Everything You Need to Know About Curtain Pelmets

So are curtain pelmets old fashioned? Yes, they have an association with high-roofed, masquerade-hosting mansion halls with golden embroidered drapes from Middle Ages but with modern trends in interior design and architecture, you can have a minimalistic pelmet even in your studio apartment without being old fashioned at all. Besides, trends in interior design tend to shift back and forth, old fashioned looks can suddenly become “the fashion”. So if you have a curtain pelmet in your home and it appears old-fashioned, don’t worry; you might see your very own pelmet in an interior design magazine.

Curtain pelmets are decorative boards that hide curtain installation details. There are many different types of curtain pelmets available on the market. Curtain pelmets can suit any kind of room, can be fixed to any kind of window having different shapes and be applied in different lengths for different sized windows in the same room. They can be straight, curved, can have ornamentation or plain so on and so forth. While decorated curtain pelmets might have an old-fashioned look, there are many minimalistic and modern pelmet designs available today. 

History of curtain pelmets date back to the 15th century, during the Renaissance period. At that time curtain pelmets were richly decorated with intricate woodwork and colorful fabrics. When you see a curtain pelmet in a house today, you most probably wouldn’t associate it with wealth but throughout history, they were mostly present in the houses of the upper-class, decorating their windows, doors and beds.

What Is the Purpose of the Pelmet?

Curtain pelmets can be used for hiding the top edge of the curtains and any fixtures on which the curtain is attached. Also, it helps control the airflow inside your room. 

You don’t want pipes or cables hanging around the edges of your ceiling. While curtain pelmets are generally used for hiding the curtain rods or tracks, any kind of fixture or wiring can be anchored to the curtain pelmets if designed accordingly. 

You can attach strips of light behind the curtain pelmet to enhance the ambient light of the room. The light bouncing off from the curtains will prevent glare. Having said that, additional light exposure on your curtains can fade its color if you are going with a color other than white.

Hiding your curtain fixtures behind your pelmets can also reduce your expenditure on your curtain/curtain equipment; out of sight, out of mind. Buying pelmets to cover your fixtures can outprice buying decent looking fixtures though. There are also pelmets with built-in curtain tracks so you can have a pelmet in your room without having to buy 2 separate items.

Curtain pelmets are not used only for functional purposes though. You can break the monotony of single-colored walls, match it with your furniture to enhance the theme of your room, create a frame for your window and so on… It is only up to your imagination.

What Is the Difference Between a Cornice and a Pelmet?

It is often troublesome to distinguish whether a hard top window treatment is a cornice or pelmet as they can be used interchangeably. They both can be defined as the decorative wooden plank covering the curtain fixture but they are technically a little different. 

Cornice is a more generalized term; it is the horizontal molding that covers a part of a window, a furniture or an exterior wall of a building. Serving mainly as a functional tool on buildings’ exterior walls, cornices are used to expel rainwater from the openings of a building facade. There are many different examples of building cornices but it is another topic which would require its own blog post.

Cornices can appear in a myriad of ways but generally, curtain cornices have a P-like form; being thick at the top and thinning out towards the bottom. Cornices can have different layers of wood with different decorations on each wood surface. That means there are almost an infinite number of possibilities in cornice design, the thickness of the wood, the shape and depth, decorations on the layers can vary extensively.

Pelmets can be defined as cornices without having a crown molding on top. The origin of the word pelmet actually comes from an old English word, “palmette” or palm leaf as pelmets covered in fabric looks like palm leaves. 

While cornices are generally attached to ceiling edges, pelmets can be applied on the upper edge of the windows. So if you have a curtain fixture that you want to conceal, not situated on the ceiling, the surface you cover it with is called a pelmet, not a cornice. 

Using cornices or pelmets in your room depends on the look you want to achieve. Cornices cover up all of the wall surface thus it is well-suited with good-looking curtains. With using pelmets, you can even make a simple cloth work in your room without having to consider getting aesthetically pleasing curtain fixtures.

Do Pelmets Save Energy?

To consider curtain pelmets only as old fashioned decoration is an injustice in a world of global warming and high energy costs as curtain pelmets play a big part in the heating/cooling of your home. You can reduce your energy bills and reduce your carbon footprint by using curtain pelmets as they act like shields for preventing hot air from entering inside in hot season and escaping in the cold season.

Take summer season for example: You want to keep the heat outside and reduce your energy bills caused by air conditioning. When your glass of the window contacts the heat from outside, it also heats the air around the glass in your room. This causes the air to rise and if you have a curtain, this hot air is trapped between your curtain and window. But the curtain fixture has gaps in it and hot air escapes into your room- only if you don’t have a curtain pelmet. While curtain pelmets can’t block all the hot air, it will trap a significant amount of heat in the volume behind it.

The same principle works in the cold season as well. You want to keep your interior room temperature warm without burning banknotes. As your interior room temperature rises with the heaters and stoves, the heated interior air will rise. This heated air will start to cool down upon touching the cold ceiling. When this happens, it will slowly fall back to ground level. While descending, it will contact with the cold window glass if you don’t have a curtain. And yet again curtains are not impenetrable. Curtain pelmets help trap the warm air inside the room. 

How Deep Should a Curtain Pelmet Be?

While there is no predefined depth for curtain pelmets, there are a couple of rules of thumb. Before going to the details, you first have to consider the ceiling height and window height. If you have a low ceiling height, using a deep curtain pelmet will disrupt your room’s proportions. Also if you have a window with low height, attaching a deep curtain pelmet will block the sunlight entering your room. 

Generally, curtain pelmets are designed for about 1/5th or 1/6th of the curtain height. But if you have a low ceiling or window height, your pelmet depth can be as low as 1/8th of the curtain height. The important thing here is, as a curtain pelmet’s purpose is to hide the curtain fixtures, the depth of the pelmet should be calculated depending on your ceiling height. The lowest point of your pelmet should block the sight of a person standing roughly 1 meter away from the curtain. 

Old fashioned pelmets tend to be deeper as more surface area allows more decorations and ornamentations to be applied on the pelmet. Modern curtain pelmets often have a minimalistic approach and don’t need as much depth. 

The look you want to achieve is an important criteria for your pelmet depth. If you want a decorated pelmet, you might want a wider pelmet to increase the surface area to apply more decorations. If you don’t want to overcrowd your room, just use a simple narrow pelmet -to the limit of its functionality.

Types of Curtain Pelmets

There are many types of curtain pelmets depending on material, ornamentation, size and installation style. While some materials have an old fashioned look, some materials add a modern flair to your room. It mostly comes down to the color scheme of your room, your furniture style, and of course window count.

There are also L-shaped curtain pelmets which include the curtain track within. This eliminates a second purchase if you are installing a curtain track from scratch. Most of the materials I will talk about will have this option on purchase.

Curtain pelmets made of fabric generally has a traditional style. They can be called curtain valances as well. The color and patterns of the fabric defines the look of your curtain pelmet. Fabric curtain pelmets can be stretched along the curtain track or rod to have a clean, straight surface but they usually require a baseboard to attach the fabric. You can reduce your expenditure by using fabric pelmets as fabric has a wide price range and you can still achieve a spectacular look with even cheap fabrics.

Fabric can be folded onto itself to have a fluffy look. When curtain pelmets are made using this method, the fabric can be attached to the curtain track thus removing the need for a baseboard for the curtain pelmet. Also, curtain pelmets made with this method can be removed or attached easily. When you try to clean a fixed curtain pelmet, you have to reach out to your ceiling to be able to do so. But when your curtain pelmet is removable, you can remove it and clean it on the ground.

Wooden curtain pelmets can be found in traditional and modern houses alike. You can see subtle, functional curtain pelmets made of plain wood in any modern house today. In old times though, as woodworking was an expensive craft and quality wood was not purchasable by most of the population, pelmets could be found in houses of the high-class.

Wooden curtain pelmets can be shaped in many different ways. They can be shaped with curves, they can be straight bands, they can have ornamentation. The intricacy of the woodwork enhances the visual quality of a pelmet.

Back in the day, wooden curtain pelmets were made out of timber thus they were expensive. However,  MDF and plywood -the bread and butter of modern interior design- allow inexpensive solutions for your curtain pelmet needs. They can be molded or cut in various shapes easily. You can go crazy with these materials and they will handle it quite well as they are resistant to moisture, warping and bowing. 

Foamboard curtain pelmets are the next best thing after their wooden counterparts. They are very simple to install and leave almost no trace when removed so you can install plasterboard curtain pelmets even if you are renting. And they are even cheaper than MDF or plywood curtain pelmets. Many fabricated designs are available with generally low price ranges. 

As they are lightweight, they pose no threat if they ever dislodge from your ceiling. But being lightweight comes with a price; they aren’t very durable. You can easily make a dent in them with your fingernails. 

Metal curtain pelmets are the go-to if you intend to have a durable and stylish look. Depending on your furniture and overall style of your room, metal curtain pelmets are irreplaceable in some cases. If you have tall windows or curtain walls with metal mullions, metal pelmets will complement your windows astonishingly.

While it can’t be technically categorized as pelmets, false ceilings can work as curtain pelmets as well. Suspended (false) ceilings can be installed to allow a space in front of the curtain so it hides the fixtures. They are essentially free as when you are applying a suspended ceiling to your room, you might as well leave a space around your curtains. You might even end up turning a profit by using this method.

Savaş Ateş

I like home decoration. I have a good interest in carpets and curtains. I have visited a lot of manufacturers and stores. I have lots of friends in this area. I like to share my experiences with it.

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