The Best Drapes for Small Spaces

Drapery Styles that Open Up, Rather than Overwhelm, Compact Living Quarters

Small spaces can be some of the most difficult to decorate due to their lack of storage, limited wall and floor space, and generally cramped quarters. Renters and homeowners who wish to infuse their miniature living space with personality and pizazz may feel constricted by the space restraints within a small room, but decorators have developed several tactics for dealing with this issue. Changing up the textures, opacity, and color scheme of fabrics throughout a compact space can contribute significantly to a newfound atmosphere of openness, limiting the penned in feeling many are wont to experience when entering a small room. Size and placement of furniture, finishings, and other decor objects throughout the space can also visually expand it, from the location of curtain rods on a wall to the angle of a sofa. Follow below for tips on how to use different styles of drapery to make the ceiling seem higher, space appear deeper, and walls feel wider in a small room.

Color Theory

Consider matching the color of your drapes, blinds, or shades to the color of the walls in a small room; while contrast typically provides interest to a space, it can also create visual clutter. Thankfully, the monochrome interiors trend has demonstrated impressive staying power over the last few years, making the choice to match window treatments to the walls, furniture, and other elements of a room one endorsed by designers and decorators alike. If the chosen pair of drapes cannot match the surrounding walls, consider pairing them with other elements throughout the room; pick out a rug similar in color and texture so as to carry the lines of the curtains down and across the floor.

Worry less about the color chosen and more about the way color’s appearance changes throughout the day. Both cool and warm colors can make a room feel bigger as long as they are lighter shades that work well with natural illumination; however, warm colors can become muddy when natural light has faded towards the end of the day or during a period of overcast weather. If hoping to avoid a monochrome room, try instead a program of cool colors (blues and greens) mixed with a range of off-whites; pale woods and light-hued lampshades will complete the enlarging and brightening effect. To bounce light around the room even more, consider swapping out framed photos and paintings on the walls near each window with a mirror or two; the natural light from outdoors will reflect off the glass and fill the space. However, avoid mirrors encircled by dark wood or set in deep, heavy frames.

Textile Textures

Avoid unnecessary frills that add volume to curtains, such as poms, lace, and layered fabric. While texturally interesting and aesthetically pleasing (especially when a breeze blows through), the extra fabric will cause the drapes to take up more space than needed. Stay away from curtains with bands of heavier fabric along the bottom as well, as this type of applique or embellishment will weigh down the drapes and counteract any added height achieved by mounting the rod higher on the wall. Linen drapes or cotton curtains with open weaves are suitable for compact rooms, while unlined silk drapes without extraneous embroidery function equally in small spaces.

A fine trim along the edge, like in the silk curtains pictured above (one pair of several custom drapes online offered by DrapeStyle), adds enough pattern and interest without distracting too much. For those searching for more interest in their window treatments, one might consider curtains with pleats, as curtain pleats offer texture and drama without a fussy print or too much added volume. Grommet, Parisian, and Flat Drapery Pleat styles all work well in small spaces as they encourage the curtain to fold back on itself in a neat, uncomplicated way. The Grosgrain Ribbon Trimmed Drapes pictured above on the left demonstrate one of the many types of drapery pleats.

Similarly, avoid plush or upholstered valances, choosing instead a sleek valance or completely unadorned curtain rod. Try also to leave behind large, clunky tie-backs when holding curtains open; instead, opt for a more minimalist, streamlined style that echoes that of the curtain rod. Choose modern tie-backs and rods without crystals, symbols, or oversized hooks so that they blend in with the curtain rather than contrasting. While curtains are open, try to maintain a
vertical rather than diagonal or curved arrangement and use tie-backs only when the panel has been pulled fully to one side.

Playing with Patterns

Interior designers and decorators will often discourage homeowners and renters from using heavy patterns or those with a horizontally oriented design, for much the same reason stylists discourage large-scale prints and horizontal stripes for petite frames. While they can be employed effectively to balance or emphasize the grandeur of a bigger room, loud prints with exaggerated elements (e.g. huge polka dots, oversized damask, etc.) can weigh down a smaller room and distract from other pieces within the room, drawing all attention to the window and drowning out more delicate furnishings. The lack of proportion can also cause the room to feel off-kilter, especially with a darker pattern or heavily textured fabric.

If a larger-scale pattern is desired, consider sheer curtains to prevent an air of heaviness. While horizontal patterns (e.g. chevron, stripes, bands, etc.) can visually expand a room’s width, a lack of verticality can make the room appear short and oppressive; however, vertically oriented patterns expand the walls upward without constricting their width. As such, consider small, vertical patterns if a more interesting textile is preferred; for a plaid or hatched pattern, consider those with a thicker vertical line and finer horizontal line. For those afraid to try a pattern, worrying it may be too bold for a small space, opt for drapes with an open weave rather than a repeating pattern; an open weave, especially in a brightly colored fabric, will function as a pattern when light interacts with it as the light will be interrupted at regular intervals where the threads cross over each other and create opacity.

Mixing and Matching

Pairing a sheer curtain liner or shade (roller or Roman shades) with a slightly heavier exterior curtain will add dimension to a window treatment, making the room feel more expansive. A curtain liner or sheer shade will not add too much volume or contrast, but will allow for customizable light filtration throughout the day; the more light that can be let into a small space, the better. Consider a gradient in color and pattern to encourage the eye to travel from side to side before moving up and down. When the outer curtains are open but the liner remains closed or partially closed, a gradient in color intensity from lightest to darkest (with the liner in a lighter shade and the curtain itself a bit darker) will add depth to the space without sacrificing valuable real estate or blocking too much light. This ombre interiors trend can also be achieved by changing the intensity of color along a vertical gradient.

Length and Location

Placing curtain rods, valances, shade and blind mounts higher on the wall than the top of the window reaches will elongate the wall and make the room appear taller. This vaulted ceiling effect makes a room feel more spacious and bounces sunlight upwards off the higher valance or rod, making the window seem bigger and extending the effect of the light throughout the room. Placing a curtain rod or valance beyond the width of a window in addition to beyond the window’s height will make it appear even larger.

While oversized prints are detrimental to opening up a small space, oversized curtains actually complement the space and visually expand it. Consider floor-length drapes in bedrooms and living rooms, preferably in a light color (or a dark color in a sheer fabric), to add even more height to the space, but stay away from those that pool along the bottom. Curtains should be cropped to lightly graze the floor rather than gathering and creating a clump of fabric at the base while the top is more appropriately proportioned. Avoid placing furniture against the windows (unless the furniture is made of glass), instead arranging chairs, sofas, and tables with a view towards the outdoors. Angle each piece slightly so as to avoid blocking any entryways or placing the backs of visitors against the natural light streaming into the room.