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Drapes – To Match or Contrast With Wall Color?

cat in white curtainsFrom the mailbox, this reader has a question about choosing a window treatment:

Choosing drapes, is it better to pick a fabric color that matches the color of the walls, or should the drapes contrast with the walls so the window will stand out?  ~ Chris

Great question, Chris!

And of course, as in so many decorating decisions, the answer is… it depends!

How many windows do you have to dress, and what size and shape are they? This will determine the overall visual impact of the window treatment just as much as the fabric you use. Full-length drapes with a swagged valance over top will have a much greater “weight” in your color scheme than a simple cafe curtain, obviously.

So – will you use side panels, a simple valance, a panel curtain inset within the window frame (a nice tailored look we’re seeing more of these days), or layers of lush drapery, or simple full-drop curtains?

Back in the day...

What kind of mood do you want to create in your room? Cosy country chic or crisp and modern; eclectic or formally elegant? Choice of fabric and color will depend on the overall theme. A rich burgundy brocade side-swagged drape over an antique lace privacy panel will read like a Victorian parlor, even if you choose to contrast the window treatment with a neutral creme color on the walls – but a whole different mood is evoked in the same room if you swap out the opulence for a simple tab drape in natural woven hemp fabric.

So you see – “it depends”!

Unlined linen in a large Jacobean print

In general, however:

  • When walls and drapery are different in color but low in contrast, the textured effect can be very personal and effective in any size of room.
  • Matching the color of drapes and wall creates a feeling of space and simplicity.
  • Strong contrast between the drapery and wall colors can create a dramatic focal point.

One important clue is in your question, actually — if drapery or other window treatments are in a color that contrasts with the wall color, it will make the window (and the drapery) stand out as a feature of the room.

Untitled

As a general rule, contrasting color blocks will draw attention to the place where the two colors meet. If you’ve got a drop-dead view out that window, or a large room that needs a focal point and a more intimate feel, that may be the best choice.

One smooth sweep of a single color, on the other hand, will tend to unify a space. If you’ve got several small windows that break up a wall, particularly in a fairly small room that can tend to feel cluttered, matching the drapes to the wall color might be the better choice.

Matching colors would certainly be my first choice for rooms where you have some amazing art or furnishings that should be allowed to be the center of attention.

But that doesn’t mean you need to go all matchy-poo like a department store showroom!

If your wall color and the drapery color are not exactly the same color, but are kept in the same tonal range — dark, medium, light? — it can serve the same unifying purpose without looking too precisely matched. Try a subtle pattern on a background close to your wall paint color, for example.

Custom linen draperies on a large window wall

Another way to go is with the same color for both drapes and walls, but play up a textured drapery (coarse-woven linen, tone-on-tone brocade, etc.) against the smooth wall surface. The difference in the way the light hits these different surfaces can give a window treatment plenty of visual interest, without “cutting up” the space.

Look at the effect of different window treatments against different wall colors, to get a feel for what suits your style and how this matching/contrasting color rule works.

For myself, I find it particularly useful to browse the window treatment sections of online shops, and the catalogues of drapery suppliers. Photographs can let you view a color combination in isolation — so much less distracting than trying to judge these things in a crowded store, with a host of other drapery fabrics competing for attention!

Hope this helps you make your decorating decision, Chris.  Let me know whether you decide to match or contrast with your curtains and wall colors!

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20 comments… add one

  • Cher 2014/11/23, 8:10 am

    I have black and white leather and suede furniture with white walls. Blinds would be too expensive because of the window size. So we are going to go with drapes. What color should I get. You can see the furniture on valuecity.com the furniture is called the jazz collection. I can also send you a pic of my living room. What do you think.

  • Shruti 2014/11/06, 5:28 am

    please guide me what curtains to pick for my doors and windows that are of tan brown wood and cream colored walls and black and white and grey colored sofa and dining table. want an elegant look for my house. any ideas on fabric, color and patterns/plain curtains will be a great help!!

    • Domestik Goddess 2014/11/06, 1:56 pm

      Is the woodwork painted or a natural light-colored wood? If it’s natural wood, that’s fine – you can work with that as a neutral, as natural materials tend to blend well in any decor. But if it’s tan paint, that’s a challenge. Do you rent, and if so, does your landlord give you the option to paint the walls/trim if you want to? Brown tones and grey/black tones are an awkward combination to work with, in most cases, so you might want to look at making a change there if possible.

  • Mary 2014/06/09, 8:36 am

    We are moving into a small house. The livingroom is a soft yellow with white trim. Our furniture includes two smaller dark brown recliners, and one sofa will fill the room. I just purchased a light green colored sofa slipcover for the sofa. (When i bought it, i was thinking greens and turqouise in this room.) I am wondering if I made a mistake in doing so….and what my curtain color should be, as well as, what do I need to pull this room together? This livingroom is small but has three large, white windows with white trimmed squares in the glass, they are very pretty. Thank you for any help at all!

    • Domestik Goddess 2014/06/09, 10:44 am

      The room sounds lovely, Mary. It’s very handy that you have a slipcover for the sofa, as you can take it with you for color-matching when you’re shopping for window treatments and accessories, to get the color match right. Depending on your personal style (traditional, cosy cottage, modern, whatever), you might look at printed side panels in those greens and turquoise tones, perhaps with simple white blinds for privacy at night that you can raise in the daytime to take advantage of those attractive windows. You’re unlikely to be able to match the sofa color exactly, but if you can do so (perhaps the slipcover manufacturer has a fabric line?), then drapes of the solid pale green would be lovely and good for a small roomm – then pull it all together with accessories that pick up the deep brown and yellow along with a tonal range of greens. That’s a lovely color palette you’ve chosen- it reminds me of a fresh spring morning in the garden!

  • Christina 2014/01/21, 4:49 pm

    Hi there! I am decorating a fifth-wheel trailer and need some advice. I am going for a mid-century modern look, trying to keep things clean and simple. We just finished painting the walls medium gray and I plan to get a dark brown couch, white nutshell side chair, and a white tulip dinning table with white chairs. Currently all the cabinets are oak color :( but we will eventually paint them espresso. I was thinking about going with a faux silk drape. Would it be better to stay within the same color family of the walls to make the area look more spacious? Also, what about the carpet color? I wanted to get an area rug. I was thinking rug to match the couch or should I go with gray on the carpet as well? So in sum: Medium gray walls, dark brown couch, white side chair, white dinning set. What color drapes? What color carpet?

    • Domestik Goddess 2014/01/22, 10:17 am

      For the drape, yes, do look at matching the colour as closely as possible to the walls, perhaps going a few shades lighter to help brighten the small space while keeping it unified. For the area rug, you want something dark enough to anchor that dark couch, but I’d avoid a solid color match as it could make the space quite dark. Depending on how dark your medium gray walls are, that color might work. Try painting a large piece of cardboard with the same paint and laying it down near the couch/chairs to get a good idea of how well it would work in your situation. Another option you might consider is a medium-broad stripe in your three main colors (brown, gray, white) placed to run across the narrower dimension of the trailer to visualize widen it, or a mid-century geometric. Consider what you might want to use for an accent color to spark the neutral palette (e.g. in a couple of throw pillows for the couch, wall art, other accessories) and see if you can find a rug that pulls a bit of that color in? Hope this gives you a few ideas to play with!

  • Gail 2013/11/28, 12:43 pm

    I have a small living room with floral furniture of tan, blue, rust and brown. My walls are blue. What would be a good color for drapes.

    • Domestik Goddess 2013/11/28, 2:02 pm

      In a small room where the major furniture already has a pattern, you’ll likely want to maximize the visual space. I’d advise going with plain drapes that closely match your wall color, to avoid breaking up the lines as the eye travels around the room.

  • Kim 2013/08/30, 7:30 pm

    I have mustard color walls with white trim. My couch is cream colored and my entertainment center, coffee table and end tables are black. What color curtains should I get?

    • Domestik Goddess 2013/08/30, 10:10 pm

      With all that dark furniture, you’ll want to anchor the space but keep it from looking too dark, especially if the room is not a generous size. Consider a set of simple tab-top drapes in a good quality heavy fabric that will hang well, either a few shades lighter than your wall color or a warm cream, perhaps with a deep band of black at the hem, between 4 and 6 inches depending on your window height and the scale of the room. You can tape a strip of dark paper or lightweight black interlining or similar material onto your drapes to test the effect before you commit to the trim band. And then you’ll bring in your accent color(s) through fabulous wall art and accessories, which you can easily change up with the change of seasons or style.

  • Tiffany 2013/07/19, 5:03 pm

    Renting and I need curtain colors to match. I have black couch with pillows have white black gray and alittle dark sand color then alot of gray and black stands tv ect then the walls are a tanish brown color. I have white black or brown sheers what to put up? Two windows on diff walls and alot of real wood dining room is burgundy and cream

  • Tiffany 2013/07/19, 5:01 pm

    Renting and I need curtain colors to match. I have black couch with pillows have white black gray and alittle dark sand color then alot of gray and black stands tv ect then the walls are a tanish brown color. I have white black or brown sheers what to put up? Two windows on diff walls and alot of real wood

  • Ella Stern 2013/05/23, 12:09 pm

    Just painted my bedroom a salmon color with white ceiling trim, warm wood stain for the floor. What color drapes do I need to make the place not only cozy but memorable enough not to want to redecorate anytime soon?

    Thanks for your help.

    • Domestik Goddess 2013/05/27, 11:22 am

      Ella, this sounds lovely! If you want a decor that you won’t need to change for some time to come, you might look at drapes that are just a shade or two deeper than the salmon color you’ve chosen for the walls. Then when the urge to redecorate strikes you, or as the seasons change, you can update the look of your bedroom almost entirely just by changing out the bedding linens and accents. In effect, the salmon acts as your foundation color, filling the role of a “neutral” as it were, and the room is a warm restful backdrop to the items you have in it. p.s. You might think about swapping to a floaty set of white lace or sheer curtains in summertime, over a bamboo roller-blind or light-excluding Roman shade for privacy and UV control. The contrast between white trim and salmon walls, warmed by the wooden floor, sounds like a really lovely and restful room, without being at all dull, so I would not be inclined to bring in much in the way of a print for either drapes or bedding. Rather, I’d think in terms of tone-on-tone with white as your main accent, and then fabulous accent pieces and artwork for personality and interest.

  • patricia williams 2013/05/22, 8:23 pm

    I have a camel, corded sofa trimed in chocolate. Could you give me some ideals on color of wall paint and curtain colors.

    • Domestik Goddess 2013/05/27, 11:10 am

      Patricia, you can go almost anywhere from the starting point of just the sofa – soft beach colors, for example, are always restful, or you might spark up a room done in earth-toned neutrals with bright vibrant accents of turqoise and teal – really, your choices are unlimited. Start with looking at the color scheme of adjoining rooms, the elements in the room that you cannot easily change (such as floor coverings), and other furniture or decor pieces you love and want to incorporate.

  • Heidi McRoberts 2013/02/03, 8:33 pm

    Am I supposed too matchm my curtains too my walls or my furniture. I’ve got beige like walls and the brown curtains look great, but don’t match my ugly blue couch. I also got black curtains that match the black accents in the room. Which is better the brown or black?

  • Domestik Goddess 2011/06/01, 11:31 pm

    Sounds like you could use an accent colour in that room, Sharon, to contrast with that lovely range of neutrals – perhaps a bright turquoise? or pick up a colour from your artwork? – but for the curtains, I’d probably go with an off-white. Tone-on-tone is very forgiving, and maybe choose a good substantial fabric with interesting texture to it. Let your black wrought-iron wall art, leopard throw pillows, and other curios and personal items have the stage, I’d say – especially if it’s not a huge “great room,” most rooms can benefit from a sense of added unity and spaciousness.

  • sharon 2011/05/31, 3:34 pm

    I have a question my walls are white and sofa is “off white” and I have alot of “black wrought iron wall art etc., along with some natural items like a straw centerpiece which is chocolate and like a topaz color. What color drapes would look best on white walls? My throw pillows are camel/off white leopard………..help!

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