Curtains are more than just a window dressing, they can block sunlight, prevent drafts and make the room look more beautiful. Curtains have been around for a very long time and a whole variety of fabrics, colours and patterns. These days, there is an unbelievable choice of curtains on the market so there is something to suit every taste and budget.

When choosing curtains, it is important to look at how thick the material is. You need to take into account the room and the window you wish to dress with these curtains and what purpose they will serve. For instance, if you have an east facing bedroom, you might need curtains that reduce the light in early mornings during late spring and summer if you do not wish to be up at 4am. In this instance you might like a lightweight pretty fabric for your bedroom but you can use blackout linings which will reduce the daylight getting through. A north facing sitting room might be better with some fairly thick curtains that will reduce the drafts and the cold that can leach through. Colder homes will definitely benefit from curtains made from thicker fabrics. There are also good linings that you can buy that will also help to insulate  your home.

Sheer curtains are very popular and as these are semi-transparent, are very useful for not only reducing the amount of daylight but also for privacy. They come in a variety of fabrics which include polyester voile and lace. They will not stop all the light coming in but will reduce it and as such prevent the room from heating up too much.

Curtains are usually hung on rods or tracks so that they can be opened and closed as you please. Both have their pros and cons and the type of window as well as personal taste will determine what you use. Other accessories include curtain ties and pelmets. Pelmets can turn an ordinary looking window into a spectacular one.  They are usually made from the same fabric that the curtains are so that they match perfectly. Curtain ties can give the finishing touch to beautiful curtains.

Does your living room need updating but you don’t know where to start? Let Britain’s doyenne of interior design Nina Campbell make it easy for you with her guide to using fabrics to pull a room together.

“You want to work hard at getting it right but the result has to look as though it’s been thrown together in five minutes.”

Step 1

“Start with a fabric you love and then worry about what to do with it.”

High street department stores, specialist haberdasheries or even markets are great places to find a good selection of materials. Or you may find an accessory, such as a rug, throw or cushion that catches your eye.

Whatever you choose, this will form the basis of your colour palette for the room and gives you something to build on.

Step 2

Use pattern to pick up colours

Patterned fabrics are great for dressing up a room and giving it a fresh look. They can be used in a number of ways:

  • Cover furniture or parts of furniture, from a chair cushion to an entire sofa
  • Create panels or borders for curtains
  • Cover a screen. A useful style tip for the ‘pattern-novice’ as the screen can always be re-covered or moved to a different room if you change your mind. Another benefit is that you can take it with you when you move house
  • Stripes can bring together a range of colours and can be useful for giving you a palette to work with.


Consider the scale of the pattern when deciding what you want to use it for. A large-scale pattern may be too much for a small living room if used on all the walls but can make a feature of, say, an armchair or a curtain. Similarly, a small-scale pattern could add a delicate look to a large room or make a smaller room appear more spacious.

If possible, take samples of fabric and place them over different areas in your room to get an idea of how it will look.

Step 3

Bring in new textures

Texture is important when building a room because it adds homely ‘layers’ and movement. It’s also an interesting way to keep the colour palette flowing throughout, without making it too uniform.

Textures to consider include velvet; sheer; fake fur; suede; leather; flocked cottons and silks; chenille or crewel (wool embroidery).

Step 4

Take a step back

“You don’t want to walk into a room and feel like your head might explode because there’s too much going on,” says Nina and she has a good point. A successful room needs to have balance. Too much of one colour, pattern or texture and a room can look busy. Not what you want from your main living space.

The trick is to blend well

  • Offset a small-scale pattern with a large-scale one nearby.
  • Place stripes next to checks.
  • Break up colours with neutral tones.
  • Similarly, ensure that textures blend together well.
  • Remember: less is more. Too many furry cushions in one place can create a ‘poodle corner’ effect.


Tips for good balance

  • do a floor plan before you start so you can see clearly where windows, lighting and furniture are positioned. You can then decide which fabrics to put where.
  • keep large objects, such as the sofa in a fairly plain fabrics, particularly if the room is small. It can be a canvas for colourful accessories such as cushions and throws.
  • before buying curtains, consider how many windows the room has and where they are positioned. A wall of windows with heavily patterned curtains will look too busy when the curtains are drawn.

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