be a family record and thoughts about decorating decisions are things I'd like to hand down to my children because I learned so much from my mama.   Joey and I lived in apartments and a rent house for the first seven years of our marriage.   Mama gave me window coverings that she no longer used or sewed them for my windows in those homes.   I still have the red and white check gingham curtains she made and I plan on using those in a new way in my current kitchen.   Even when she and my dad were struggling to live on his graduate assistantship, she would find bargain fabrics and sew some sort of dressings for her rental windows.   Plus, let's be honest here, I have the pictures of the befores and afters.   Foolish as it is, here are my thoughts on relatively inexpensive curtains and other window coverings!

Lord, may I always be thankful for my many blessings, and never take them for granted.   May I use your gifts wisely and order my priorities properly.

E's Bedroom

Last week, I finished the last layer of Emmeline's room.   It is still surprising how much more cozy her room feels.   Big--huge--windows are common in the homes built over the past twenty years in our area.  Big windows  let in large amounts of intense Texas sunshine and heat and they take up a large portion of a room.   Emmeline can't open her blinds during the summer because the room gets so hot.   I love sunlight and I open blinds around our home each morning, but a wall of blinds is not the most attractive sight.   Curtains serve the double purpose of softening the window and reducing the heat and intensity of the sunlight that enters the space.

For Emmeline's room, I used a standard double curtain rod.   I like how closely the curtain panels fit to the wall compared to the fit of a decorative rod.   Plus, it is cheaper to go the standard route.   On the inside rod, I used four sheer panels in white.   These cover the blinds, filter the sunlight, and add depth to the window dressings, with their full appearance.   For the outer layer, I used two green thermal curtain panels.   The sheer panels were about $4 each at Wal-Mart and the green panels were on clearance at Target for $11 each.   So, for about $40, I was able to lessen the strong heat and light in the room, while giving the room a complete and finished look.  I bought the sheers and waited for curtains until I found a great deal.   The curtains and sheers are high quality and machine washable.   The sheers are classic and can work with any décor style.   I still use sheers that were in my teenage bedroom.   Sheer panels also look great from the outside, as they soften the look of blinds.   The green is a color that can work as Emmeline gets older.   She loves bright green and curtains were a much more subtle way to bring in the color rather than using it as the paint color.

For a smaller window, sheers with a window valance would have been an option, but for this room, with its 12 ft. ceiling, I felt the full-length panels were the best choice.   It is also an option to buy sheers and hang them on a standard double rod.   Store the outer rod to use later when you find the best deal on a valance or panels.   Sheers alone will still soften the look of a window and give a room a finished look.   Hang the rod so the bottoms of the panels just touch the floor or puddle slightly on the floor.   

Another After added since I posted this: I found this ruffled bed skirt for less than $5 on Clearance at Target.   I put it in my cart when I saw the $9 Clearance tag and when I looked at the other side of the package, I saw a further reduction.  It matches the quilt much better and it shows what a difference something like a bed skirt choice can make.

You can really tell how bright that green is in this picture!

Living Room

In the living room, window valances were left by the previous owners.  They were good quality and attractive, but I did not keep them because detracted from the beauty of the windows.  The valances chopped the length of the windows, took away from the "dormer" feature and covered the pretty trim mouldings.   Also, the sides of the valances which hang above the mantel would interfere with mantel decorations and make it impossible to use candles on either end.   I have all Mama's brass candlesticks and they need a place.   The windows serve as a real architectural element in the space, so I wanted window treatments that accented their beauty.   We took these existing valances to our previous home and used them to dress the house for sale.   There, they fit our dining room window perfectly.  

Before: I liked the color, but the paint job was badly done & the separate wall color made the room feel unbalanced.

After, at Easter
After we painted the wall to match the rest of the room, we left the windows bare, except for the blinds.   I think it was an improvement over the look of the valances.   Then, I waited two years, while I looked for the curtains I wanted.   I did not want sheer in this case because the windows are narrow and the blinds are a component of their look in the room.   The blinds look structural and are broken up by the fireplace and wall.  

Last spring, I found the panels pictured above, in the After shot,  at Target.   They were on sale and because it was part of a new line, Target sent me a discount coupon on any items from that line.   Hanging one panel on either end of the windows allows a slight softening without distracting from the interest of the window.  The panels also frame the fireplace, which is the focal point of the room.    There is an elegance to long panels that works well in living rooms and dining rooms.   The fabric is light and resembles linen.   The pattern incorporates the gold, red, and green, while also bringing in a touch of blue that I like to have in every room.   The pattern reminds me of the natural inspiration of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, while it also makes me think of the British Colonial style.   I chose very simple, inexpensive dark-finish decorative rods.   In this case, a standard curved rod would have been very visible and that would not have been attractive.   I also considered white sheer panels, hung in the same manner, for this room, but once I found these curtains on sale, I bought them.  


I love the mix of patterns in my living room.  Rooms with a mix of color, texture and pattern are warm, inviting, and have the look of a room that was built over time, instead of the character-less look of a matchy-matchy room that looks as if it were just plucked up as a whole from a showroom floor.   The loveseat and chair and a half are covered in a tweedy fabric that is actually microfiber.  Suede is no longer the only look available in microfiber.   The fabric will hold up well to wear and the microfiber is easy to clean.   The pillow was from the same line as the curtain panels and I use them during spring and summer to lighten the room.   The lamp is inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement; it works well with the colors and organic feel of the panel fabric.  

During the winter months, I start to worry the room is too brown, but the rest of the year, especially in the hot months of summer, the room is cool and calming.   See the whole living room make-over here.
Lots of textures: uneven brick pavers in warm shades, smooth medium color wood floor, tweedy fabric on couches, leather chairs, wood finish, tile fireplace surround: my intention is that they all work together to create warmth
Due to our floor pan, the curtains in the living room and kitchen need to coordinate.   The kitchen panels are made of a heavier fabric, with the classic stripe pattern.   The red in the stripes is the same as the red in the living room panels and the background colors of both curtains is the same.   I love the look of stripes and florals.   My kitchen panels were made by friend Amber.   I found a fabulous deal (75% off) on a tablecloth at Dillards and Amber just cut the tablecloth in half, opened up the ends of the seams to form rod pockets  and hemmed the bottom for the correct length.   I say Amber "just" did this and that to make them, but since I can't sew, what I mean is she performed some kind of magic and turned my tablecloth into curtains.   The panels are durable and machine-washable.   I never hang sheers in kitchens because of the grease, grime, and grub and dirty hands in the kitchen.  These tablecloth panels brought the whole kitchen together.
The cabinets originally had no handles or grooves in the door for opening them.


My kitchen curtain panels are classic, but they coordinate well with my vintage fabrics, like the tablecloth pictured below.   See the whole kitchen make-over here and here.

Experiment: Mama made this valance for us when we moved into our rent house in 2003.   I'm thinking about using this red and white check valance during spring/summer and using the panels during fall/winter.   Changing the look for seasons will give a nice change.   This valance will definitely need to be ironed if I keep it up.   I'm not sure if the proportions are right for the window, but Mama made it so I would like to use it.   I can imagine her looking at it and saying that they should be as long as the line of the window pane line above which the valance hangs about two inches.

Our table in use

Dining Room

If you stand in the middle of my kitchen and look to one end, you see the striped panels, deep red on a golden-ecru background against a light golden paint color.   Look to the other end and you see the coordinated reverse in my dining room: golden thermal panels on a deep red wall, pictured below.   While the dining room curtain panels and rod are formal, they still coordinate with the classic striped panels at the other end of the kitchen.   See the dining room make-over here.

After adding sheers to the window

Closer view of thermal panels from Lowe's.  I didn't realize Lowe's sold curtains and they regularly discount patterns as they bring in new stock.   The banner was for a birthday gathering:)   I am going to add sheer panels to cover the blinds soon.   Sheers will also help with the intense morning sunlight.  

From the outside, it's a subtle change, but it's more obvious to me when I'm driving up the driveway, or looking at the house from the road.   The sheers seem to soften the look of the window, in addition to adding privacy, even at night, while the blinds are open.   Window treatments have to be practical.

Before sheers were added in the middle


Master Bedroom

 In our master bedroom, we are blessed with a cozy corner nook which is the perfect space for a cup of tea or coffee and a great book.   The feature of the space is a set of three narrow, but long windows.  The only trim is found at the bottom of the windows, so their real beauty is the light and scenery they afford.    If I had designed them, I would have shortened them and built a window seat below.

The previous owners hung three separate valances, along with single panels below, which were knotted at the end.   The valances alone would have been better.   I started looking for window treatments that would fill the whole space.   Look at how the spaces between the windows is narrow.   It makes the lack of trim around the windows really stand out.   It starts to appear as just a corner full of blinds.  

My solution came with credit card rewards and a great sale at   I found these sheer patterned panels which feature a solid element at the top that resembles a valance.   They puddle on the floor, which is a look I like in a bedroom.    They let in the beautiful light and view of the backyard, but the space is softened and cozy.   They nearly touch , so the space is unified, instead of just three windows spliced into separate rectangles.    Long windows can be tricky; I think shorter windows are much easier to dress.   The panels cost a total of $31.50.   Ecru sheer panels would have also been pretty, but I was looking for the look of lace.   I'm still a little stumped by the windows on the other side of the room.   They are over the bed and I don't want fabric around the bed as it will just collect dust that leads to sinus issues for me.

Close-up of panels

C's Room

I do not have a before picture, but in Clare's room, there are only two windows.   They are narrow corner windows that are low to the floor.   My first consideration was practical here.   I already had the pink set of panels.   They are very high-quality thermal curtains that I needed to re-use and I only had two.   I decided they would work to frame the corner, which is an interesting window placement.   I used my old sheer panels and hung the curtains on a standard double rod.   Another option would be a corner rod, with two more sheer panels, so there would be no corner exposed between the windows.   That would be pretty, but I did not want to invest more money in these curtains.   I would not use decorative rods here, because they would touch in the corner.  


Master Bathroom

In our master bath, I was able to re-use the rod that came with the house.   At our previous home, I had intended to dress up our master bath by hanging two curtain rods on our shower and having a valance in front of the shower curtain.   When our Linens and More store went out of business I bought a curtain panels and valance set for about $10, but never I never used them on my shower as I intended.   In this home, our window above the tub was the perfect place for that bargain valance.   It matched the existing wallpaper border that I am not going to remove.   For shorter windows like this (I love short windows), a valance is economical and it looks great.   It is hard to get a good picture in this room.

Candle holders on either side: $1 each at King Dollar, still had price tags from Bed, Bath, and Beyond with original price of 3.99 each (tip: hanging votive holders are a safe way to have light during a power outage)

Close-up of fabric

I really like this piece that I found at a Family Dollar store.

Final thoughts

Check out your window options at stores like Family Dollar and Dollar General, especially if you live in a small town or are travelling through one.   The stock at a small town store is better than that in a larger town because the residents are more dependent upon the store.   You can get standard single curtain rods as cheaply as $1 at a true dollar store (King Dollar in our town).   


  1. Great tip on the small town dollar stores! Thank you! :) Your home is such a place of beauty and warmth, and I have always admired how meaningful every accent and piece is at home there.

  2. When I move back, will you help me in this department? I am so clueless when it comes to curtains and home decor. I love picking out paint for the walls, but then I stop from there. Great story and photos Terri!


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