Correctly measuring is more involved than you might think.
West Elm Belgian Flax Linen Curtains in Olive
Credit: Courtesy of West Elm

Choosing the right curtain length can make or break a room. Professional designers follow one hard and fast rule in order to achieve the perfect dimensions, says Kati Curtis of Kati Curtis Design. "Your curtains should graze the floor," the interior designer explains. But how you achieve this—by correctly measuring your window and ordering your fabric—is what's most essential to creating a streamlined finished space. Ahead, Curtis explains the necessary steps to choosing the right curtain length for your room.

How to Measure for Curtains

Hanging curtains higher and wider than your window prevents them from blocking light and air from your windows during the day. Instead, use woven or solar shades mounted inside the frame to add shade when you need it, says Curtis. This makes your windows feel bigger and your space feel brighter. But for curtains, it's all about measuring properly. "Typically, 10 is your magic number, with 10 inches above the trim and 10 inches wider than your window on each side being the best fit," says Curtis. "If you don't have that much width, cut it in half and do 4 or 5 inches instead." And if you're working with higher ceilings, use those to determine your curtain placement: "Your curtain rod or hardware should either be at the ceiling, just below your crown molding, or 12 to 24 inches above the window trim," she says.

Curtis also recommends taking several measurements from the planned top of your curtain to the floor. "Always field measure," she says. "Most homes have floors and ceilings that aren't anywhere close to being level, so it's important to take multiple measurements along the width of your curtains so that they can be fabricated to adjust for this."

Buying Standard Length Curtains

Standard curtains come in three lengths—84 inches, 96 inches, or 108 inches. "Generally, you want to stay away from the 84 inch standard curtains unless you have very low ceilings. They don't look right in most scenarios and end up being an awkward length," says Curtis. The 96 inch and 108 inch lengths work in a wider range of typical spaces. Round to whichever length is closest to your measurements, Curtis suggests.  "And when in doubt, err on the side of longer rather than awkwardly short," she says. That rule stands even if your curtains will land behind a piece of furniture: "I never try to fake it," says Curtis. "You'll be able to tell as the curtains won't have as much physical and visual weight to them."

Investing in Custom Curtains

While you might be able to make a case for standard curtains in a room you plan to redo—like your kids' rooms or a soon-to-be-renovated office—Curtis encourages custom curtains over standard lengths in every situation. Asking a local tailor to hem pre-made curtains according to your measurements is a budget-friendly way to get a custom look, but working with a professional designer has countless benefits. "People generally have no idea what goes into making window treatments or the investment they can be," says Curtis. A designer can make sure your curtains are exactly the right length, even if your floor isn't level; help you choose a print or pattern that works best for the size of your curtains and your space; and leave you with a polished finished product that's worth the extra cost. "I recommend always working with a designer to make sure the scale and pattern works with the scale of the curtain and everything else you have going on in the room," says Curtis. "Window treatments can be a tremendous investment for your home, and not something you want to make a mistake on."


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