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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.


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!

71 comments… add one

  • Margaret 2015/11/23, 3:53 pm

    My friend will soon be painting his entire downstairs. It will need to be one color for all except the kitchen as it all runs together. He is leaning toward a pale gray on the walls but not sure about the color since his drapes, and there are a 2 walls covered when drawn, are sort of a dark gold, not yellow gold but more on the brownish side. He can’t replace them since they are custom and much to expensive to replace at this time. He has a blue carpet,brown patterned couch, caramel colored chair. Do you think grey will work If not could you make a recommendation as to a color.

    • Domestik Goddess 2015/11/23, 10:08 pm

      I’m with your friend in leaning toward a pale gray for the walls. It would have to be a cool gray, and it would probably work best if the couch happens to have blue in its pattern? If not, a throw pillow in brown/dark gold/blue/gray could help to pull it all together. Very sophisticated!

      When testing for a gray for the walls, do get a few good-sized pieces of cardboard and paint yourself up some large samples you can hold up against the walls to get a good sense of how it will look. I’m a huge fan of samples in choosing a paint color, but especially so when you’ve got a good decor challenge like this one!

  • Mayra c 2015/10/01, 12:28 am

    Hi..I’m having trouble choosing the color of curtains for my livingroom..My livingroom is a light brown..

    • Domestik Goddess 2015/10/01, 4:37 am

      Mayra, hi there. You don’t say if light brown is your walls, floor, furnishings, trim, or whatever… so it would be difficult to try to help you without much more information. If you’d like to write back and get into a bit more detail, I’d be happy to make suggestions to get you started.

  • kaleen 2015/09/25, 1:11 pm

    Hello! I have beautiful walls that have horizontal stripes painted in alternating shades of iridescent ivory and semi-gloss ivory. I’m trying to redecorate, but would like to leave the walls as they are. It’s time to dress the windows and based on what I’ve read, using a shade of ivory to match the walls is the direction I will go, but I was hoping to add a sophisticated look by building window cornices. The question is this: do I make them white, or do I use a wood tone? I don’t want the white against the ivory to look strange or overly formal. Thoughts? All the wood furniture in my room is very dark, so if I were to match it, it would be extremely dark against the windows. Help!?

    • Domestik Goddess 2015/09/25, 10:29 pm

      Kaleen, it sounds like a restful and elegant color scheme you’ve chosen for your room. You’re right that painting a cornice or pellet in white is going to be look a bit add to top off the warmer ivory, and paining it in a darker color to match your dark wood furniture will almost certainly make the the room look top-heavy. There are a couple of ways you could go with this, however, and here are a couple suggestions for you:

      1.) Instead of ivory, you could use up a color in draperies to make the window an accent on your wall, rather than blending in, and carry on the same color onto the cornice. Best, pick up a color from one of the fabrics in your room – say, one color from a print on a hassock or occasional chair – and pick a color that is no darker than mid-range so it won’t overwhelm. For example, if you’re keen on the monochrome look, go for a dark sand or light taupe color, something with the feel of a shadow of the ivory.

      2.) Alternatively, keep with ivory for you curtains, but choose a tailored set of side panels, perhaps with a narrow dark trim, and add a bright white sheer drape for privacy and softness in behind the side panels. That way, your cornice can be modeled on the side panels without overwhelming the space. And depending on the size of the window and cornice, you might even be able to go for that white cornice, once you’ve got the bright expanse of white sheer to balance it out. To be sure, you can tack up a white towel or piece of old bed sheet in the cornice location to see how it might look. Too much? Then you’ll know the white won’t work after all and move on to another choice.

  • Maree 2015/05/26, 6:16 am

    Hi there – hoping you can give your take on this… We have Resene Alabaster walls (a very Scandinavian white) but I have fallen in love with a cute little fabric (http://www.boltofcloth.com/shop/Fabric/Home+Decor/Wave+in+Gold.html) which is gold on a natural coloured background. At first I thought I couldn’t but a natural creamy fabric against a stark white wall but actually think it looks ok and am keen to break that rule. Your thoughts?

    • Domestik Goddess 2015/05/26, 8:16 pm

      Maree, I’m with you – that’s a “rule” of decorating that’s often worth breaking.

      Yes, the Resene Alabaster is indeed a very white white, and it’s difficult to tell from the online photo just exactly what the background of the fabric is (how creamy a natural or off-white it is), but… I’ve seen many cases where white and off-white/natural do play well together, especially with metallic gold as a unifying “element” (if you’ll forgive the pun).

      Think of the shades and tones you’ll find in a slab of polished marble or even quartz, for example. In general, if a color combination will work in nature, it’ll work in your home. The trick is often just to get the balance right.

      Tip: If you find your fabric isn’t looking as tied-in with the white walls as you’d like, consider Alabaster throw-pillows to bring more of the wall color into the rest of the room’s decor, or pulling the natural off-white of the fabric background to paint your window and door trim.

      Hope this helps.
      Do let me know how you make out with the room – and kudos to you, for bold rule-breaking!

  • Tina 2015/04/26, 9:37 pm

    We have rented a beach house in CA for a year. All the windows have pretty nice blinds but the area attached to the kitchen needs a little something. We have natural color tile with white 6″ baseboards, off white walls. The kitchen wood is light color cherry with contemporary pulls. The granite is dark and I have 2 large abstracts hanging on the walls, colors, browns, reds, a little blue. The windows are large corner windows meeting each other. Could i match the drapes to a color in the abstracts or the wall? Thanks for your comments.

    • Domestik Goddess 2015/04/26, 10:30 pm

      That’s just what I would do, Tina! The blue might be especially apt in a beach house, if the blue in the abstracts is not too dark a shade. You could always match the hue but go a couple shades lighter, if that’s the case. Tip: those paint chips with several shades of one color on the one piece can be very handy as a guide when you want to go just a little lighter than your reference color.

  • Katie 2015/04/20, 3:09 pm

    Hi there,

    I wonder if you could help. If I have Roman blinds made in a toile de jouy pattern, in a fairly neutral colour such as light grey, should I have plain rugs or is it acceptable to have a patterned rug in a similar colour? My rooms are not large with light walls and dark Merbau floor.

    Thanks in advance,

    • Domestik Goddess 2015/04/20, 3:52 pm

      Absolutely, Katie! If you keep the patterns in roughly the same scale, neutral colors such as you describe with low contrast between the darker and lighter tones, the toile blinds and patterned rug should play very well together even in a “not large” room. Think in terms of the way the changing light through the days will shadows of varying depth and intensity – grey-on-light-grey would be perfect. In fact, I did something very similar in a vintage-inspired nursery, with pale-green-on-cream toile wallpaper and a complimentary fabric for the window treatments: two different patterns, but in the same color combo, same intensity of color, and a very similar scale to the two patterns. The effect is interesting to the eye, but uncluttered and light feeling. I think you’d be pleased with the effect in your home.

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