Curtains, Drapes, Shades, & Blinds: Pros, Cons, and Best Uses

Living room curtains
Figuring out window treatments can be a pain when terms like curtains, drapes, shades, and blinds are used interchangeably in many articles. What's the difference between curtains vs. drapes? Shades vs. blinds? Is one option better than the other? Why are there so many different types of window treatments anyway?

This guide will set the record straight with the help of expert designers. We've outlined what each is used for, plus the benefits and drawbacks, to help you find the right window treatment the first time. Keep reading to learn more.


Curtains tend to let some light through (credit: J Shim)

Window curtains are one of the most popular window covering choices. They're lighter weight than drapes and made from fabric panels that are typically sold and hung in pairs. In addition, they offer a soft feel and are versatile enough to use in any room to add color, texture, and pattern while providing light control and privacy.

Curtains hang from a curtain rod, which may feature decorative finials (the end caps on either side) to accentuate the top of the window. They come in a wide range of different styles, patterns, colors, fabrics, lengths, and widths. For example, some curtains feature a fabric pocket (or header) that slips over the curtain rod, hiding it, while others may hang from fabric tab tops, metal grommets, rings, and hooks that leave more of the curtain rod exposed.

"Most curtain panels offer minimal control over natural light, which is why they are often paired with other window treatments such as blinds or shades to create a complete light control solution," explained John Weinstock.

  • Sheer curtains are made from sheer fabric to let in natural light while providing privacy. Many are floor-length and light-colored, creating a glowing effect around the window.
  • Café curtains are designed to cover the bottom of the window for privacy while allowing light in the top half. They're often designed to match a valance or fabric sleeve at the top of the window.
  • Blackout curtains are often made from thick fabric to block out most or all of the light in a room. However, they're not typically as effective as blackout drapes, which typically have a lining for light control.
"Curtains are great because they can be different lengths to suit the space and window size. I also love how curtains can be used to trick the eye into thinking a window is larger than it really is, or even positioned differently than it is."

"Curtains are great because they can be different lengths to suit the space and window size. I also love how curtains can be used to trick the eye into thinking a window is larger than it really is, or even positioned differently than it is," Heather Mastrangeli told Living Cozy. "For example, to enlarge the window, you can hang the curtains higher and wider than the window frame."

Best for: "Curtains make the most sense in living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms," Lesley Hill told Living Cozy. You can also use them in less formal settings like the kitchen.


The main pros of curtains include their versatility and ability to work with almost any home decor style. They're also easy to use with affordable price points, perfect for first-time homeowners.

"When you want something temporary or need something on a tight budget, curtains are always readily available and very affordable," ​Kelly Simpson told Living Cozy.


Most curtains are mass-produced and only available in standard sizes. So, if you have a window that doesn't fit the standard, it can be difficult to find curtains that will fit your window. And if you're looking to block light, too narrow or short curtains can quickly become an issue.

"Curtains can also be high maintenance as they require regular cleaning and ironing if you'd like to keep them looking nice," Margarita Bravo told Living Cozy.


Drapes in a bathroom
Drapes in a bathroom (credit: Deconovo)

Drapes are similar to curtains but tend to be made from thicker fabric with a more formal aesthetic. In addition, they're made from fabric panels with a lining and interlining (light or heavy) for light and temperature control. Like curtains, drapes help add texture, color, and pattern to your spaces and can be used to enhance any room.

Curtains and drapes are fabric panels that, when open, sit on either side of the window and cover the entire window opening when closed. While the terms are often used interchangeably, drapes are made with heavier fabrics that skim or puddle on the floor, whereas curtains are usually shorter, unlined, and made of lighter fabric.

Drapery panels come in many different styles, patterns, colors, fabrics, lengths, and widths, and most are designed to hang at floor length. They can be used as statement pieces or a more subtle nod to the room's home decor.

"Graber's custom Artisan Drapery provides high-end, hand-tailored fabrics in styles that range from structured sturdy pleats and the classic tab styles to contemporary grommets and the ruched gathers of rod pockets," said John Weinstock. "For example, Graber Tradewinds® Natural Drapes work well for sliding doors. They're made of renewable materials like bamboo, reeds, grass, and jute, and they add natural color, asymmetric texture, and outdoor characteristics to a space."

Best for: Drapes are ideal for creating a luxurious and intimate atmosphere in formal settings like bedrooms, living rooms, and dining rooms.


Since most drapes have a lining and interlining, they're excellent for insulation and energy control — in other words, they'll help you keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

"Draperies allow you to create a gorgeous and customized style that instantly elevates a room. Whether you are looking to evoke a light, flirtatious mood or going for something moody, draperies provide a stunning array of customizable options to meet your unique needs," added Kelly Simpson.


According to Margarita Bravo, drapes must be cleaned regularly and can trap dust in the fabric folds. Many also require ironing to maintain their shape after washing.

In addition, while drapery is available at a range of price points, they can be expensive in many cases. This is because they're typically measured and made to fit specific window dimensions.

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Shades in a window
Shades on living room windows (credit: Matthew Hamilton)

Shades are a seamless piece of fabric that pulls down from a top mechanism and is either mounted to the wall or ceiling. They're useful throughout the home as they can quickly provide privacy without intruding on the room.

"Shades are an updated alternative to blinds which can be selected in a variety of styles, such as cellular, solar, natural, roller, pleated, and Roman shades," explained John Weinstock.

Shades are ideal for those who want light control without the fuss of curtains or drapes. They're easy to install and can be quickly adjusted to control the light level, making them especially suited for rooms like kitchens and bathrooms. And if you'd like to add more of a decorative quality, you can pair your shades with curtains or drapes.

Best for: Shades are useful in any room that needs accessible light control and privacy solutions. While they work particularly well in the laundry room and bathroom, they can also upgrade your light control situation in formal rooms with curtains and drapes.


The primary benefit of shades is their versatility, as they come in several styles and types to meet any budget or need. Most shades can also be customized to fit the shape and size of your window frames.

Since shades pair nicely with curtains and drapes, they can also allow you to have whatever style of window treatment you'd like without worrying about privacy or light control. For example, suppose you install sheer white curtains to allow light into your living room for plants. In this case, you might solve this by installing roller shades for convenient light control for movie night.


"You need to be thoughtful about the type of shade you choose according to the room. For example, natural shades are gorgeous but aren't suitable for a room with high levels of humidity (such as bathrooms or laundry rooms) because moisture may cause them to warp," explained Kelly Simpson.

Since shades are made from fabric, they also require regular cleaning and can become stained more easily than blinds might.


Blinds in a home office
Blinds in a home office (credit: Mike Cox)

Blinds are hard window coverings that offer another great way to adjust the amount of light entering a room. They're made with either horizontal or vertical slats, each offering different levels of control over the light and privacy.

For example, horizontal blinds are made from thin pieces of wood or vinyl material controlled by a cord or wand. The individual pieces pivot for light control and can completely raise for a clear view outside.

Blinds may be made from aluminum, faux wood, wood, or vinyl. Many of these options are designed for easy cleaning, durability in high-humidity zones, and the versatility to fit multiple decor styles.

Best for: "When selected properly, blinds add a sophisticated dimension to windows and elevate any space that they are in. They are a viable option when sprucing up the home with natural elements or where light control is a priority," explained John Weinstock.


The main benefit of blinds is that they only take up a little space when opened and come in various colors, materials, and designs. In addition, they provide flexibility regarding privacy, allowing you to tilt them part way to obscure your view or close them completely to provide total privacy.

And like shades, blinds can easily be layered with curtains when sprucing up or redecorating a space to provide an extra layer of light control.


One downside of blinds is that they may not be as aesthetically pleasing as drapes or curtains when used alone.

In addition, blinds are inefficient at preventing heat loss. If you live in a colder climate area, consider a different window covering solution, such as cellular shades, or layer curtains or drapery over your blinds to help with insulation.

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How to Choose the Right Window Coverings

It's best to think about window coverings holistically, especially since this decision is often made after deciding on furniture, carpeting, and wall colors. The type of window coverings you choose can make or break a room's design — they're able to pull things together or shine as the focal point. So you'll want to consider the room's existing styles, fabrics, and colors to enhance the finished product.

However, when you plan a room's upholstery, flooring, color palette, and textures before adding anything, you can create a more polished and professional look in your space. So, try to plan your window coverings alongside the rest of your design, if possible.

"The most important thing to consider is the level of privacy a window covering provides," explained Heather Mastrangeli. Here are some of the questions Heather recommends asking yourself when choosing window coverings:

  • Do you need a full blackout, or are sheers enough? This is likely to be determined by the room in question.
  • How easy is it to access or use the window covering? You should be able to control the light coming through and privacy when needed.
  • What color is best for your home and decor? The color of the covering is important for both your decor and addressing the energy needs of the room.

Here are some other considerations recommended by our experts to make it easier to choose the right window coverings for your room:

  • Available space: Are you tight on space or working with an awkward living room layout? Or do you have plenty of space with room for something larger, like puddling drapes?
  • Style preferences: What decor style do you prefer in your home? Which window treatments do you see in rooms that inspire you?
  • Ambient light: How much ambient light does the room receive? And how much light do you want to let in?
  • Privacy needs: Do you need to emphasize privacy because the window faces a sidewalk or street? Or is the window in a fairly private position already?
  • Budget: How much of your budget can you allocate to window coverings? Do you need to save money or would you like to splurge on a custom light control solution?

With all these factors in mind, you'll be able to find the perfect solution for your room and create the beautiful and comfortable home of your dreams.

Meet the Experts

Living Cozy works closely with leading industry experts to bring you top-quality info every time. In this article, you'll hear from:

Written by
Shelby Golding
Shelby Golding is a Colorado-based writer/editor with over a decade of experience. She has a college education in interior design and enjoys woodworking in her free time.
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