The Best Curtain Rods for Every Budget and Style, According to Our Style Director
Plus a few decorative ends to DIY your own.
Published Feb 9, 2022 1:00 AM
When searching for window treatments, you’re likely first drawn to picking out the perfect panels, mulling over fabric types, or choosing pleat styles and patterns—but drapery simply doesn’t work without hardware. Picking out the best curtain rods can mean the difference between nailing an effortless, laid-back look or adding a bit of dramatic flair. And drama doesn’t always equate to large rods with ornate, decorative end caps. In fact, according to our style director, Naomi deManana, curtain rods should function as subtle accent pieces—the bow that ties the look together—rather than an attention-grabbing detail. To prove that sometimes simplest is best, we rounded up a few of her favorite designs, below.
- Best brass: Ballard Designs French Return Curtain Rod
- Best steel: Rose Home Fashion Alloy Steel Curtain Rod
- Best wood: West Elm Mid-Century Wood Curtain Rod
- Best artsy: Urban Outfitters Sofia Curtain Rod
- Best modern: Crate & Barrel Essential Curtain Rod
- Best customizable: Crate & Kids White Curtain Rod
Best Brass: Ballard Designs French Return Curtain Rod
Available sizes: 28 to 48 inches, 48 to 88 inches, 60 to 108 inches | Material: Metal | Diameter: ¾ inch | Weight capacity: Up to 40 pounds
What we like:
- Sturdy quality
- Comes with all the necessary hardware
- No free shipping
Why we chose it: A clean and casual way to add a little golden glam.
U-shaped return rods are a favorite among designers, thanks to their ability to completely cover a window, eliminating any light from seeping through the sides. They also highlight the fabric you’ve chosen, as the style doesn’t allow for ornamental finials—the decorative end caps of a standard rod—to distract the eye. We’re partial to the brass finish (though there’s also a bronze option) to add a touch of glitz and glamour to a room; each rod comes with matching end brackets and screws to keep the color continuous.
Best Steel: Rose Home Fashion Alloy Steel Curtain Rod
Available sizes: 18 to 28 inches, 28 to 48 inches, 48 to 86 inches, 72 to 144 inches | Material: Metal | Diameter: 1 inch | Weight capacity: 30 pounds
What we like:
- Ceiling or wall mount–compatible
- Fast shipping and returns
- Brackets can be tricky to install
Why we chose it: A modern rod for less than $40 that can extend to 144 inches.
For a bit of vintage flair, this pipelike, bronzed rod is a sleek, streamlined option that will suit a number of different design styles. Case in point: Any way you decide to hang your fabric, this goes-with-anything steel pick is still simple enough to let the curtains shine. It’s affordable price point, however, makes it perfect for someone with extra-large windows, but if going this route, do note you’ll likely need to add on a middle bracket for extra support, which is sold separately.
Best Wood: West Elm Mid-Century Wood Curtain Rod
Available sizes: 28 to 48 inches, 44 to 108 inches | Material: Wood veneer, brass | Diameter: 1.3 inches | Weight capacity: 10 pounds
What we like:
- Elevated all-metal alternative
- All hanging hardware included
- Low weight capacity
Why we chose it: A wood and brass match made in MCM heaven.
We love how the subtle, brass finials and hanging hardware elevate this smooth wood rod—a staple material combination at West Elm—that would fit right in at a mid-century modern–styled home (think: wood-paneled ceilings, statement light fixtures, and sleek flashes of metal accents). Although only sold in two lengths, each pole extends pretty far, providing a greater range of sizes with one product purchase, compared to most other rods on the list. There’s also a double rod option in the same style, if you prefer to layer your curtains.
Best Artsy: Urban Outfitters Sofia Curtain Rod
Available sizes: 44 inches | Material: Wood, resin | Diameter: 1 inch | Weight capacity: 11 pounds
What we like:
- Sculptural take on hanging hardware
- Rustic-cool vibes
- Doesn’t come with mounting brackets
- One size
Why we chose it: Speckled details on sculptural hooks give your windows some edge.
As a part of Urban Outfitters’s Sofia line, which is defined by terracotta-speckled, ivory resin, this setup is really all about the hardware. The sculptural loops are the main attraction. Lined with plastic to hold a lightweight, lightly stained wooden dowel in place, this rod is definitely more for show—we wouldn’t be whipping curtains open and closed on a regular basis (especially if you’re sticking to a pocket style). The final look, complete with sheer curtains, is a combination of California-cool desert vibes and Scandi-boho minimalism.
Best Modern: Crate & Barrel Essential Curtain Rod
Available sizes: 28 to 48 inches, 48 to 88 inches, 88 to 120 inches | Material: Steel | Diameter: 1.25 inches | Weight capacity: 10 pounds
What we like:
- Simple design
- Includes two end brackets and mounting hardware
- The mattelike finish is likely to scratch more easily.
Why we chose it: A timeless, straightforward option.
If, to you, the idea of the best curtain rod is one that disappears, this one’s the pick—its standard hang, no-frills design is as simple as a rod gets. Choose from brushed brass, polished nickel, matte black, and polished black, and that little bit of finish will peep through when your curtains are drawn back. This rod is a top choice for its versatility: It won’t detract from your curtains, is easy to assemble and install, and will look effortlessly chic.
Best Customizable: Crate & Kids White Curtain Rod
Available sizes: 28 to 48 inches | Material: Metal | Diameter: ¾ inch | Weight capacity: 10 pounds
What we like:
- Removable finials
- Hidden brackets
- One size
Why we chose it: Switch out finials to your heart’s content (or don’t!).
Sure, this is a Crate & Kids exclusive product, but that doesn’t mean this rod has to be installed in a child’s room! Like many of the brand’s designs, it’s fun enough to hang anywhere. Offered in a simple white or gold coating, we’re drawn to it for the endless possibilities of personalization: removable end caps. You can add any sort of finial to the tips for a customizable look. The idea of all the different mixing and matching you can do here excites us, especially from a kid’s perspective—start with something cute for the toddler and tween years, then switch things up for the later years.
Finial Finds for DIYers
How We Chose These Products
To deManana, the best curtain rods should never fight as a focal point, which is why she favors less ornate styles. “I think of curtain rods as hardware,” she says. “Their purpose is to hold up your curtains. There are so many options that have big, fancy finials on the end, but I stick to styles that are the most simple or those that just add a little bit of detail.”
Our Shopping Checklist
Types of Curtain Rods
When it comes to picking out a curtain rod, you’ll likely be making a decision as to whether or not you want it to be visible. DeManana’s curated list prioritizes classic styles; standard rods that are installed straight out and usually adjustable in size; and the French return rod, which curves inward like a U to completely hide your windows. The latter is also the type that Julia Miller, studio founder at Yond Interiors, sources the most. However, these aren’t the only options you’ll come across.
“The application of the rod often dictates the type we use,” explains Miller. “In spaces where you don’t want to see a rod, since it’s a more contemporary design, for example, we use a track.” A track rod is typically installed right at or on the ceiling; it uses a combination of hooks and pulleys to draw the curtains open and let them hang in a straight, stiff line.
But in smaller spaces, both Miller and deManana turn to the basics, like a tension rod. Most popularly used for showers thanks to a spring mechanism that creates pressure at both ends to hold it in place, this style is convenient for renters since you don’t need any tools to install it. However, you are at the mercy of the length of your window frame.
Materials and Finishes
“The most popular curtain rod materials are wood or metals like nickel, wrought iron, chrome, and brass,” offers Miller. She adds that at her studio, they typically stick with a golden or matte black finish, as both go with most fabric choices and spaces overall. For heavier materials like velvet, you’ll likely want to use a curtain rod made from a stronger material, so always be sure to pay attention to a rod’s weight capacity to avoid a crumpled mess.
Ideal Length and Diameter
The ideal dimensions of a curtain rod are synergistic with the size of curtain you go with, and therein the window you’ll be hanging your drapery in front of. Most designers will choose a diameter that’s as small as possible, usually about an inch round, to keep things simple—but this number also often directly correlates to how much weight a rod is able to hold. Otherwise, it’s an aesthetic choice. If you want your rod to be more visible or make more of a statement, then you can look for something bigger. If you’re going with a curtain that’ll extend past your window, then you’ll want a longer rod, typically with 3 to 4 inches extra on each side. And most curtain rods aren’t sold at a fixed length. Smaller rods are about 28 to 48 inches long; a medium-size option is usually 66 to 84 inches long; and larger rods can extend to 120 inches or more.
Q: Can I use a curtain rod with my drapes?
Of course, curtains and drapes are used interchangeably, but a rod is still needed to hang both. The difference between these two really just comes down to the fabric weight. Drapery is heavier and opaque, thanks to an inner lining that blocks outside light. It’s the better choice, of course, if privacy is a top concern. But if you’re purely looking to add more of a decorative element, go with curtains, like of the sheer variety.
Q: What are finials, and can I add them to my curtain rod?
Finials are the decorative details commonly found at the ends of some curtain rods, taking on all kinds of sculptural shapes. They can be subtle or incredibly ornamental; large in size and maximalist in appearance. The rods on our list that do feature finials are on the more subtle side, like an end cap in a different finish.
Q: How high should I hang my curtain rod?
Nearly every designer we tapped agrees: Install your curtain rod above your window. In fact, Yond Interiors goes as high as 12 inches, but at a minimum 4- to 6 inches above the casing. Designer Jessica Nicastro adds that doing so not only makes your windows appear wider and taller, it allows the room to be completely bathed in light when the curtains are fully drawn. Though there is no set standard, Cara Woodhouse of Cara Woodhouse Interiors notes that “every space is different, but I recommend going up as high as possible.”
The Last Word
“The most important element in choosing a rod is understanding the function you want to achieve and the aesthetic,” stresses Miller. “Most curtain rods can handle any hanging style, so it’s really about what you want.” In other words, the best curtain rods should be simple but versatile.
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