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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.

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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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43 comments… add one

  • Lynette 2015/02/06, 5:50 pm

    Hi, I desparately need help with drapes. I have a semi-circle of drapes in a large family/dining room, with lovely country views. I have very pale neutral mushroom carpet, and 2 big couches in sandy brown with same but a lighter tone on the one wall . The wall is broken up with 2 doors, a freestanding fire and a tv in the other corner. You can also see my white kitchen cupboard doors and I have a black bench and black dining table with glass top. Drapes in the room now are a mocha, no pattern. I feel it is all too brown and that the drapes are a big expense. I will have to buy readymades, but what do I go for?

  • twiggy 2015/02/06, 2:51 pm

    Hi I painted my walls with dark grey and very light mint blue.please what colour of curtains should I get.thanks

  • Mary 2015/02/05, 8:02 am

    Hi I need help choosing Curtians color for a living room which I painted with two different tones one wall in red and two are in white, brown leather furniture and dark floor. Any suggestion please. Thank you

    • Domestik Goddess 2015/02/05, 9:56 am

      Hi Mary. If your window is in the red wall, think about matching the curtains to the paint color, especially if it’s a shorter wall (at the end of the room). If the window is in one of the white walls, you might want to look for a subtle print that brings together the red, brown and white – perhaps with small accents of a few other colors mixed in if you go for a floral pattern or something traditional rather than modern and graphic. Look for a curtain fabric that is predominantly white and brown, to pull together the furniture, floor and walls (dark and light), and keep the red as a stand-out accent, used in smaller amounts. I like to bring in a contrasting fourth color in small amounts, too: in a throw or throw pillow, decorative accessories, etc., echoed in the pattern of a print for the window treatments. In your color scheme, depending on your taste and what colors you prefer personally, as well as what shade of red you’re using on the accent wall, think about the possibilities of adding just a few touches of a cooler color (blues, greens, etc.) or, for a warmer feel, something like a burnt orange or copper. Hope this helps!

    • mary 2015/02/08, 11:50 pm

      Thank you so much

  • Deborah 2015/01/25, 9:23 am

    I have light gold walls and ceiling to match. the doors and trim is an off white, that were just painted. My sofas in the living room are dark chocolate brown, a choice I made 7 years ago and paid too much to get rid of. At that time I was into the old world, Tuscan mode. I have always liked the traditional look, however I am now leaning towards a softer country/ contemporary look. I recently hung off white drapery floor to ceiling, 12 foot high ceiling to be exact. the coffee and 2 end tables I can refinish, but not sure what color. Off white maybe?? My living room/ dining room is about 30 x 25. I also should mention the my dining room table is a dark wood, the chairs are dark as well with leather seats and back, another purchase I made that I can not get rid of. How can I pull this together for the country chic look I want?.

    • Domestik Goddess 2015/01/27, 11:51 pm

      Deborah, it sounds like you’ve got a solid foundation for a contemporary country color scheme. The off-white drapery is a particularly good choice, to immediately offset the dark furniture and bring out the light gold walls, to brighten the space. But I don’t see the dark furniture as an issue, necessarily. You’ve got highlights and shadows, in terms of colors here, and generally warm neutral tones – I’d be inclined to consider adding a mid-range color in the cooler range as a repeating accent to tie this together, depending on just how light a gold color those walls are – perhaps a sage green (calming, restful, natural) or a cobalt blue (energizing, happy, vibrant), depending on your preference.

      Tip: take a look at the objects in your kitchen that you love best, as well as accessories you want to keep for your living room / dining room area. What colors do you find there?

      In one family room / eat-in kitchen “low-budget” makeover, for example, I took color-scheme inspiration from a collection of enamelware that was stored here and there in various cupboards. We pulled the pitchers, dishes, small pots, etc. out onto display on open shelving in the sophisticated-but-outdated kitchen (stainless steel appliances, fitted cabinets, all very late-90s Euro-mod decor) and added a few seat cushion covers and placemats in a woven fabric to echo the colors of the enamelware (light and medium blues in most of the graniteware, with a few small pieces of red splatterware), along with simple window blinds in the enamelware red color; an accent wall at the seating end of the room was painted in the same bold red, and a large rag rug in the same color tied it all together at floor level. The existing pine table was refinished in antique white with a crackle finish, then the edges were sanded lightly to reveal just a hint of the original natural wood.

      Moving from the Tuscan decor over to more of a country chic vibe can be a challenge in terms of making decorating choices, yes, but at least it’s not an expensive “do over” so you can almost certainly work with the furniture that suited your Tuscan style, just softening the overall color scheme to change its setting.

      Contemporary country decor, done right, often creates a feeling of warm summertime light pouring into a comfortable space that’s lovely to look at, welcoming to guests, and expressive of the homeowners’ personalities. For accessories, you’d think in terms of much-loved heirlooms from earlier generations, antiques or craft/art works picked up on your travels, modern versions of traditional hand-crafted objects, furniture, textiles, and so on. Contemporary country has the same nostalgia heart as traditional country, of course, but it’s more sophisticated in color schemes and often more spacious, less cluttered – stripped down to the essentials of light, color, and texture. (I really must write about this style some time, as it’s a look I love myself.)

      But I’ve gone way beyond your question here, Deborah! Yes, I think you might be very happy with the results of bringing that same off-white into this room, tying the drapes into the overall picture. Painting the coffee table and/or two end tables in the off-white will also help to tie it in, but perhaps not on all three occasional tables as you’ll likely find it easier to hit the look and mood you’re after if taking care to avoid too “matched” a look. Think not of a three-piece set (identical triplets) but of three different pieces with just enough elements in common that they’re clearly related (three siblings – related, but not all the same!). :)

      Hope all this gives you a starting point, Deborah.
      Have fun!

  • Ramona 2015/01/10, 12:25 pm

    Hi, can you please help? My living room walls are light blue with brown leather couch and cherry wood floors. What’s the best color curtains can I buy?

    • Domestik Goddess 2015/01/13, 11:52 pm

      Give some thought to what other colors give you pleasure – particularly colors in the warm range: yellows, oranges, reds – and how you might introduce it to the room. Blue and brown are a happy combination, but color schemes work best with one primary color, one secondary, and a third accent color, with smaller touchs of other sympatico colors brought in through patterned fabrics and accessories or other decorative details in the room. You might want to match the curtains to the pale blue of your walls, as a foundation for the room, and bring in those warmer tones in your accents. Blinds or sheers, with tailored side panels in a patterned fabric with the blue, brown, and your accent color(s) would work well, too, then you can pick up that patterned fabric again in a couple of throw pillows or other accessories. But the first step is to look around your home (and your wardrobe, too!) for hints as to which colors or color family you are most attracted to and take pleasure in seeing around you.

  • jeda 2015/01/06, 8:29 am

    Hi,
    I need help. I painted my wall with color mint green and in our living room the center cabinet where in our tv is located is color brown. Any suggestion what color of the curtain i will purchase? Thanks

    • Domestik Goddess 2015/01/06, 10:34 am

      If you want the room to look larger, Jeda, do consider matching the color of your drapes to your wall color. Otherwise, what color(s) are you using for your soft furniture (chairs, couch, etc.?) – picking up one of those colors is a good option. The brown TV cabinet shouldn’t necessarily limit your choice of drapes, as the brown of “hard” furniture like a cabinet is going to “read” as a wood sort of thing, more an accent or foundation color than a decorative color as such. That said, brown and mint green are a nice combo. You could go with brown drapes in the same tone as the cabinet, perhaps in a small print that incorporates a third (accent) color, with the same fabric picked up in accessories such as throw pillows and area rugs.

  • Misty Newton 2015/01/01, 11:37 pm

    We just painted our new home large living room two tone wall very light yellow (almost an off white) above the cherry rail and a medium gray below it. One large double window in the living room and french doors. The new furniture is dark brown. It’s an open concept to the dining area, which has a large double window also. Later, I plan to put a maroon color below the cherry rail in the dining area in place of the gray (unless that’s a bad idea lol) and also to purchase an accent chair for the space in front of the foyer area that is a off to the side of and mid way between living room and dining area. Any ideas on color/material scheme to tie it all together and the chair also?

    • Domestik Goddess 2015/01/05, 2:59 pm

      Hi Misty, when you say “cherry rail” is that autocorrect for “chair rail” or do you just mean it’s made of cherry wood? That would make a difference, as it’s quite a high-visibility architectural feature in a room and the color (or natural wood tone) will affect the rest of your color scheme. The colors you’re working with sound like they’d work nicely in that space – just be careful to choose a maroon shade that plays well with your woodwork/trim and you should be fine. Very sophisticated, but not overwhelming, especially as you’ve got the advantage of that big double window (we love light!). What are you doing for a window treatment, by the way? Your accent chair could be a great place to pick up the dominant drapes color as one tone in a patterned upholstery fabric, either traditional or fun-and-funky depending on your decor style and personal tastes.

    • Misty Newton 2015/01/08, 10:42 pm

      Yes that was auto corrected for chair rail- white. All the trim is white including the decorative squares below the chair rail in the dining area. I am unsure of what colors would even go with pale yellow and gray walls for drapes. There are regular window blinds on them at the moment and bare otherwise. Lol my husband picked the colors for the walls which is very tranquil but I feel like it needs to be a bit livelier in here with the decor.

      • Domestik Goddess 2015/01/09, 9:04 pm

        Don’t you just hate autocorrect sometimes? Misty, I’m almost envious of your decorating challenge – the sky is the limit, really. Pale yellow and grey with white trim is indeed a tranquil (and classy) color scheme and you can do a lot to dress it up or down, in formal or casual mood, just by the accent colors you choose for drapes, soft furnishings and accessories. I wouldn’t change the grey to maroon in just the one room, as it would break the visual flow of the connected spaces. But you could, for example, brighten up your living room with warm burgundy and old gold (autumn colors) with a touch of deep green, then reverse the balance in the dining room so it would be predominantly the green with accents of burgundy and old gold. Or, for a totally different mood, you could do a similar treatment with tropical colors (turquoise, teal, sunny yellow, fuschia). Depending on what your personal style is, and what soft furniture (sofa, chairs, etc) you’re working with already, you might find it helpful to browse local stores or online shops for a “statement” tablecloth for your dining room table, and take it as a starting point for inspiration. Hope this is somewhat helpful to you!

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