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Decorating Advice

How to Measure for a Curtain Rod

By 08/20/2010October 19th, 202039 Comments

The most common mistake that people make when measuring for off-the-shelf drapery is the rod itself. I see this mistake so often that I decided to write a post so that at least all my readers will be in the know.

And, if you want to know which colour you should choose for your curtain rod, read this post too.

curtain rods

How to measure for a curtain rod

First, you need to know that your drapery rod should generally be 10 – 15 inches longer on each side of the window to allow for the fabric to hang on each side.

In the two photos below, it appears as if the drapery rod is not much longer than the window (obviously intentional in this case, as a designer decorated these rooms). But, the problem is that the fabric then covers part of the window and most of us want as much light as possible coming into the room, right?!

How to measure curtain rod

Interior Design by Steven Gambrel

how to hang drapes

So, the proper way to measure for your curtain rod is to have the ‘stack’ of excess drapery hanging beside the window, not on top of it. This means your curtain rod measurements should extend past the width of your window.

Here’s an example of what that looks like.

How to hang curtains

Notice the window on the left side of the room where you can just see the edge of the window casing nearly lines up with the edge of the curtain. Keeping the curtains at the edge of the window allows the maximum light into this room and makes the windows appear larger.

In the image above, the curtain rods help bring the different sized windows together in this room. Because the curtain rods are aligned at the top, it creates the illusion that the curtains and windows are a similar width and height. 

Blue Drapes
The window above is probably the same size as the ones in the earlier image with blue walls, but the rod is longer on each side of the window here, leaving enough room for the drapery to just cover the casing which makes the window look bigger in addition to adding softness and vertical height to the room.

double up on window panels

Here’s another curtain rod tip: Make sure you buy at least two panels for each side. Even if you don’t plan to close them it should look like you could. There’s nothing worse than one panel hanging like it’s on a clothesline (so flat) on your rod when it’s drawn—that’s when it really looks like Ikea – instead of designer! 

Window shutters on your exterior should also look like they could close.

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me for online or in-person consultations.

Related posts:

Interior Design may look easy—It’s not
3 Things I learned about Design while Decorating for my Mother
Easy way to Create Drama with Drapery

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  • courteneykay says:

    great post! I agree that this is a common mistake.

    Just yesterday I picked up drapes that I had made for our new house and I am trying to decide what drapery rod to purchase. You answered my question about how far to extend the rod on each side of the window!!

    It would be interesting to see what types of drapery rods people are liking the most right now. (big wooden rods or smaller diameter iron rods??) I know that I went through a phase where all I wanted was the biggest wooden rod I could find. Now I find myself leaning towards smaller diameter rods than I have in the past.

  • Donna says:

    Maria–Thank you so much! I never thought of that. I can't wait to fix my windows and curtain rods. What a fabulous idea!

    It seems so obvious that I'm surprised I never thought about that. I have always installed rods that were a little wider than the windows..but not a lot.

    You are so smart! Thanks for sharing the tip. :o)


  • Teresa Hatfield says:

    I learn something new on your blog each time I read ti. Thank you for your excellent advice!
    Teresa (Splendid Sass)

  • Ideezine says:


    Great information for clients to read which helps when draperies are being selected. As a designer you can explain these points but they are understood better by reading them.

    There's an excellent iPhone app called Drapery calculator which is perfect for calculating draperies custom made and readymade. Widths, lengths, seams allowances, stack back considerations etc. Worth having especially if you keep window measurments with you and run into a solution by happy coincidence.


  • Rebecca says:

    I am in love with the draperies in the last photo.
    Yes, another great post! When a room allows drapes should extend on each side of the windows. I have different sized windows in our bedroom. By extending one of the draperies and not the other just a bit I make the windows look the same size. Another hint is that bedrooms benefit from drapers v just valances as it makes the room feel less box like.

  • Mary says:

    High and wide! That's my motto for drapes.

  • Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions says:

    Great topic, Maria! I always explain to my clients that drapery should "frame" the window. We don't want to cover it up because we want to see the actual window and get as much light in as possible. Up and out is my motto with drapery hardware!

  • Tammy@InStitches says:

    It is a bummer when the builder puts the window so close to the corner that you can't go out any or worse… there's no room for a finial on one side !

    • Drea says:

      Yes! I am dealing with this right now. An oversized fireplace between two windows that butts up to the window mounding and less than three inches from the corner on the other side of the window.
      I think I may still hang one panel (worried that the usual two would be way too much and block what little light I have) of a sheer curtain and then have the French doors that are in the opposite wall extend properly. The French door mounding is only 26.5 inches away from the corner. It’s a rather dark living room that opens into a Cherry kitchen that is also dark.
      No designer here so it’s a dilemma for sure

  • Angela N says:

    I love that you posted this today. I have my rods out and am ready to hang them! What perfect timing!! I will definitely make sure that the rod is wide enough to hang without obstructing the windows.

    My next question is what about the height?? I will be hanging my drapes right next to my kitchen cabinets. Should I hang the rod at the same level as the crown molding from the cabinets, or should I go to the ceiling?? I will be sewing the drapes myself, so length isn't really an issue. The windows are kind of squatty so I definitely know I want to visually raise the height by hanging the rods higher.

  • Belinda says:

    So glad I learned this info before having someone make my drapes for my living room! Thanks so much Maria! I have looked at different heights that the rods are hung in designed rooms but never the widths. Wow

  • Charlotte's Color Specialist says:

    Side stack, rod width, returns, overlaps, ease – oh the memories of drapery design. That's how I got most of my gray hairs!

    Great points. Fullness, stack and height are key. I like to bring mine very close to the ceiling for the illusion of a very impressive window.

    I think the biggest fopaux is the "IKEA" syndrome. Skinny drapery!

    Great post Maria!
    (sorry for the delete – typo)

  • suzros says:

    Great post and I have a question….In a multi-angled, irregular bay, what is the piece that allows the turning of the corners?

  • Ijeoma says:

    Very sound advice!

    Enjoy your weekend.

  • Mona Thompson says:

    Nice post and I enjoy the comments as well. I'm going to download the I-phone app Drapery calculator. sounds like it could be useful. Have a great weekend. Mona

  • Dovecote Decor says:

    The post had wonderful drapery examples, but the last comment was really helpful. Can you believe there is an i-phone drapery app? I feel deprived that I don't have one. I'm going to explore a few more posts. Thanks,

  • Debra Phillips says:

    brilliantly simple, you are such a great teacher/giver/sharer….thanks

  • Grace @ Sense and Simplicity says:

    If you buy 2 drapes for each side, do you attempt to sew them together or just hang them side-by-side? I've done both, but pondered what is the correct thing to do.

  • traci zeller designs says:

    I so hear you! I'm with Mary – HIGH and WIDE is my motto. But – as Tammy@InStitches mentioned – I'm totally suffering in my own dining room. The windows are very close to the end of the walls, so I had to have the draperies made only a width (although they could still close) AND they still hang partly over the window. It makes the room so much darker. I've added lighting but I'm still considering removing the plantation shutters underneath the drapes to let in as much light as possible.

    • Ellen says:

      I used plantation shutters on the front (inside) of my house in lieu of drapes. I don’t know that I’ve seen both used together which, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t. I don’t know that I’d do it even my rooms were large, but your space may be much bigger.

  • Penny says:

    Maria we have two different sized windows, one is higher than the other too. Should we put the curtains at the same height and have more of the wall showing than the other, or have the rods at the same height but have them uneven in the living room. I hope that is easy to understand. Thanks

  • Debbie Burrus says:

    Great information, thank you! I’m excited about making drapes for our living room but need help with a couple of things.
    One narrow, long window is at the end of the room above the stairs as they begin to the upstairs bedrooms. All the other drapes in the room will be floor length but floor length for this particular one would have way too much material on the stairs, wouldn’t it? Is the alternative to make the length the same as the lowest stair that it will be resting on?

  • SUZANNE REID says:

    Hi Maria,
    Thank you for the drapery tips. All the rooms in my house have one window that is cornered up against another wall. So if I followed your rule regarding the 10-15 inch longer, one side of the window would have the extra length but the other side wouldn’t because it is up against the other wall. Hope that makes sense. Any suggestions?

  • Bhagwant says:

    Great tip. I never thought about that before. Thank you

  • Nina says:

    Hi! I was curious about windows that have molding around them. Then where does the 10-15 inches rule apply. From the window or the molding?


    • Maria Killam says:

      It can start at the moulding but it also depends on how many panels you have ie. how big your windows are. The point is, have the curtains stack against the wall, sometimes that just takes 7 inches if your panels are skinny an unlined.

  • Debra Joy says:

    Hello Maria.

    I have a very open concept early 70s home. Very simple design. I am updating the curtains and rods. I;m using an oiled bronze rod to add some warmth to the room. I have big windows with not much space in between them. Currently I have simple curtains that gather at the top. They cut into the window because I can’t reach the pole out 15 inches on both sides. If I got curtains with grommets they would fold better and take up less space but I can only find brushed nickel grommets. Do you think it’s ok to mix the colours like that?

    • Maria Killam says:

      No. I wouldn’t mix them with a different rod. Maria

      • Diane Donald says:

        Should you purchase rods before curtains or curtains before rods? Just in case you want to match the rod to the grommet, kinda like Debra who can only find the brushed nickel grommet curtains but has a bronze rod? Thanks. I just found your site today and luv, luv, luv it.

        • Maria Killam says:

          That’s right if you’re not doing custom, better to find the curtains first in this case. Maria

  • Elaine LaBalbo says:

    This was so helpful! I am sitting with my laptop in my bedroom–walked right over to the windows and pulled the drapes back so that the stack is hanging beside the window, not over it. Looks so much better! Who knew? (You, obviously!)

    Need to rehang one of my window treatments in the bathroom–one window is higher than the other, so will move the lower rod up so that it’s even with the other. The valances were already the same length. So simple, but I didn’t know.

    Thanks again!

  • Sarah H Drury says:

    I love your post!

  • Tammara says:

    Great article! My issue is that I have 5 windows in a 10×10 room, one side of the two windows are close to the wall so if I do extend the rod past the window’s edge it can only be on one side, wonder if will look odd?

  • JV says:

    Thank you for such a helpful article and for your rod color article. I do have a question. We removed a window from our master bedroom and turned it into a big slider that has one fixed side and one sliding side. Do we go with one long rod or do two rods? You’re probably going to say one long one.

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