Calculating the Right Depth for Window Valances

Side view of an elegant single bed in a classic bedroom

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A valance is the portion of a window treatment that covers the very top of the window. They can be stand-alone decorative features or can be used in conjunction with curtains or drapes. Common since the Rennaissance and reaching their high point in Victorian England, valances are still a common feature in window treatments today. They can serve both a practical function by hiding curtain bars and other hardware, but valances are mostly a design feature that serves to add color, texture, and pattern to a window. It is in its role as a room design feature that the questions of size and proportion of a valance come into play. A valance that is too shallow for the window will look skimpy and understated, while one that is too deep will look top-heavy or will cut off too much of the window, interfering with the view and obstructing too much light.

Methods for Calculating Valance Height

There are a number of ways to calculate the depth of a window valance to ensure that its proportions are proper to the window.

  • Some designers suggest that a valance should be "about 15 inches deep," but will adjust that measurement in either direction for windows that are smaller or larger than the norm. A large, tall picture window, for example, may work best with a 17-inch deep valance, while a small bedroom window may find that a 10- or 12-inch valance is most pleasing. The pattern or color of the valance can also impact the decorator's decision here—very loud colors or aggressive patterns may call for the depth of the valance to be reduced slightly to avoid overwhelming the room.
  • Another rule of thumb used by decorators is that the window valance depth should be 1/4 of the overall window height, plus 1 inch. A 60-inch tall window, then, would call for a 16-inch deep valance, while a 48-inch window calls for a valance about 13 inches deep. This method is appropriate in situations where the top of the valance will be at or near the top of the window. Again, this rule can be adjusted according to the instincts of the designer.
  • Finally, some designers use the distance from the top of the valance to the floor to calculate a good depth for the valance. This method can be most appropriate in large, tall rooms where you may want the valance to begin well above the top of the window, possibly mounted on a headboard. To use this method, choose the point where you plan to put the top of the valance, then measure from this point to the floor. Divide this measurement by 5 or 6 to find depth for the valance that will offer pleasing proportions. For example, if the top of the valance will be 96 inches (8 feet) above the floor, the division calculation gives you 16 to 19.2 inches as an appropriate depth for the valance.