Any drapery can serve the practical purpose of blocking light and boosting privacy, but a perfectly fitted treatment also can change the apparent size of a room, hide or correct awkward windows and give your space a sharp, orderly appearance, no matter if your aesthetic is traditional or modern. To help you get your curtains just right, here are some guidelines for height, width, installation and more.
Tall and Long
Even the humblest draperies can benefit from two key rules: In almost every scenario, the best place to hang a drapery is at the ceiling line — either right at the ceiling or just below a bulkhead or molding — and stretching down to the floor.
This gives the longest possible appearance, which can make small spaces look larger and large spaces look grand.
Whether the window is high or low, big or small, or even an odd shape, two simple floor-to-ceiling panels flanking it will clean up the look perfectly — especially when shut.
Having the curtains hit just at the floor (or about one-quarter inch above) is the most common contemporary look, but you can get a charming, romantic effect by letting them pool slightly on the floor.
In this case, let about 1 to 2 inches of material hit the floor to create a bit of buckling. Just be sure to keep the floor free of debris so that your curtains don’t turn into a dust broom.
Using pairs of panels on one long curtain rod or track is usually the most polished option, even for complex sets of windows, such as a bay window, or a wall with windows and patio doors.
In this example, a bay window with a bench is draped straight across like one large window. The curtains can be drawn closed on movie night or pulled wide open on a sunny day without the fuss and expense of covering each window with its own short curtain.
Wall to Wall
Another no-brainer approach is to simply curtain an area wall to wall. This helps erase any oddly placed windows and creates a clean plane, making for a beautiful backdrop to other design elements.
You can see through these sheers that this set of windows is very thin and high, but the potentially awkward visual is diffused by simply curtaining the entire wall.
In general, breezy off-white sheer curtains are a great way to cover any size, shape or number of windows, letting light filter in without weighing down the room.
However, solid curtains also can look fantastic wall to wall, especially if you layer furniture in front of them. You can even layer art or a mirror on them for added interest by including a slit in the curtain to allow a point of attachment back to the wall.
Keep in mind that if you choose a dark colour for wall-to-wall drapes, you’ll want to balance them with a dark object on the opposite side of the room. When in doubt, a light or midtone material will appear less heavy.
Fullness and Stacking
It’s important to remember that the literal width of a set of curtain panels shouldn’t simply equal the width of the curtain rod. This is for two important reasons: fullness and stacking.
Fullness refers to the fabric width needed to give the curtains a pleasant, natural wave (rather than trying to have them stretch tautly and awkwardly across a wall when closed).
Typical fullness for curtain width is 2½ times the rod width. Tripling the rod width is a more luxurious option, especially for thinner, flexible fabrics like sheers.
Stacking refers to the bunching up of curtains as they’re drawn open — all that folded fabric can squeeze together only so tightly and will still take up significant space on the rod when the curtains are open. This means that if you want a curtain to open fully and uncover a window completely, the rod or track will need extra length at the end to allow the curtain to “stack” out of the way of the window.
The exact stacking space required will vary greatly with material thickness and flexibility, so it’s best to consult an expert. However, as a general rule, a light, unlined curtain will require 10 to 15 percent of the panel width to stack, while a heavier, lined drape will need 20 to 25 per cent.
Therefore, if you want your drape to open wide enough to reveal the whole window, the rod or track should be this percentage wider than the window itself.
In situations where a lot of stacking space simply isn’t available, such as with adjacent windows like these, you may want to stick to lighter, breezier fabrics that won’t bunch up too much.
Alternatively, you can choose a rich fabric (with great light-blocking abilities) and simply accept that the curtains won’t draw open completely. This look can be quite stylish, and as long as the window or door is still operable when necessary, that’s all you really need.
A Note on Stacking
Besides taking up space, the stacking of patterned curtains can dramatically change their look from how they appear when drawn shut. When selecting a fabric, try to get your hands on a sizable sample so that you can see how the material looks folded. This will give you a much more accurate idea of how the curtains will look installed.
Notice how the curtain in this room goes from looking like a series of circles when shut to looking like perfect stripes when stacked. This can be quite a surprising change.
Another smart option for tight spaces is to use an in-window shade, rather than hanging a curtain. This can look sharply modern in a solid colour or more romantic and traditional in a charming pattern.
Either way, a shade that sits inside the window frame won’t need any extra stacking space at the sides. Instead, it will need to stack at the top, so again, a thinner fabric will ensure that you can reveal as much of the window as possible when the shade is up.
DIY for the Perfect Fit
Homes often have a fairly standard 8-foot ceiling height, so it can be possible to find a curtain in the appropriate length right out of a package (or with just a little hemming) without needing to go fully custom.
When this isn’t the case, a great DIY option can be to create colour-blocked curtains by choosing a curtain in two or more colours (usually best in the same material) and attaching a strip cut from one package to the end of another.
Confident sewers can use this method to turn packaged curtains into a fun and elegant look that fits their windows perfectly.