Choosing the Right Drapery Length for a Professional Look
When it comes to choosing drapery length in your home, there’s quite a lot of options available. Not all looks are equal, though. You want to balance function, style, and natural light. When you choose curtains, you don’t get to customize them like draperies (but we wrote about that in length in this blog about curtains vs draperies).
Custom tailoring for your draperies is necessary for a professional, finished look. Since curtain panels only come in set sizes, they’re often too short and narrow. The wrong size can block light, look awkward, or even make windows look smaller. The right ones make a room look amazing and pull the design together. If you’ve made the decision to design your draperies yourself, there’s some key elements you need to know.
What drapery lengths are there?
Sill Drapery Length
Sill length drapery are meant to hover right above the window ledge. They’re charming and cozy, but some people find them outdated. The only application for this we often see (and like) is for café styles. Think kitchen windows with a drapery rod that goes across only half-way up the window. This length is perfect for that look.
Something to consider with short window draperies is they can make your room appear shorter. If you have average or low ceilings to begin with, you may want to avoid this look. Even with the rods up by the ceiling, you’re still cutting the vertical height of your room.
While definitely not a leading design preference, sometimes short is necessary. If something like Roman shades won’t do and it must be drapery, sill length is an option. If you need it short, having other full-length drapery in the same room can help prevent the room shortening illusion.
Apron Drapery Length
Much like sill length, apron length drapery have the same downsides as sill length. If you’re not careful, it can look accidental rather than intentional. Aim to meet another perpendicular marker in the room, such as the top of a baseboard, height of a counter or table, or something that ties in the length visually. Most commonly, this comes down 4″ below the edge of the window still. Why? If the hem on the bottom of your drapery is over the window, you’re likely to see the difference in fabric thickness every time light shines through, and it isn’t going to be your favorite look.
To be honest, this is not a length we typically recommend.
If you’re opting for short because of what’s underneath, keep a couple things in mind. For windows over a sink, you must choose fabric designed for high-humidity areas to avoid mildew. If going over something like a heater, fire safety should be at the forefront of your mind. While many fabrics are treated to be fire-resistant (and any fabric in your home like this should be), make sure of it or consider an alternative option.
Floor Drapery Length
Floor length drapery are basically the gold standard in drapery design and your safest bet if you’re unsure. They should sit no higher than 1/2″ above the floor. They need to be level with the floor and almost touch it but not quite. It’s like hovering right above the floor. This also gets called “float” instead of floor-length. If it’s right up against the floor, just barely not touching, this is also referred to as “kissing” the floor.
This look is classic, timeless, and looks beautifully tailored. It elongates the length of your window. The fabric hangs perfectly straight. Since it doesn’t touch the floor, the bottom doesn’t get dirty. It also allows for ease operation since the fabric isn’t dragging on the floor.
One thing to be aware of is homes are not often as level as people believe they are. Your window may not be straight, and often they’re not square (even if they look it). Your ceiling and floor may also not be perfectly level. This is where custom-tailored and professionally-measured drapery can really make all the difference. With this style especially, even a slight difference in floor-to-ceiling height will show up massively.
Puddle Drapery Length
Puddle length drapery are all about drama. They’re luxurious and even romantic. It can look sophisticated or formal too. For a main bedroom, they can be a perfect choice. The length of the fabric past the floor can vary anywhere from 1″ all the way up to 8″ more. Shorter lengths sometimes get called “trouser” length.
The fabric you choose also makes a big difference. A stiff fabric won’t be able to puddle beautifully and may look awkward. However, a light linen would give a beautiful, bohemian-feel. Silk would also look beautiful. A velvet fabric, which is still quite flexible, also puddles beautifully while blocking significantly more light. Velvet certainly is a way to achieve a very dramatic look! With high hardware, this length also will make your ceilings and windows appear taller.
Keep in mind since they’re touching the floor, they’ll pick up anything. If you have pets, you will likely want to avoid this length since it’ll gather all fur. Additionally, as you pull the drapery open and closed, the fabric will drag, and no longer hang straight. This look is best done with stationary panels – that is, drapery panels that you will not be moving. Otherwise every time you open or close them, you’ll end up spending extra time just trying to make the extra fabric hang straight and look neat. No one wants to spend that time.
Tip on layering: If you’re layering drapery panels, such as sheers underneath room darkening or blackout drapery, match the lengths. The only exception would be floor-length sheer panels underneath puddled, heavier materials. Any other combination is likely to look awkward and accidental.
drapery width matters too.
As you now know, length can change a lot about a look. Width plays a huge role as well. Most store-bought or premade curtain panels are far too narrow, and you would need to purchase multiple sets to achieve an attractive look.
With drapery, there are a few things to keep in mind with the width.
Your hardware and material should allow the draperies to open and completely expose the window – just barely. You don’t want the window frame visible on the sides, but you do want to prevent fabric from blocking any precious light. If you have very decorative window frames, pulling back to expose a little may still be visually acceptable to you. That’s fine! Either way, this means your hardware needs to be larger than your window. By how much? That’s not as easy to answer. You want the fabric to not need to be mushed to where you lose definition of pleating and it has to be forced back, so it still needs to be able to naturally sit off to the side.
With a stiffer or thicker material, this will require more room on either side of the window than a light sheer material. If you don’t want to buy fabric first to figure it out or consult with an expert, 6″ extra on both sides usually should give you enough space. If your fabric is on the stiffer side, you may want up to a foot extra space.
If you don’t have a nice view outside the window, however, you may choose to allow an extra thick stack of fabric on the sides to intentionally prevent the full window’s view from being visible.
Your fabric should be full when closed, not pulled tight to the point that pleats are strained or the fabric looks awkward. To thick and your drapery will block your window’s light and view. They may also bunch up awkwardly. Professional draperies are designed to maintain a beautiful fullness. Whether open and closed, pleats sit naturally and the fabric hang straight. You’ll want to aim on average for about two to three times the width of your window in fabric for a correct, professional look. This means if your window is 50″ wide, you should most likely aim for at least 100″ wide of fabric, but possibly more.
Most store-bought curtain panels cap out at about 48″ wide so you would likely need to purchase two sets of panels for each window. If you’re very design oriented, this could work to your benefit. You can combine solid colors on the outside panels with patterned, complementary panels on the inside.
The width of your pleats should also accent the width of your window. There are a wide variety of pleats, and each has its own fullness and works best with different widths. Stevenson Vestal has a nice guide for pleats and window widths.
If your drapery panels are merely decorative, this of course changes things. You don’t need to consider functionality – just appearance. And because they will never be closed, the only part you care about is what they look like “open” (or what we call stacked).
Measuring the right length and width for draperies isn’t a cakewalk.
We know this may still seem a little daunting, but we’re here to help. If you are in the Greater LA area and you’d like help with custom drapery, give us a call or fill out a form here on our website. Our design consultants are well-versed in drapery measurements and can help you choose the perfect look without you having to do the math. You also won’t have to learn pleats, which trust me, is a lot of work!