How to Choose Curtains for the Living Room

Light beige-colored curtains hanging on both sides of window near houseplants

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

Curtains are not just a practical purchase for your home, they're a powerful design tool that can completely transform the look and feel of a room, and act as the finishing layer that makes it complete. If your living room has multiple windows or a window that's a focal point of the room, choosing the right type of curtains can be overwhelming and you may be wondering, how long do the curtains need to be? How high should they be hung? What materials and styles are best? What kind of hardware is needed? These are all important questions to ask yourself and to make choosing the right curtains for your living room and home in general easier, we've created a detailed guide that covers all this and more.

Living Room Curtain Considerations

Chances are your living room is the most seen and frequently used room in your home, so picking out the right curtains, both form and function-wise, is important. Consider a couple of factors to get started — will the curtains be purely decorative? Do you have many windows and want to keep cost down or is there a large window that's the focal point of the room and worth a splurge on more high-end curtains? Do you want light filtering panels to keep the room bright and airy or do you watch lots of movies in the living room and would prefer blackout curtains?

Answering these practical questions regarding the curtains' function will narrow down your options. If the curtains are to be decorative only, the fabric doesn't affect how much light they let in, so your choice is purely stylistic and it doesn't matter if you go with a heavy velvet or natural-looking linen. When light and brightness is a consideration however, picking the right fabric is essential to achieving the desired effect.

When you're working with a living room that has multiple windows, creating a unified look is key, and using identical curtains and rods and hanging them at the same height ensures you achieve that.

Curtains don't just serve the purpose of regulating light, they're a great way to add a layer of texture, color and pattern to a room that feels unfinished, highlight windows that have an interesting architectural detail and create a cozier and warmer atmosphere.

Figure Out the Length

One of the main factors to consider when choosing curtains is length. If they're too short, it'll throw off everything else in the room and visually bring the height of the ceiling down. If they're way too long, they'll look messy. That is why measuring your window and ceiling height is a good starting point. When choosing curtains, you have two options; having custom window treatments made, which is a beautiful but also very expensive option, or purchasing ready-made curtains that are available at a wide range of price points.

Ready-made curtains come in five standard lengths; 63 inches, 84 inches, 95 inches, 108 inches and 120 inches. To figure out the length that you need, position your curtain rod above the window and measure from the top of the rod to the floor. If the measurement is an inch or so off the standard curtain lengths, adjust the rod slightly.

Now that you know the curtain length, measure the window width, as you also want to figure out whether one curtain panel on either side of the window is enough, or whether you'll need two on each side. A standard curtain panel is 54 inches wide and you will want to add at least a foot on either side of the window to allow for the curtain rod and the curtains to frame the window without blocking too much light.

When it comes to how the curtains should hit the floor, there are three styles to choose from:

Hover

This means that the curtains hover just above the floor. This is the most common way to hang floor length curtains since it looks clean and elegant and it makes opening and closing them easy.

Break

Designers refer to curtain panels having a one inch break which means that instead of hovering above the ground, you'll need to add one inch to your curtain length measurement. This look has a high-end designer feel, yet doesn't feel stuffy or too formal.

Puddle

For a more relaxed, romantic and softer feel, go with the puddle look. What this refers to is up to six inches of fabric being on the floor and creating a "puddle". When used with thinner, softer fabrics, a puddle will create a cozy feel, while using stiffer and bolder colored curtains will add a touch of drama and sophistication to your space.

Tip

The higher you hang the curtains, the taller your ceiling will appear, creating the illusion of a larger room.

Curtain length being measured with measuring tape on side of window

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

Choose the Curtain Fabric

Curtains are available in a huge variety of fabrics, from lush velvet to relaxed linen. When choosing the fabric, consider two important factors: the look that you are trying to achieve and the practical purpose that the curtains need to serve. For example, if you're looking for curtains that will keep bright morning light out or help you darken the space for a summer movie night, sheers are not the choice for you. Here's what to keep in mind:

Room Darkening Curtains

If you are looking for curtains that will keep morning light out and help regulate room temperature, heavier opaque fabrics such as velvet are a good choice. For fully light blocking window treatments, blackout curtains are lined with a material that will keep the sun out, making them an excellent choice.

Light Filtering Curtains

For curtains that let in plenty of natural light, choose thinner, lighter fabrics such as cotton or sheers that are made of polyester. For smaller windows, lace curtains are a good example of light filtering window treatments.

Tip

If you don't want to block out all light but also don't want bright rays to stream in, linen curtains are a great choice. They have enough thickness to them to block out some light, but have a textured weave that does allow some light in. Lighter colored linen will let in more light, while darker linen will block more light out.

Light beige curtains being pulled

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

Pick the Hardware

If you haven't already, pick your curtain rod. It's not necessarily just a practical piece of hardware, a curtain rod can add an extra layer of visual interest and help dress up your windows. Curtain rods are extendable, meaning you can adjust their length. When measuring the rod length that you'll need, measure the width of your window and add a foot on either side of the window to it. This will provide enough space for the curtain panels to hang.

Curtain rods come in various styles such as single or double if you want to layer thicker panels with sheers, and in a range of materials. Wood, brass, iron and brushed nickel are just some of the popular materials to choose from. Finials are the two caps on either end of the rod and they help define the rod style — they're available in ornate, more traditional shapes as well as sleek, streamlined modern designs.

White metal curtain rod with rounded end mounted to wall

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

Layer Window Treatments

If your windows already have window treatments such as Roman shades or bamboo wood blinds on them, there's no reason why you can't hang curtains as well. In fact, it'll create depth and dimension, and visually add more interest. For a classic look that's light, bright and airy, pair white cotton or linen curtains with wood blinds. If you are going to layer two styles of window treatments, you'll want to keep it simple in terms of color, pattern and texture to prevent the windows from looking too busy and distracting from everything else in the room.