Hanging curtains in older homes with radiators positioned in front of the windows is a challenge that has been troubling to homeowners since radiators were introduced. The issue is whether to cover the radiator, to expose the radiator, to hang drapes above or alongside the radiator. If you enclose the radiator inside drapes, then you defeat the function of the radiator, which is radiating heat. This may also pose a fire hazard or a hidden danger as the drapes and the area behind the drapes may heat up significantly. There are several reasonable solutions to the radiator issue that are both safe and attractive.
Purchase or build a radiator cover for the radiator. These are often made of wood with metal grills that allow the heat to flow unobstructed into the room. This allows the radiator to look more like furniture, and the top can be used for decorating. Once the radiator cover is in place the windows can be covered with blinds or shades to control the light and longer fixed drapery panels can be attached to either side to dress up the window.
Place a marble shelf on top of the radiator. Have your local stone store cut a piece of marble slab to fit. This shelf can sit directly on the radiator. Again, this type of cover allows you to use the radiator as furniture in the room. You can hang drapes even with the top of the shelf or use the same treatment as described in Step 1.
Extend the windowsill over the radiator with a built-in sill shelf or window seat. This allows you to position drapes that are windowsill height or use blinds and fixed drapes on each side. If you cover the radiator with the built-in, make sure you include a venting system for the hot air to enter the room. Drapes at the sides of window seats often provide a sense of enclosure and intimacy.
Dressing up the radiator is the best solution. Window treatments should be functional but not unsafe, so every effort should be taken to decorate the windows without inhibiting the radiator's function.