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curtains 101 - the best ways to hang your curtains

Curtains. They’re often one of the last things that people think about during a room refresh, but they make SUCH a big difference, both functionally and aesthetically. But there are a great many mysteries surrounding them, mostly because there are so many variables – height, width, length, how full, all the different header styles. It’s a lot!

I’m not starting with telling you where to buy amazing curtains. Why? Because I don’t want you to get all click-happy and buy curtains that are lovely but the wrong size for your space! But don’t worry, that’s coming next week.

First things first – let’s set the foundation. We’re going to break the curtain mysteries down and help you plan for the right size and type of curtains for your space. In this post we’ll cover:

  • Sizing – how high, wide, and long your curtains should be

  • Fullness – calculating the width of panels you need

  • Hardware – how to get the custom curtain look

  • Layering – is layering curtains with shades and shutters okay?

  • Rods – choosing the right diameter

Let’s dive in!

Curtain Sizing

Starting with the most important element of all – getting the right size curtains and hanging them correctly to make your windows and your space feel larger. Most people buy curtains that are too short and hang them too close to the window. You want to get that rod up high, close to your ceiling or crown moulding, and go 10” – 12” past the width of your window on either side. The curtains should just kiss the floor. It makes your window appear almost double.

I’m going to briefly get on my curtain soapbox. Curtains are sold in standard heights of 7’, 8’, and 9’. Standard ceilings are 8’, 9’, and 10’. This means that no matter what you do, your curtains off the shelf are going to be too long or too short. It boggles the mind that the manufacturers have not remedied this! They should sell them at 7’-6”, 8’-6”, 9’-6”, etc. Take note, curtain manufacturers, and make our lives easier!! Rant over.

The good news is that there’s a fix. If you’re going to buy ready-made curtains (no shame in that game, we do it all the time) buy a size longer than you need and hem them. You can do this yourself if you can sew a straight-ish line, or almost any tailor can do this for around $15-$40 per panel, depending on the fabric.

hang curtains higher


This is another common curtain pitfall – curtains that aren’t wide enough for their window. The fullness calculations for windows can get really complicated for custom windows, but let’s make it simple.

You want the curtains to look beautiful when they are closed, and not like a flat sheet that you just tacked up to the rod. Take the width of your window, multiply by 1.5 or 2, and that’s how many inches of curtain width you need to cover your window well.

If you have really wide windows, this means that you may need to double up panels at the end to get that fullness. If you aren’t going to actually close the curtains, and they are just for looks, you can skip this step and just do singles, but it will look soooooo much better if you double up!


This is the element that will set your window apart and take it from looking regular to looking designer. Adding curtain rings and clips instantly elevates the look of your space.

You can find ready-made curtains that are made to work with drapery hooks (it will say so right in the description). You can add drapery hooks and rings to give the top (or header) of your curtains that ripple-fold look. The rings are also amazing for functionality – they allow the curtains to slide much more easily along the rod. In my opinion, rings are a must for any functioning curtains over 8’ long.

Some curtains will even allow you to use special pinch pleating hooks that can allow you to create more intricate header styles.

Keep in mind that if you do begin to use this hardware to pleat your curtains, you’re going to create “pinch points” that draw the fabric closer together. That means that when you stretch the curtains out, they aren’t going to be as wide as they would if you hung them on standard hooks or without hooks. Consider adding additional panels to the side if your curtains are going to be functional!

In my experience, if your windows are 3’ wide, you can add the fancy hooks and a pair will still cover your window well! At 4’ wide, it starts to become too narrow.

If you decide not to try the curtain rings (but you totally should!) look for curtains with a “back tab” header style. That allows a tab to slip over the rod and create a similar look to curtain rings, though they won’t be as easy to open and close.


Are you needing extra lighting or privacy control, or do you like a more layered look? It’s totally acceptable (and quite lovely) to layer curtains on top of shutters or woven shades. We love pairing a white linen curtain with a woven wood shade, or a patterned curtain with plantation shutters.

This gives you ultimate flexibility. You can do blackout panels and let the shade be light filtering. Or the curtains can simply be decorative, and you get the function totally from the shutters. The choice is yours!


Another way your otherwise amazing curtains can flop is if you use dinky hardware. It would be like pairing your once-in-a-lifetime wedding dress with dollar-store earrings. Don’t spend the money on curtains and rings and then string them on a thin rod, especially if you’re covering a long span.

A standard 3’ wide window looks fine with a .75” diameter rod, but if you’re spanning a large window or multiple small windows, jumping to a 1.25” or 1.5” diameter rod gives support to all of that fabric, and visually it just looks better.

Alright friend! You have all the info you need to choose the right size curtains and hardware for your space!

Now you're ready to head over to Part 2 - Curtains 201, and our roundup of our favorite ready made curtains and hardware!


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