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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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19 comments… add one

  • 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!

  • 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.

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