What is the rule for curtains?

When it comes to choosing curtains for your home, there are a few key rules to follow. The right curtains can transform a room, adding style, privacy and warmth. Get the curtains wrong and a room can end up looking drab, dated or awkward. Follow these simple curtain rules and you’ll have stylish windows every time.

Consider the Room and Window Size

One of the golden rules for curtains is to consider the proportions of the room and windows. Curtains that are too small or too large for a window can throw off the symmetry of a room. An easy guideline is for curtains to be mounted as close to the ceiling as possible, extending to around 15 centimeters (6 inches) above the floor. Here are some general rules for curtain sizing:

  • For small windows, choose curtains that are at least double the width of the window. This creates a luxurious, draped effect.
  • For larger windows, choose widths that are 1.5 times the width of the window or wider. Anything less than 1.5 times will look undersized.
  • For floor-to-ceiling drapes, panels should be 1.2 to 1.5 times the length of the window.
  • The golden rule is for curtains to ‘puddle’ nicely on the floor, meaning they stack up a bit at the ends.

Curtains that are too narrow or short for a window create an unbalanced look. Make sure to measure carefully before purchasing curtains to achieve the right proportions for the space.

Choose the Right Curtain Style

The style of your curtains can dramatically affect the look and feel of a room. Consider what style best suits the existing décor and proportions of the space. Here are some popular curtain styles to consider:

Pencil pleat

Pencil pleat curtains feature neat, uniform pleats sewn into the top header of the curtain. The pleats are narrow and resemble pencil lines. Pencil pleats create a tailored, elegant look. They work especially well for formal spaces and rooms with traditional or transitional style decor.

Pinch pleat

Pinch pleat curtains have wide, billowy pleats that stand out more than pencil pleats. The voluminous folds result in a softer, fuller curtain style. Pinch pleats work well for casual spaces like family rooms. They create a relaxed, effortless look.

Goblet pleat

Goblet pleat curtains feature pleats that cup outwards in a curved shape resembling a goblet glass. Goblet pleats create a more contemporary, sculptural look compared to other pleat styles. They add drama and sophistication to modern spaces.

Tab top

Tab top curtains have small fabric tabs sewn into the top back of the curtain header. The tabs allow the curtain to hang on slim, discreet curtain hooks rather than a traditional wider curtain rod. Tab tops create a clean, uncluttered look ideal for minimalist spaces.

Rod pocket

Rod pocket curtains feature a pocket sewn into the top back of the curtain. A curtain rod fits through the pocket, allowing the curtains to slide smoothly along the rod. Rod pocket curtains have a casual, relaxed look perfect for coastal cottages or laid-back spaces.

Back tab

Back tab curtains have fabric tabs sewn into the back top edges of the curtain panels. The tabs hook over a curtain rod to hang the curtains. Back tab curtains have a light, billowy look that adds grace and movement to a room.


Eyelet curtains have holes or grommets worked into the top header to thread curtain rings or a rod through. The holes create a pretty decorative effect. Choose eyelet curtains to add a touch of delicacy and charm to a space.

Consider the overall decorating style of a room before selecting curtain styles. The right style can enhance the intended look and atmosphere of a space.

Pick the Perfect Length

Curtain lengths help set the tone of a room, from formal floor-length drapes to casual sill-length panels. Follow these guidelines for getting the right curtain lengths:

  • Floor length: These puddle elegantly on the floor and are good for formal spaces and making windows appear taller. Leave 1-3 inches puddling for the right effect.
  • Sill length: These fall to the window sill and have a relaxed vibe. They allow more light into a room.
  • Cafe length: Cafe curtains are short and fall to just below the window frame. They’re casual and work well in kitchens or beach houses.
  • Puddle length: Puddle curtains fall somewhere between the sill and floor. They softly stack around 8-12 inches on the floor.

Mixing up curtain lengths in one room creates visual interest. You may opt for floor length curtains on main windows and sill length on accent windows, for example.

Select Suitable Fabrics

Fabric choice has a big impact on the overall effect of curtains. Lightweight fabrics like voile and muslin have an airy, ethereal effect that works with romantic or cottage styles. Medium weight fabrics like cotton, linen or velvet offer body and structure. They suit traditional decorating schemes. Heavy fabrics like brocade and dupioni silk convey luxury. The texture and drapability of the fabric will influence how it hangs and stacks as curtains.

Lighter curtains allow more sunlight into a room while heavier drapes block light and insulation windows. Also consider the opacity of fabrics. Sheers let in light while allowing visibility and privacy. Blackout lining blocks all light and is good for bedrooms or media rooms.

Common Curtain Fabrics

Fabric Characteristics
Cotton Natural fiber; breathable; machine washable; versatile
Linen Natural fiber; textured; relaxed look; durable
Polyester Durable, budget-friendly; wrinkle and fade resistant; retains pleats
Silk Luxurious; delicate; drapes beautifully; expensive
Velvet Plush pile; elegant drape; shows wear; absorbs sound
Voile Sheer; lightweight; airy; layers well

Select curtain fabric according to the level of light control, privacy and insulation you need, as well as the overall decorating style of the room.

Mind the Details

Some smaller yet important details can make or break your curtains. Follow these tips:

  • Lining – Lining curtains adds body, protects the fabric from sunlight and provides insulation.
  • Interlining – Adding interlining between the main fabric and lining helps insulate curtains even more.
  • Curtain weights – Sew weights into the bottom hems to help curtains hang neatly and prevent billowing.
  • Top treatment -Pretty headings at the top like contrast bands or trims create a polished look.
  • Side hems – Thicker side hems keep curtains hanging straight without twisting or curling.
  • Breaks – Vertical breaks every 18-24 inches on wide curtain panels add definition and prevent pulling.

Paying attention to construction and finishing helps curtains maintain their beauty and function over the long term.

Curtain Styles to Avoid

While most curtain styles have potential if used well, some notoriously tricky types are best avoided by novice decorators:

Tension rods

Tension rod curtains may seem like an easy shortcut, but they rarely look good. The rods sag over time, causing curtains to dip unattractively in the center. Opt for proper curtain rods instead for a polished look.

Tier curtains

Tier curtains with short overlapping layers were a popular staple in the 90s. However, the fussy overdone look is dated now. Keep things simple with single panel curtains or opt for softly draped cascading styles instead.

Cafe door curtains

Half circle cafe door curtains can make spaces feel cutesy and cluttered. They also lose their shape easily. For small doorways, opt for discreet panel track curtains instead.


Burlap is a popular curtain choice for its rustic vibe. But the fabric’s rough, scratchy texture quickly starts to look worn and dingy when used for curtains. Consider linen or cotton instead for a similar look with more longevity.

Balloon valances

Balloon valances with puffy, rounded shapes tend to look dated and overdone now. Sleek, minimalist curtain styles with clean lines have wider appeal.

Following the trendiest curtain styles may lead you astray. Focus instead on classic shapes and proportions for timeless appeal.

Get the Hardware Right

Choosing suitable curtain rods and other hardware completes the look:

  • Rods should extend 2-3 inches beyond the window frame on either side, so curtains can be pulled fully shut.
  • Diameter depends on curtain weight. Go with 1-1.5 inch rods for sheers up to 3 inch rods for heavy drapes.
  • Metal rods suit modern and contemporary spaces, while wood works for traditional and cottage style rooms.
  • Heavy duty traverse rods easily open and close curtains, especially for wide windows or sliding doors.
  • Curtain rings with clips or pin hooks attach fabric panels neatly and securely to the rod.

Choosing hardware that works smoothly, holds weight and suits the decor is key to properly hanging curtains.

Follow the Sunlight Rules

Sunlight streaming in windows has a big effect on curtains. Follow these guidelines for best results:

  • North facing windows have diffused light. Choose lightweight curtains to brighten up the space.
  • South facing windows get harsh direct light. Go with heavier, lined curtains to protect fabrics from the sun.
  • East facing windows get hot morning light. Medium weight curtains that filter light nicely are ideal.
  • West facing windows get strong afternoon light. Choose blackout lined curtains to prevent fading.

Knowing the light conditions helps select window treatments that stand up well over time. Factor in sunlight when deciding on curtain materials and linings.

Mind the Scale & Hanging

Follow the general guidelines for curtain scale and hanging:

  • Mount curtains as close to the ceiling as possible to maximize the illusion of height.
  • Extend curtain rods to around 4-6 inches wider than the window for proper light blocking.
  • Hang panels high and wide enough to cover edges of the window for clean lines.
  • Allow about a half inch of stack back to prevent rubbing on window trim or walls.

Hanging curtains correctly ensures they drape beautifully and draw the eye upwards to make ceilings seem higher.

Layer Curtains Stylishly

Layering curtains creates an elegant, polished look. Follow these tips:

  • First layer: Flowy sheers hung inside the window frame soften sunlight and add privacy.
  • Second layer: Opaque panels in a complementary fabric mounted outside the frame layer nicely over sheers.
  • Vary textures and patterns for interest, like pairing linen sheers with velvet panels.
  • Make sure layered curtains have compatible proportions for a cohesive look.

Layering allows you to combine the light filtering properties of sheers with the stylish opaqueness of drapes. It creates a custom designer look.


Following basic guidelines on curtain size, style, fabrics, hardware and hanging helps ensure your curtains fit the space properly. Prioritize proportion and functionality as well as aesthetics. Mind the details from construction to finishing to create elegant windows. Avoid awkward styles and outdated looks. Most importantly, choose timeless curtains that enhance your decor rather than overpowering or competing with it. Curtains that fit the architecture and interior design create a harmonious, polished look you’ll enjoy for years to come.

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