As any good interior decorator will tell you, choosing the right curtains for your window sill can completely change a room. With the correct curtain length, style, and material, your space can feel more spacious and cohesive, but with the wrong pair, it can quickly feel cramped and outdated. And while there is no universal "right" curtain length, there are a few guidelines you can follow to find the most flattering curtains for the room.
To make choosing curtains a bit simpler of a task, we've created this handy guide to curtains. Below, we're answering common questions about decorating with curtains, hang curtains, and breaking down everything you need to know to choose the right curtain length for your window treatments.
How do I know what length curtains to buy for my window frame?
The right curtain length depends on a few factors, including window size and style, the set-up of the room, and your personal interior design tastes. Here are a few tips on how to choose the right curtain length for your windows:
- While shorter curtains appear a bit more choppy, they can be incredibly practical in certain set-ups, such as homes with small children or pets.
- For safety reasons, be sure to leave plenty of clearance room below curtains hung above radiators and heaters.
- Depending on the type of curtain rod you choose, you may need to subtract an inch or two of length to accommodate different clips and rings.
Standard curtain lengths
As you shop for curtains, you'll notice a few standard curtain lengths designed to fit common window sizes:
- 64 inches
- 84 inches
- 96 inches
- 108 inches
- 120 inches
While these aren't the only curtain lengths out there, they are the most widely available. When in doubt, opt for a longer length rather than a shorter one. You can always hem ready-made curtains or have a pair custom-made for an oddly-sized window.
Thanks to its ceiling-raising effect, the most common curtain length is full-length curtains that touch the floor. Their long vertical lines make your ceilings feel taller and bring a slightly formal feel to the room.
To reduce dust build-up, the bottom of the curtain should hang just off the floor. While longer puddled styles offer a more dramatic look, they aren't very practical— especially in homes with kids with sticky fingers or pets who may claw and climb up your window treatments.
Similarly, hanging floor-length curtains from the wall's highest point can make the room feel more spacious. Visually, it elongates the space and draws the eye upwards, helping your ceilings appear higher than they actually are. They look particularly dramatic in rooms that already have high ceilings. Like full-length curtains, they're not the best window treatments for homes with pets or small children.
Though they have a reputation of looking outdated, short cafe curtains are a great option for bathrooms, kitchens, and other places where you may want a bit more privacy. While they're an obvious choice for small windows, they can also be placed on the bottom half of larger two-panel windows.
How far should curtains be off the floor?
While you'll want to avoid creating the dreaded 'high-water' effect with curtains that are too short, full-length curtains that are too long can be a major pain. Curtains that drag on the ground can easily become a tripping hazard or hide a collection of dirt and debris.
As a rule of thumb, your curtains should hang around 1/2 inch off the floor. This creates the illusion of curtains that skim the floor while still allowing enough room for you to vacuum or sweep away dust bunnies.
How long should curtains hang below the window sill?
While shorter curtains often get a bad reputation, they're incredibly practical for a window that's next to a table or above a heater. If you opt for short curtains, you'll need to be sure they're proportionate to your window frame. In most cases, your curtains should hang around three inches below the window sill and around five to ten inches above the top of the window frame.
To create a cohesive look, you'll want your curtains to hit perpendicular to another line in your space. For example, shorter curtains could hit at the top of a bedroom baseboard or along a chair rail in your dining room.
How do I find the right curtain width?
Though often overlooked, curtain width is just as important as curtain length. Here are a few tips on how to find the best curtain width for your specific windows:
- You'll want to ensure your curtains cover the entire window without letting light or cold air slip through along the sides. Give your curtains at least ten to twelve inches on each side of the window frame for proper coverage.
- Your curtains should be wide enough to look full both when they are open and when they are closed. It typically takes around two times the width of your windows to achieve the fullness you're looking for.
- While wider curtains create a fuller, more dramatic, gathered effect, they can feel a bit bulky in certain spaces. Most decorators recommend sticking to lightweight or sheer fabrics if you opt for a gathered look.
Standard curtain widths
As you curtain shop, you'll notice most window curtains have one of these standard curtain widths:
- 45 inches
- 65 inches
- 90 inches
- 130 inches
When it comes to curtain shopping, prioritize curtain length over width. Unlike curtain length, you won't need to be as precise when it comes to curtain width. Keeping your width options open will give you more curtains to choose from. Because your curtains will often be partially pulled back or gathered at the sides, it won't matter as much if they have an extra inch or two on each side.
How to Measure for Curtains
Measuring your window for curtains is relatively straightforward. All you'll really need are two simple measurements: length and width. While you can measure for curtains on your own, it's far easier to do so (especially if you're measuring a larger window) with two sets of hands.
First, grab a measuring tape, a step stool or ladder, and a piece of paper to jot your measurements down before you forget. Start by measuring the window itself to get an accurate read on the overall size of the window so you can keep it in mind as you shop.
Next, to measure for curtain length, measure from where you'll place the curtain rod (typically four inches above the top of the window trim) to the floor or intended stopping point below the windowsill. Alternatively, for floor-to-ceiling curtains, measure from the high point of the ceiling to the ground. Remember to leave around 1/2 inch of clearance room between the curtains and the floor.
Finally, to measure for curtain width, measure the window width and add ten to twelve inches on each side. Remember to consider increasing the width for a fuller appearance.
Heads up, curtain measurements are always written with the width first and length second.
Choosing Curtain Rods
There are many curtain rods style to choose from, and each offers a different feel to the room. Rod pocket curtains are more traditional and do not require any clips or rings. While grommet-style curtain rods have rings in the curtains that are inserted through the curtain rod.
Curtains Dos And Don'ts
- Do hang your curtain panels at least a few inches above the window frame.
- Don't hang the curtain rod within the window frame.
- Do ensure your curtain panels are wide enough for full coverage when close and open.
- Don't hang curtain panels lengths that are too short. If you are going for floor-length curtain style, they should skim the ground.
Curtain Styling Tips
- Sheer curtains are a great finishing touch to your window treatment.
- For a formal look, go for floor-length curtains that go from above your window frame all the way to the floor.
- Creative options to create privacy for certain windows is to make a privacy screen in front—for example, your bathroom windows.
- Need ideas for your dining room? Check out our creative ways to style your dining room curtains.