Net curtains have a host of unfortunate associations: the slightly dingy, twitching curtain of suburban England is an image that's hard to shed. But it wasn't always so. The lace curtains of the 19th century were a luxury item, and continued to be so into the early decades of the 20th. It was only with the rise of man-made fabrics like polyester after World War II that the delicacy and intricate designs of the early lace curtains gave way to the manufactured tedium of their net successors. Even with this history in mind, there is still a place for a sheer curtain - they provide much-needed privacy in bathrooms and ground-floor sitting rooms, letting in light without having to resort to frosted glass. Simple natural fabrics like cotton voile are an elegant, modern way to do a sheer curtain, and beautiful embroidered options also exist for a more traditional look.

  • Time to rethink: net curtains

    In Gabby Deeming's Bloomsbury flat, the bedroom window has a linen half-curtain made from a vintage tablecloth as a concession to privacy. The lack of other curtains or blinds mean that the attractive curved tops of the windows are still visible.

  • Time to rethink: net curtains

    In a shoppable scheme by our decoration editors, sheer curtains are used to filter daylight behind cotton curtains. The main curtains are in ‘Veronique’ (indigo), cotton, £75.50 a metre, from Les Indiennes, while the sheers are ‘Cali’ (oyster), polyester voile, 298cm wide, £39 a metre, from Designers Guild.

  • Time to rethink: net curtains

    This shoppable scheme also includes another use of linen tablecloths as curtains for a tiny window - a charming rustic look.

  • Time to rethink: net curtains

    Another shoppable scheme features a simple voile window panel with lace appliqué, £500 as shown, with panel in 'Valenciennes FC370', and borders in 'FC289' and 'FC346', by Cluny Lace, all from Nest Design.

  • Time to rethink: net curtains

    A modern voile design by Lucy Bathurst of Nest Design, who specialises in bespoke curtains made from vintage fabrics.

  • Time to rethink: net curtains

    Sheer curtains can work even in an otherwise very modern house. In Suzy Hoodless' west London house, the straight, clean-lined sheers on the front window are almost invisible.

  • Time to rethink: net curtains

    A bedroom at this farmhouse in southern France designed by Kathryn Ireland features gauzy sheer curtains as bed canopies.

  • Time to rethink: net curtains

    An internal door in the hallway of Mimi Thorisson's home in the Médoc has a net curtain, for a traditional French look.

  • Time to rethink: net curtains

    Sheer curtains are also an excellent way to create privacy in a bathroom, as here in Harriet Anstruther's Sussex cottage, without compromising the clean lines and fresh feel of white walls.

  • Time to rethink: net curtains

    Octavia Dickinson's Battersea flat takes a country-cottage approach to city living, and the bathroom has a traditionally-frilled net half-curtain alongside Cole & Son 'Madras Violet' wallpaper.

  • Time to rethink: net curtains

    In our May 2019 issue, Ruth Sleightholme has selected pretty sheer fabrics, ideal for dressing summer windows.
    Top right: ‘Adella’ (ivory), cotton, 148cm wide, £69, from Colefax and Fowler.
    Top left: ‘Thirassia’ (crème), linen/polyester, 148cm wide, £184.80, from Pierre Frey.
    Middle right: ‘Battle Great Wood Lace’ (cream), cotton, 140cm wide, £125, from Lindsay Alker.
    Middle left (inside) ‘Kanika’ (white), by Namay Samay, cotton, 120cm wide, £264, from Tissus d’Hélène, (outside) ‘Fiorella’ (white), by Fleurons d’Hélène, linen/cotton, 140cm wide, £100, from Tissus d’Hélène.
    Bottom right: (inside) ‘Denning Sheer’ (ivory), by Lee Jofa, linen mix, 292cm wide, £149, from GP & J Baker, (outside) ‘Pure Strawberry Thief Embroidery’ (paper white), by Morris & Co, cotton/linen, 130cm wide, £143, from Style Library. Cotton tassels, from £2.49 each, from MacCulloch & Wallis.