A Complete Guide to the Most Common Types of Curtains

Shopping for new window treatments? Our guide to curtain types can help you choose the right style for your room.

In an interior design Venn diagram, curtains occupy that essential middle space between function and fashion. Curtains filter light and add privacy, but they also offer a focal point and opportunity for color and pattern. Window treatments complete a room, but there are so many options, it can be hard to decide which is best for your space. Here, interior designers break down the different types of curtains so you can decide on window treatments that work for your style and needs.

pink and white bedroom
Anthony Masterson

Single Curtain Panel with Tieback

Single-panel curtains cover one window and are made with a single piece of fabric. Single-panel curtains can be store-bought or custom-made with various finishes at the top (pinch pleat, box pleat, classic straight hem, etc), says Shannon Eddings of Shannon Eddings Interiors in Austin, TX.

"They are typically made of linen, voile, or velvet, but can come in all sorts of fabrics," she says. Eddings adds that she typically uses rings to hang almost all curtains. Rings are more functional for opening and closing during everyday use and cause less damage to the curtains.

eclectic sitting room with colorful pillows and curtains
Kim Cornelison

Double-Panel Curtains

Panel pair curtains are also sometimes called double-panel curtains. Double-panel curatins include two matching panels of fabric that cover two distinct windows, either side-by-side or separated by a wall or piece of furniture.

"I typically use rings to hang a classic pair of curtains," Eddings says. "This is my most-used method of covering windows because it can add a lot of drama to a room if you hang the curtains high, closer to the ceiling, rather than right above the window."

She adds that hanging panel pair curtains closer to the ceiling creates the illusion of grandeur and can make the room seem larger than it is. "We use panel pairs in any place where there isn't furniture right in front of the window that would block access to actually using the curtains day in and day out."

bedroom with dark gray walls and pink curtains
Anthony Masterson

Rod Pocket Curtains

A rod pocket curtain is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a curtain with a pocket sewn at the top where the rod threads through. This type of curtain is often more affordable than others. "[Rod pocket curtains] work well with blackout curtain panels in a bedroom since light doesn't get through at the top," says Cristina Lehman of C. Lehman Home of San Francisco. However, she adds that they might not look as high-end as other options and can be more difficult to open and close as sometimes the fabric catches on the rod or glides slowly without rings or grommets.

Eddings says she only recommends these if you plan to basically leave the panels where they are most of the time. "Some people like them because they create the look of ruching at the top of the front of the panels and add some visual interest," she says.

white living room with curtains
Adam Albright

Tab-Top Curtains

Tab-top curtains have loops or tabs sewn at the top where the rod threads through. These typically have a farmhouse or cottage look and are often made from a light cotton or linen material, though they're available in both thin and thick fabrics, depending on the look you're going for. While tab tops are affordable, they can be a bit harder to open and close, so they're best used on windows that aren't opened or closed a lot, says Lehman.

Because the rod is visible with tab-top curtains, it's important to consider what it will look like. If you don't want the rod to show, try making hidden tab curtains.

"A key component to address other than the drapery itself is the rod installation. Make sure to take the rod about six inches down from the ceiling (depending on the crown in the room) and wider than the wind. This will create the illusion of tall sprawling windows without blocking any light," says Julia Longchamps of Julia Longchamps Interior Design in Maryland.

pink green bedroom curtains french doors chairs guitar ottoman
Lu Tapp

Pleated Panel Curtains

Pleated panels have a "pinched-in look at the top, formed by header tape behind the panel. The tape creates pleats when pulled together," Lehman says. "This type utilizes rings attached to the panels, similar to what you would use with a shower curtain."

She adds that this style often looks high-end and more formal and lends itself to homes with more traditional styles, though they'll work with all decor. One downside? Pleated panel curtains are often expensive.

Getting your curtain length right is also important. "I like to kiss the floor with my window coverings. I would [suggest] investing in getting them altered professionally," Lehman says.

dining area with dark green walls and curtains
Josh Grubbs

Pinch-Pleat Curtains

"[Pinch-pleat curtains] are my favorite because they tend to look custom (and usually are custom)," Edding says. She adds that this type of curtain is a panel pair but has decorative sewn-in pleats at the top and elegant folds coming down the panels. "Pinch-pleat curtains just add the wow factor without being overly aggressive," she adds.

Pleated options tend to be a favorite among designers, though they can be more difficult to install because of the level of detail involved.

"My favorite part of a drapery with any sort of pleat is that the pleat creates a beautiful drape with the fabric. Depending on the fabric with a flat panel, sometimes you need to work a little harder to have them lay perfectly (think lots of steaming)," Longchamps says.

When working with rings, Longchamps suggests 5-8 per panel to get the curtain to lay right.

breakfast nook in kitchen with chandelier
Nathan Schroder

Cafe Curtains

Cafe curtains are often used in kitchens or bathrooms. They hang from the center of the windowpane down to the bottom, allowing light in above but privacy where it's needed on the lower half.

Cafe curtains are a good option for spaces that need both privacy and light. "They are cute, simple, and functional and have a touch of French or European charm," Eddings says. You might not have the means to go custom on floor-to-ceiling curtains, but because cafe curtains don't require nearly as much yardage, they can be a good place to splurge on a custom design or a beautiful fabric.

midcentury modern living room teal walls oval coffee table gold curtain rod
Marty Baldwin

Grommet Curtains

Grommet curtains have rings sewn into the top of the curtain panel, almost like a shower curtain. "Grommet-style curtains are an option that is often found readymade at big box retailers," Edding says. "We don't typically use these, but they certainly have their place and purpose in the curtain world. Grommet panels have pre-cut holes at the top of the panels, typically with a metal ring around them, so that they can easily slide onto a curtain rod. It eliminates the need for rings."

This is usually an affordable, casual style. Lehman adds that one possible downside of grommet curtains is that the built-in rings are almost always metal, so it can be limiting if you'd rather avoid metallics in your space.

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