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How to Choose the Right Curtain Length

Living Room with Bali Curtains on windows.

When we think of curtain length, it helps to think of clothing. A pair of shorts has a very different sense of formality than a long pair of dress pants. And an ankle-length dress makes a different statement than a regal gown with yards of fabric piled on the floor.

The same thing goes for curtains and drapes. The length of a piece of drapery is its most powerful attribute. The effect of specific drapery lengths is so pronounced that curtain length is as important as the fabric you choose. And that’s why measuring for your drapery—and knowing what to measure—is so important.

How to Measure Your Window for Curtains and Drapes

Man measuring his windows for curtains

Bali offers a complete guide to measuring your windows for curtains and drapery. This guide outlines the simple steps you should follow when placing your order. But here is the process in a nutshell.

Length is the Primary Factor

Bali curtains in a living room

Measuring begins with decision-making. Begin with deciding how high you want to mount your curtains. Curtain rods should be mounted above the window casing. There are designers who think ten inches above the window is a fine place to install a curtain rod, although most people choose three or four inches. An extra tall set of drapes can present a stately look—but it can also look out of proportion in some rooms. Only you know what effect you’re looking for—so trust your instincts.

The next consideration for length is how far do you want your drapery to hang. There are several options that we’ll talk about later. But the important thing to remember is that the drapery length measurement is the distance from the top of the curtain rod down to where you would like the bottom edge of the drapery to stop.

Once you’ve decided on how high and how low your drapery should go, be confident. Make a choice. You’re going to have a great-looking window.

Total Width

You will need to measure the width—which determines the dimensions of the curtain rod as well as how wide the drapery will be. And while you’re at it, you’ll also take a moment to measure the projection of the curtain rod.

The width measures the face of the curtain rod or decorative pole. The projection is the distance from the wall to the front of the rod or pole.

When deciding on the width of the curtain rod, it is largely a matter of choice. There are designers who suggest that ten is a magic number—ten inches on either side of the window as well as mounting the rod ten inches above the window—but there really is no “rule of 10” or any other hard-and-fast rules because no two windows or rooms are the same.

But there is a general guideline when it comes to width: it is widely accepted that the curtain rod should extend at least four inches to either side of the window and can extend much farther to accommodate the curtains when they are in the open position (known as “stack back”). In some instances—such as when the drapes are made of thick material that makes a big, fat stack when the window is open—the curtain rod can be more than one-third longer than the total width of the window.

Bali offers a complete guide to measuring your windows for curtains and drapery. The guide also outlines the simple steps you should follow when placing your order.

Standard Curtain Lengths

Before you take out your metal tape measure, take a minute to consider what you you’re looking for in your drapery. The place to start is curtain length.

Premade curtains come in a number of standard lengths, including 63 inches, 84 inches, 94 inches, 108 inches and 120 inches. The problem with these standard lengths is that they might not fit your home’s unique measurements.

The best way to ensure that your drapery fits just as it should is to order custom drapery.

Curtain Length Styles

Custom drapery allows you to pick a length that displays a particular aesthetic or conveys a certain mood. Over the centuries, five basic styles have emerged related to drapery length.

Sill length

Runs almost down to the sill. A light and casual feel.

Apron length

Runs just past the bottom of the window apron. Tidy and practical.

Floor length

Stops two inches from the floor. Confident, chic. Very popular length.

Trouser length

Breaks at the floor. Clean, sophisticated. Works well with crisp fabrics.

Puddle length

Piles up on the floor. Regal, dramatic. The ball gown of window treatments.

Custom Curtain Lengths

Bali curtains in a living room

Notice that these five styles aren’t predetermined measurements—84 inches, 120 inches, etc.—but rather time-tested ways of deciding how you’d like your drapery to look. Choosing Bali custom drapery allows you to pick one of these styles to achieve a particular effect—and have it fit your window perfectly.

Using your measurements, Bali custom crafts drapery to your window’s specifications, meaning your floor-length curtains stop two inches from the floor and your puddle-length drapery piles up dramatically. Custom drapery gives you the right style—fit perfectly to your unique window.

Three Simple Measurements and One Decision to Achieve Perfect Results

To get the perfect style and fit, all you need to do is provide the three easy measurements we talked about earlier—projection of the curtain rod, width of the rod, and length of the drapery. Using those measurements, Bali will custom make a drapery with just the right amount of fullness and depth for your window.

The biggest challenge for you isn’t measuring but deciding on the length of the drapery.

  • Do you want a casual, airy feeling for a kitchen or foyer? Try a sill-length curtain.
  • Looking for a bit more formality? Try apron length.
  • Seeking to endow your dining room with a sense of formality and sophistication? You couldn’t go wrong with a trouser-length or puddle-length drapery.
  • Do you want a drapery in your living room that blends in with the décor but still exudes confidence? Try a floor-length drapery.

Selecting Curtains

There’s one principle that will help you the most when selecting the right drapery for your home: all things being equal, the longer the drapery, the more formal the effect.

So, the a helpful thing to consider when purchasing drapery is the level of formality. What is the room used for? Is it a room just for you and your immediate family, or is it for entertaining guests? If it’s for guests, what sort of mood or message do you want to convey? The answers to these questions will help to guide you in choosing the right curtain length and fabric.

One mistake people often make is going too formal. Nothing beats a puddle-length drapery for conveying formality and elegance, but this length is not always practical—the excess fabric makes it difficult to open and close and can be stepped on by careless or unwary guests. Lightening up a bit and choosing a floor-length curtain is often a better choice.

Consider the Overall Look

Bali curtains in a living room

A great way to look at your drapery is to consider where it fits with the rest of the décor. Do you want your drapery to take center stage? Would you like it to echo other similar elements in the color scheme? Or, would you like your drapery to fade into the background?

Determining what role your curtains or drapery is going to play will help you determine the fabric and length. A trouser-length set of drapes in a traditional living room can add formality without going overboard. A sill-length set of curtains in a playful pastel can liven up a mudroom or utility room. Apron-length curtains are perfect for most kitchens.

Window size, shape, and height can also help determine drapery length. Low profile windows that are set up high are often best served with a sill- or apron-length cut. Tall windows that run all the way to the floor are perfect for trouser-length or puddle-length drapery. And the floor-length cut fits the largest number of windows and should always be considered.

The same sort of thinking should guide your fabric choice. Think about the overall effect you want to get out of your window treatment. A bright color can offset some of the formality of a tall set of drapes. That same bright color can supercharge the cheerful look of sill-length curtains. Dark colors, neutral earthtones, and traditional patterns have the opposite effect and can create a sense of calm and sophistication.

It never hurts to sketch out your ideas on paper. Even if you’re not a great draughtsman—few of us are—getting some basic shapes and proportions on the page helps you to think about the room as a whole. To see examples of Bali window treatments, find a store near you.

Trust Your Taste—Then Go for It

Nothing makes a style statement like drapery. The nearly endless selection of fabrics gives you the power to create the perfect window-treatment solution for any room. Keep in mind the simple design ideas in this article and you’ll have no trouble choosing the right drapery for your home. Ready to get started? Start building your custom drapery now.