Drapes: Six Ways they can Expand a Room

Autumn colours frame my outdoor view

I have been trapped inside since last Tuesday, enjoying my beloved garden wistfully through the windows.  Today, it is pouring and dark, so this morning while opening blinds and drapes to let in what light there is, I made special note of how the drapes frame and enhance the outdoor scenery (something that I fully intended when designing/buying those drapes).

If you live in a climate where the weather traps you indoors for large portions of the year, as I do, these considerations are more obvious to you, but they are useful in any climate.

When I decorated my first home(s) my design experience was minimal although I was well-versed in the general principles.  I loved pattern and colour (Ontario weather can do that to you) and could not resist putting stunning, lively fabrics over every available window.  Each covered window was its own story.

In time, I collected experience and learned from others, leading me to revisit my attitudes. Decorating trends became simpler.  I renovated and decorated various awkwardly tiny Toronto houses for resale.  And, I moved to a tired bungalow on a country property where the view was the best thing the house had!

Without further ado, then, here are my top five tips for using drapery to make a room seem more expansive (taller, larger, arier, more open . . . you get the idea):

1.     Match your draperies to the wall colour.  Your eye roams in a certain pattern on any given view, page or item.  Your choice of colour in your drapery will do one of two things:  either it will stop your eye by contrasting the room colour and thereby break of the sense of visual flow, or it will allow your eye to continue without breaking this sense of flow.  Breaking anything visually reduces the whole into its parts which are smaller, while continuing the visual unity makes it appear larger; it’s really that simple.

Draperies matched to the wall colour, ceiling to floor, left flowing and in colours picking up nature’s greens and golds outside

Even with a darker paint colour, the

 impact of matching the drapes to the wall is luxurious and preferable to a light contrast.  In this room, the eye does a full stop at each window–a deliberate effect but not an expansive one!  If you can’t match, then stay with the same strength of colour.

2.     Make the outdoors part of the room.   This won’t work on windows overlooking the neighbor’s bricks, but is one of the most effective tricks if you have any yard or view at all since almost any outdoor area is going to be large enough to add some visual space to the room.  In my small den, left, I have an endless green and gold view of nature and garden, so I framed it with drapes in the same soothing colour combination.

Also, many vacation and retirement properties are designed with a view and the availability of beaches, shopping, community activities and so on with minimal indoor space (therefore being affordable).  In this case, take account of the various shades of blue, grey, sand and sunset offered by water, beach and weather when you choose your drapes and interior colours.  The result will be a more expansive sense of the interior and greater focus on the view that you came for.

3.     Start your draperies up high.   You do not have to start your drapes at the top of the window or window trim.  To encourage a sense of grandeur, draw the eye upwards and use more fabric.  Place the top of your drapes as high as makes sense.  Usually, this will be immediately below the crown moulding or ceiling.

Even a window topped by a fanlight (a semicircular window over a doorway) can be finished this way.

Window dressing with fanlight

To enhance this effect, choose a decorator

Distressed gold rod placed immediately under crown moulding

Battling the modest ceiling height by drawing the eye upward and hinting of luxury

rod that is, while not in stark contrast with the room, eye-catching and a repetition of some colour elsewhere in the room.  This also makes us look upward.  I like antique gold for this purpose, but look to the other things in your room for guidance.  In the room at right, I used a gold rod with verdigris distressed finish to pick up the blues and greens in the room and the outdoors.  Below right, another distressed gold rod with a lower ceiling draws the eye upward to add patina and a hint of glamour to an otherwise down-to-earth room.

4.     Keep your drapes long, even if your window is not.  This gives a sense of larger, more expansive windows and more verticality.  In my son’s university room, the window is well above the floor but I have advised him to keep the drapes full length to avoid a horizontal line across the room where they would stop.  Window-length curtains would cut a line straight across the height of the room, making it subconsciously feel lower and smaller.  I am suggesting a vertical stripe, as well.

In the case of a shorter window you can layer a light sheer underneath the drapery for added impact and to conceal the fact that the window does not go to the floor.

This issue is particularly useful if you are decorating a basement, where many of the windows end well above the floor.  Using these techniques will help eliminate the sense that the space is underground.

5.     Use vertical pattern. There are two ways to do this.  Obviously, a stripe is a

Subtle, nature-coloured stripes, picking up the gold wall colour

vertical pattern, so an in-scale stripe in low-contrast tones as in the drape in the photo at left is an option.

The second way is to leave the drapes flowing rather than tying them back.  Long, flowing drapes will create their own vertical folds as in the second photo, above, of the gold drapes; whereas tying them back or topping them with any heavier horizontal finish will  again shorten the room.  Simplicity trumps fussy in making your space expansive!

Why does this help?  Because stripes inevitably make the direction they run in appear to be the longer one.  In the extreme example–just as you would not dress in a mini-skirt with a wide horizontal black and white stripe across your derriere if you were trying to make your hips look slim, but might wear a single colour from head to toe to create a vertical line–you apply the same principles to your walls to make them appear taller.

This stunning pattern (WOW!) will, nonetheless, make your room feel smaller!

6.     Choose any other pattern carefully.  First and foremost, overscale pattern in very contrasting colours will stop your eye and draw it to the pattern, and breaking up the room with stark contrast will make it appear smaller than necessary.  Note that I have punctuated my text in this post with dark lettering to draw your eye to the main points, in case you are skimming.

A short, horizontal valance in strong, contrasting colour sits well below the ceiling and punctuates the flow of the wall.

Multiple faux pas:  this small valance at left is cute, but uses every technique in its power to make the room look smaller!

So, by all means indulge your love of pattern!  Go for the latest graphic influences!  Enjoy colour!  But if you want a larger, roomier feeling in your space, apply these rules to your choices and you can have your cake and eat it too.

A footnote:  Realtors will often say they prefer window coverings to be removed when a house is on the market (sorry, readers who live elsewhere; in Toronto everything revolves around selling houses).  They want your house to feel expansive, open and uncluttered, and to allow potential buyers to visualize their own taste in the house.  Following these techniques will permit you to have drapes and show your house to best advantage.


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About patinaandcompany

I am a compulsive beautifier of all things habitable. Give me your ugly, non-functional and visually repellent, and I am in my element. Also, an avid and experienced gardener determined to share my horticultural experiences with others. See more at "About"
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21 Responses to Drapes: Six Ways they can Expand a Room

  1. I found you five guidelines to be helpful, as I will preparing wirh window treatments, two different flats soon, I was aware of the dimensional aspects of drapery installation but had not considered how important it is to tie together color from the inside and outside and really like this idea of linking colors (even from outdoors) and the continuos flow overall effect. Thank you for writing.

  2. For the first time, I responded to a WordPress post on my iPhone and so I apologize for the quality of the writing…Feel free to correct my numerous typos, including “6” instead of “5” guidelines, Lol. ~Sonya

  3. david says:

    I believe draperies can create a dramatic effect. I like your suggestions and I think you write well.

  4. Grace says:

    Great suggestions! I was just looking for some drapery ideas for our new home. It’s still far from completion, but I could always use some inspiration. 🙂

  5. LOve reading this piece, and agree with everything you say… I’ve always done all these things you advise, simply because they make a window seem bigger, a ceiling higher and the room feel more gracious. Short curtains always look mean to me, and pelmets bring the ceiling down, while leaving the curtains to hang simply is just so much more elegant than fussy attempts at grandiosity! (Like wearing too much jewellery)
    I would love to see pictures of your house, it must be charming… you are so clever…

  6. Thank you. What a useful piece.
    I love drapes. But if I’ve done any of the above, it’s surely by accident! (smile)
    My problem is that I like the thick, beautiful mill-work that frames the windows in my old house – especially the top part of each window. It’s a window-treatment by itself. So I’ve kept the same old blinds, instead of trying something new at windows that have the best mill-work. (Look at the door and window frames in the oval office of the American White House next time you catch a scene from the president’s office and you’ll see what I mean.) Yet, I know that having drapes would soften the room and tie things together colour-wise. Do you think I’m a lost cause?

  7. LISA FARA says:

    What a great article! Thank you for sharing! Enjoyed it! – Lisa Fara

  8. Pingback: 25 Easy Ways to Make a Bedroom Look Bigger | Shutterfly

  9. Brigitte Paschert says:

    Very helpful options to decorate and make my living room appear more spacious. Will apply some of your suggestions.
    Thank you

  10. This is some really good information about window treatments. It is good to know that it would be smart to have to keep drapes long. I didn’t realize that having short drapes could make your walls look small. That is a good thing for me to keep in mind as I start the hunt for new window treatments.

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