July 27, 2021


When people speak of design and interior decorating, the word “modern” often comes up. It is also common to use it interchangeably with the word“ contemporary”. But what does modern design mean, exactly? And what are some of its defining characteristics?

First, if you are thinking that modern means current, you could not be further from the truth. Modernism, as a school of design, surfaced and proliferated during the early to mid-20th century and it is, in part, an offshoot of German and Scandinavian design. This period was marked by the invention of new machineries, which made the mass production of furniture and housing possible.

As a result, the highly ornamented and dramatic elements of the preceding Renaissance, Gothic, and Victorian styles gave way to clean lines and silhouettes. And it was so pervasive that all categories of design ranging from art to architecture soon embraced the no-frills philosophy.

One of the most widely-known styles of modern design is driven by the Bauhaus movement. Bauhaus, which means “building house” in German, is an approach that seeks to bridge the gap between art and industry.


Cleopatra / Collection

It also attempts to marry form and function by stripping away the superfluous and ensuring that there is a balance between aesthetics and utility. In other words, things have to look good and be useful in some ways as well.

You may be wondering what this backgrounder has to do with curtains. Well, if you are working with an interior designer, curtain consultant, or an architect, a good starting point is to discuss what style you are going for.

Contemporary simply means what is in fashion right now. For instance, wood panellings (for walls) have enjoyed a revival in recent years. Contemporary, modified versions have been used widely in home or retail makeovers. This design feature, however, can be categorized as contemporary and may look outdated when yet another fad takes over.

Modernism, on the other hand, is not a concept driven by trends and its design principles will endure through the ages. Nonetheless, it is still a period that has passed us by and any good interior designer or architect will be able to follow modernist philosophy while making alterations to fit today’s sensibilities.


Dolce Vita / Collection

Curtains according to the modern school of design

One word: Simple. Any piece of furniture or design element, including curtains, needs to be as unfussy as possible. But what is considered simple? Well, in one sense, simplicity can be defined as plain.

We can start with colour. The most natural choice for plain colours are neutrals such as black, white, brown, grey, ivory, and beige. In colour theory, these are shades that appear to be without colour.However, if you think neutrals are boring, you may change your mind if you take a look at some of the iconic modern houses.

For instance, it is worth looking up Farnsworth House by famous modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Characterised by an extensive use of floor-to-ceiling glass, Farnsworth House is a building in which curtains play a pivotal role. Indeed, Mies van der Rohe himself referred to the curtains — described as being natural in colour — as a key element of the house.

Made with shantung — a silk plain weave fabric that is typically used for wedding gowns — the curtains at Farnsworth House appear to be off-white, beige, or white depending on the time of the day. This capacity to subtly morph into different shades is an enduring quality of neutral colours. Plus, neutral colours will withstand the test of time: No matter what trends come and go, neutrals will never go out of fashion.

Now that we have covered colour, we can move on to the curtain design. Again — if going modern is your aim — simplicity rules, which means that there will be no frills and the curtains should be as unfussy as it can possibly be.


Eclipse / Collection

The curtains at Farnsworth House, for example, feature single-pleat headers. Headers are the top part of the curtain where it is attached to a curtain track or rod. There are many types of headers and your choice will affect how the curtain looks or drapes.

If you flip through any architectural or design magazine, you will notice that the single-pleat curtain is a popular accompaniment to modern-looking interior spaces. Apart from appearing flat when it is drawn across windows or doors, it also stacks neatly when it is drawn apart.

However, its clean, plain lines also mean that single-pleat curtains can be used to complement most interior schemes that are not strictly modern. For instance, even a highly cluttered and colourful nursery would look good with single-pleat sheers. And speaking of sheers -- the darling of 2021 curtain design trends -- these also look great with single pleats as it accentuates the billowy appearance of lightweight fabrics.

Another upside of using a single-pleat header is that it generally requires less material, making it an economical choice. And if you have decided on it, note that single-pleats work best with lightweight fabrics such as cotton, linen, voile, and chiffon. And for a touch of luxe, you could always opt for silk as well. Word of warning, though, silk is a high-maintenance fabric and may not be great if you have young children or pets.

Harmony / Collection

The other curtain of choice for modern interiors are wave curtains. Utilising a wave header — that is also referred to as the S-header — these curtains are gathered in a soft, rippling fold at the top. And as it is a fold (as opposed to a pleat) the curtains drape in an extremely fluid and relaxed manner.

Fitted to slim, discreet tracks, wave curtains can look as though it is simply floating uniformly across your windows. These curtains work particularly well in large, open spaces or as a covering for tall and wide windows. Additionally, wave curtains are also ideal for openings to patios and lounges because it provides unfettered access to the view once it is drawn open.

Wave curtains are elegant and sleek and will most certainly add a touch of sophistication to your rooms. Although it is possible to use patterned fabrics for wave curtains, most homeowners prefer to use plain fabrics. Some prints, such as those featuring irregular stripes will not go well with wave curtains. And, like single-pleat curtains, wave curtains are best made with materials that are lighter such as voile, cotton, linen, and silk.

And in case you were wondering about prints and if it fits a modern design scheme, the answer, in most cases, would be no. In modernism, art and sculptures are the primary forms of decor in a house or building. All other features, including curtains were meant to serve as a sort of base, in which these works of art can shine.

The exception, however, is that certain fixtures or furnishing can provide a pop of colour. Hence, if you are feeling a little adventurous, it is possible to install some brightly-coloured curtains in your home. The main thing to bear in mind, however, is that strong colours can potentially make a room feel smaller.


Imagination / Collection

Other types of modern window coverings

To reiterate, modernism is a design movement that seeks to create a bridge between form and function. If you decide to pare it down, even frosted glass can work as a covering of sorts. There are really plenty of ways to go about dressing up your windows.

Therefore, if curtains do not appeal to you for some reason, you may want to consider going with blinds or shades.

One of the most popular options in this category are roller blinds. It offers an extremely streamlined appearance regardless of whether it is laying flat across your window or rolled away completely. Apart from how modern and clean it looks, roller blinds are also a very practical choice.

For one, it offers a great amount of control over privacy and lighting. As roller blinds are made from solid sheets of stiff fabric, you may opt to line the blind with blackout textile. This may be an important consideration in the bedroom or a nursery. And it is easily drawn up or down using a sidewinder, allowing you to have control over just how much light you would like in the room.

Secondly, roller blinds are also relatively low-maintenance. Depending on the fabric that is used, most roller blinds can be wiped down or vacuumed regularly to keep it clean. Some roller blinds can even be hand washed. Additionally, its design makes it less likely to harbour dust, mites, or other allergens, which makes it highly suitable if any home occupants suffer from allergies.


 Newmoon / Collection (discontinued)

Alternatively, Japanese blinds also offer the same modern, streamlined look for the home. Unlike roller blinds (that are raised or lowered vertically), Japanese blinds are made from large, vertical panels of stiff fabric that are attached to rails, which allow you to slide the blinds horizontally, stacking them together on one or both ends of the window. 

Large windows or patio openings are ideally suited for this chic window treatment. It can also be used as a divider for open spaces, which may be something that homeowners are looking for now as they are homebound for longer periods of time.

Similar to roller blinds, Japanese blinds also allow a great degree of flexibility in regard to privacy and lighting. It is extremely easy to simply slide the panel by hand to cover or reveal a window. They can also be cleaned regularly with a slightly damp cloth or a vacuum cleaner.

While some of these window coverings can be easily bought off the shelf, it is always better to seek a professional fabric or curtain store that can customise or design items to your specifications. This may be important if your home has odd-sized windows or doors. And using quality materials can ensure that your curtains last longer, thus, making it more unlikely that you will have to spend more money replacing them from time to time.


Sunstopper / Collection (discontinued)

Other resources for your modernism fix

If you are well and truly going for a modern look, there are a lot of online resources that you can refer to. A good place to start is to look up the works of famous modernist architects such as Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Oscar Niemeyer, and Ray Eames.

Apart from the aforementioned Farnsworth House, other houses that are worth taking a look at include Fallingwater, Villa Savoye, Glass House, and Villa Dirickz.

You will notice that these buildings feature a lot of glass, steel, and concrete, which is not entirely unlike some of the designer houses we see today. And if you see something that catches your eye, show it to your interior designer or curtain consultant. Alternatively, create a mood board via apps like Pinterest.

Going through some visual images may give you an idea of how you can best incorporate elements of modern design in your home. Ultimately, however, it will be good to remind yourself that it is your home. Therefore, no matter what style or school of design you decide on, it is always possible to break the rules and simply go for whatever makes you happy.


Terranova / Collection


Unknown. (2020, June 9). Modern vs. contemporary interior design style: Your go-to guide at home. Decorilla

Unknown. (2016, October 12). 7 Contemporary ideas for window coverings. Contemporist

Unknown. Was Farnsworth House a little too perfect for its owner? Phaidon

Deeming, G. & Metcalfe, E. (2020, April 20). Ideas for curtains (with all the terminology you need to recreate them). House & Garden.


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