I get asked this question all the time by my clients – “What’s the rule for valance widths?” The answer, of course, is never as clear and direct as I’d like it to be. Valances can be made in literally hundreds of different styles, so the answer will depend on the type of valance you choose. But once you decide on the valance style, there actually are standard width rules to follow.
So let’s take a look at some valance styles you might be considering and what the width needs to be for each style.
The Gathered Valance
This valance style hangs on 90% of windows, so my guess is there’s a chance this is the style you’d like measurement advice for. The valance on the kitchen window above is 120 inches wide when spanned out. This is using medium-weight home decor fabrics and the valance is fully lined.
If the fabric on your valance is thinner, or the valance is unlined, your valance will need to be at least 3 to 3.5 times the width of the window to replicate a properly gathered valance like the one pictured here.
The valance above was made 96 inches wide when laid flat. It was hung on a 40-inch window. The curtain rod brackets on each side of the window were 2-1/2 inches. Since the fabric had a nice weight to it and had lining behind it, a 96-inch width was just fine for this window. The valance was 19 inches tall in this example.
The Tailored, Custom-Fitted Valance
Not all valances are gathered. Tailored valances just need to frame your window. They should be installed high above the window, with a tight fit around the sides. Simpler styles like the valance above only require an extra 2 to 4 inches or so of width.
If the valance has elaborate jabots on each side, then consider adding another inch or two. This is just a subtle change, but it’s necessary to ensure that the valance continues to frame the window rather than try to block it.
The Cornice or Cornice-Style Valance
With cornices, you’d continue along the same rules as you would with the tailored valances above. The key here is that a valance just has to frame the window, so a tight fit it key. But we also have to address the word cornice. A real cornice is made of a wood box, with the upholstered valances stapled on it. When talking about width for this kind of valance, we’re only talking about the width from the front of the valance.
The valance will also have a projection on each side, which is not considered as part of the width. For example, you may order a 45-inch wide cornice on a 42-inch window, and then request a 6-inch projection on each side so that you have room for draperies underneath.
A cornice box valance width draperies. Notice the wide projection when viewed from the side. It’s not considered as being part of the width.
Now, a cornice-style valance is completely different. These valances are typically rod pocket valances that are installed on specific curtain rods called continental rods. Because continental rods have deep brackets, the valance is allowed to wrap around on each side to create the look of a cornice. Hence, the name cornice-style valance. The sides of each valance here are considered a return and they are considered as part of the overall width.
That’s why a 50-inch cornice style valance like the one below can fit a 40-inch window like the one below. You can read more about returns on valances in this post in case you’re wondering how deep your valance needs to be.
A 50-inch valance on a 40-inch window.
A box pleat cornice-style valance over a kitchen window.
Illustration of how cornice-style rod pocket valances work.
London valances like this are also commonly installed on continental curtain rods, so they too can mimic the look of a cornice when viewed from the side.
The Loosely Gathered Valance
Some valances have more of a loose fit. These will usually be installed on decorative holdbacks or on curtain rings, exposing the drapery pole. With these valances, a little goes a long way. Sometimes all you need to do is to gather the valance just by a few inches so that its swags can fall casually instead of looking like they’re being forced to stretch across the window.
Once you start gathering this kind of valance, you’ll quickly realize that all it takes is a few “nudges” on each side to achieve the look. The more you start gathering this valance, the more the swags start falling in the middle. This is when the top of your window will start to be exposed, as in the example below.
There’s nothing wrong with gathering this kind of valance a bit more and exposing the top of the window, but it has to be a deliberate design choice. But if you’re being told to gather a valance like this and you don’t know why, beware. Swags need to be spaced at least 16 inches apart in a valance that was made properly. And even 16 inches is a bit on the narrow side in some workrooms.
Swags that are being pushed too close to each other is a sign of a workroom that tried to skimp on fabric. So, you’re being told to push the swags closer together to make up for this flaw.
A goblet pleat valance, installed using only three curtain rings.
A victory swag valance, loosely gathered on a curtain rod.
And Don’t Forget – Valances Can Be Much Wider When Paired With Draperies
If the valance is installed as the only window treatment on your window, then you’ll obviously want a tight fit. But if you plan on pairing draperies with a valance, feel free to make the valance much wider. That way, the window will look larger. If it sounds strange to hang a 50-inch valance on a 36-inch window, just open any design magazine.
Chances are, you’ll run into a professionally designed room that uses the same trick. I hope I’ve helped you figure out how wide your valance needs to be. To wrap this post up, I’ll leave you with some illustrations and pictures of how to achieve this last point in your own room as well.