How to Choose Curtains for Your Home

What to know about curtain lengths, fabrics, and hardware

Contemporary living room with long blue curtains over window and blue accent wall behind white couch.

Onzeg / Getty Images

Natural light streaming into your home is a beautiful thing—except, that is, when you want to sleep or get some privacy. Yes, curtains are pretty much a necessity regardless of where you live, and you’ll want to do some research before buying them to ensure that you get the right size and style for your home.

To help take the guesswork out of the process, we’ve put together this quick guide on how to choose curtains, and all of the extras that come with them.

Step One: Figure Out How Long They Need to Be

Length is one of the biggest factors to consider when you’re choosing curtains. There are five standard curtain lengths: 63 inches, 84 inches, 95 inches, 108 inches, and 120 inches. How long you go depends on the height of your windows and ceilings, and the look that you’re trying to achieve. Curtain lengths are determined by measuring from the rod pocket—which is where your curtain hangs off the curtain rod—to the bottom of the fabric.

(Note that there are also short curtains, called tier curtains, that only cover part of the window. These typically measure either 24 inches or 36 inches long.)

To figure out the curtain length you’ll need, you’ll want to come up with your rod to floor height. Determine where your rod is going to be installed or measure from the existing rod down to where you want the curtains to hang—either the bottom of the window or all the way to the floor. Do this measurement in inches, since that is how curtain lengths are usually indicated in the U.S.

The standard curtain width is 45 inches. To determine if you’ll need one or two panels, measure the width of your window in inches and then add 12 inches to each side to account for rod overhang and to allow for your curtains to hang in gentle folds, instead of hanging taut.

Types of curtains by length:

When you’re shopping for curtains, it can be helpful to search by certain keywords, instead of just by length. Here are the common terms that are used.

  • Tier curtains – Short curtains that cover just a portion of the window.
  • Apron curtains – Curtains that hang just below the bottom of the window.
  • Floor curtains – Curtains that reach down to the floor. Usually look best when paired with a rod that’s closer to the ceiling.
  • Puddle curtains – Curtains that reach down to the floor with some remaining fabric puddling at the bottom. Again, pair these with a higher situated rod.

Step Two: Choose a Curtain Fabric

Curtains come in a variety of fabrics. In addition to thinking about the overall look that you want for your windows, keep in mind the amount of light that will pass through. Heavier, opaque fabrics will keep out more light than lighter and more sheer fabrics.

If you want lots of light to shine through: Go with sheer or cotton fabrics. Even in a range of colors you’ll still get lots of natural light.

If you want moderate amounts of light: Opt for linen curtains, which offer a textured weave that lets in some light but not all.

If you want the light to be all or mostly blocked out: Choose velvet curtains, which are extremely heavy and opaque. Blackout curtains, which feature a special lining that keeps out sunlight entirely, are also an option.

Within each fabric option you’ll also have lots to choose from in terms of color and pattern. Go bold if you want your curtains to be a standout feature of the room, or keep it simple if you’d rather they don’t take attention away from other focal points in the space.

Step Three: Pick Your Hardware

The final step in how to choose curtains is to decide on hardware, including your curtain rod. To balance out the look, choose a curtain rod that is 6 to12 inches wider than the window. This will provide some visual interest and will also give you room to move your curtains to the side when you want them open. Fortunately, most standard curtain rods are adjustable so you can make them smaller or larger as needed.

As for the material of your hardware, brass, brushed nickel, polished nickel, and antique bronze are all popular options that can fit with pretty much any style home. If you decide to use curtain holders, keep them the same material as your rod for continuity.

What if Your Windows Already Have Existing Treatments?

It’s very common to layer curtains over existing treatments like shades or blinds. If you decide to go this route, it’s usually a good idea to keep it simple with the existing treatments, with neutral colors pairing best with the more opulent nature of curtains (and as a good rule of thumb, don’t pair prints with prints).

For an optimal appearance, hang your curtains tall—floor length or puddle length, ideally—when pairing them with shades or blinds, which will add more dimension to your windows.

The right curtains can add so much to your space. Follow the steps above to get it right and to end up with a look that you love.