decor

The Very Best Curtain Rods

From fancy globe finials to unobtrusive iron rods with “the smallest rings possible.”

Photo: Marcus McDonald
Photo: Marcus McDonald

In this article

A good curtain rod will be versatile, both in terms of function and aesthetics: Ideally, you’ll change them out less often than your curtains, so you want them to work with a range of styles. Most rods on our list are telescoping, which means they can be expanded or retracted to the right width for your window, which eliminates the need to order a custom-cut size. Any rod works for any kind of curtain header (the top of the curtain, where the fabric meets the rod), whether it has grommets, a rod pocket, or requires rings. There are also plenty of aesthetic options, from a minimalist steel bar to antique iron with arrowhead finials.

As an obsessive home DIYer (I’ve made space for sawhorses and a six-foot, OSHA-compliant ladder in my 400-square-foot apartment), I’m in the form-over-function camp on any kind of hardware. If it’s not sturdy, it’s not worth your money. I’ve made this list with function in mind — I consulted a dozen experts to help choose the right curtain rod for your space and tested the best-in-class rod in my kitchen to see how it holds up. I’ve included plenty of inexpensive curtain rods that do the job well, as well as fun ways to spurge on customization and/or aesthetics.

What we’re looking for

Size

Curtain rods can be inside-mounted, or hung within the window frame, or outside-mounted, which allows the curtain to cover the edge of the window frame. To find the right length for an inside-mounted rod, simply measure across the width of your window, where you plan to hang your curtain. For outside-mounting, Megan Hersch, the owner of Studio MG Interiors and online interior-design service RoomLift, recommends measuring about 12 inches wider than a window on either side, so you can pull the curtains all the way off of the window when you open them and not block any light. For the height of an outside-mounted rod, she recommends hanging the rod about halfway between the window and the ceiling; for a very tall ceiling, place the rod about 16 inches above the window.

While most of the rods on this list are telescoping, that design does leave a visible notch in the middle of the rod, which Hersch says is “not a big deal, but it is a telltale sign” that a rod is not custom size. If you want to avoid the telescoping-rod notch, we’ve included a few options for custom-cut rods, from a DIY method to splurge-y rods with matching hardware.

Material

When buying curtain rods, look for materials that are durable enough to withstand the wear and tear of daily use and don’t bow or sag under the weight of drapery. Heavy-duty and strong metals like steel or iron are the most common, and many curtains have a decorative outer finish, like wood veneer or brass.

Finial style

Finials are the hardware that caps the ends of the curtain rod, and they come in a variety of styles, from antique Victorian wrought-iron pineapples to simple, minimalist cylinders. Their function is mostly decorative and, as is the case with several options on this list, they can be customized or swapped out for another style in the future.

Among the experts we spoke to, fancy finials were polarizing. Interior designer Katy Byrne calls them “a great opportunity to add an interesting detail” to your home; Sarah Leon and Teddy Wolff, who are in the process of renovating their home in Brooklyn, prefer to avoid them. Leon finds them “distracting visually,” and Wolff advises against stylized hardware: “You don’t want a lot of background noise,” he says, and simpler hardware allows you to “design over top of it and grow with a space.”

Best curtain rods overall

Size: Two sizes, from 36” to 120” | Material: Steel | Finial style: Cylinder

I first heard about Target brand Project 62’s curtain rod from Dani Mulhearn, a senior designer at online interior-design service Havenly. She calls it “simple and timeless” — with a well-proportioned, pared-down silhouette. Made of steel, it feels smooth and solid and comes in four finishes, including matte black and brass, and has simple cylindrical finials (including one style with a mid-century-esque walnut finish) and matching hanging hardware.

From left: The curtain rod in my kitchen from afar; the curtain rod up close. Photo: AuthorPhoto: Author
From top: The curtain rod in my kitchen from afar; the curtain rod up close. Photo: AuthorPhoto: Author

I tested out the curtain rod myself above a kitchen window, mounting directly into the wooden window frame (I live in a landlord special, so there were already painted-over divots from a previous curtain-rod install to guide me). Within 40 minutes of reading the instructions, the rod was secured and curtains were hung. I needed a ladder and a drill, plus a screwdriver to finish tightening screws — the design of the brackets creates a difficult angle for a drill. Once installed, it held two panels of 8-foot long curtains without any bowing or wobbling.

Another thing that makes the Dauntless rod my top pick: It feels more expensive than its $28 price tag (a useful feature for a curtain rod, which you may be buying in multiples). There are some small imperfections in the finish if you look up close, but they became invisible once it was mounted three feet above my head — it just looks simple, elegant, and solid.

Best minimalist curtain rod

Size: Four sizes, from 28” to 144” | Material: Steel | Finial style: Cylinder

This low-profile rod, recommended by interior designer Katherine Tlapa, has a similar minimalist aesthetic to the Dauntless rod, with a more streamlined design — it has one piece of hardware that serves as both a finial and a bracket, which creates an airy, lightweight silhouette. It would go well with any style of drapery, from a zanily patterned postmodern curtain to a classic linen panel. It comes in several finishes, including brass and matte white.

Best iron curtain rod

Size: Four sizes, from 28” to 126” | Material: Iron | Finial style: Customizable

These extendable curtain rods by RH (formerly known as Restoration Hardware) are made of iron, unlike our best-in-class rod, which is made of steel. Iron is generally heavier than steel for the same strength, but has a beautiful soft finish that interior designer Nicole Fuller calls “grounding and discreet.” Fuller says the rod works equally well with rod-pocket curtains and curtains that require additional hardware. Unlike the other ready-made rods on this list, these do not come with mounting hardware or finials, so each component has to be bought separately, but that does allow for more customization.

Photo: Retailer

Best wood curtain rod

Size: Two sizes, from 28” to 108” | Material: Wood veneer, brass-finished hardware | Finial style: Cylinder

This wood-and-brass-finished curtain rod from West Elm has a warmer look than our best-in-class pick, perfect if your commitment to mid-century modern décor extends to your hardware. For a wooden curtain rod, it’s important that the rod itself is not wood — you want a wood veneer over a stronger material that’s less likely to bow, like steel or iron. Interior designer Erin Gates uses a similar rod in her own living room but in an all-metal style. She calls it “substantial, clean, and simple.”

Best tension curtain rod

Photo: Retailer

Size: Four sizes, from 28” to 150” | Material: Steel | Finial style: Cylinder

The four curtain rods above all require putting holes in your walls for mounting hardware; if you’re drill-averse, consider a tension rod. Leon and Wolff used these durable steel tension rods “all over the place” in a previous apartment, a converted factory space in Chinatown with high ceilings and plaster walls. “Instead of hanging art on the walls, we just hung Ikea white curtains everywhere” using these rods, Leon says. “It was really good for acoustics, and it gave us a lot of hidden storage.” They report that the rods did well up to seven or eight feet (after that, they started to sag a bit) and stood up to frequent use: “We took our doors off, and we used the curtains as doors, so we were using them a good amount,” Leon says.

Best less-expensive tension rod

Size: Two sizes, from 24” to 54” | Material: Steel | Finial style: Decorative

For a cheaper tension rod, Strategist writer Jeremy Rellosa used two of these simple Umbra poles in his casita in New Mexico and reports that the pole “held its tension great through about four years” and “took me less than a minute to install.” Rellosa used the rod and blackout curtains to approximate doors, and despite daily use, he says the rod didn’t slip, other than “a handful of times when I accidentally stepped on the curtain and pulled it all down.” He also likes that the rod’s rubber end caps are both grippy and don’t mark up walls, a useful feature for renters.

Best custom curtain rods

Photo: Retailer

Size: Custom length | Material: Steel | Finial style: Custom

An adjustable rod — like our best-in-class pick — has a visible notch somewhere along its length where the two telescoping pieces meet. Although it’s easy enough to cover with a curtain, if you prefer a seamless look, you’ll need rods that are custom-cut to fit your window. Hersch recommends the brand Highland Forge for “a custom look at a very good price.” In addition to choosing your style of rod (either round, square, or hammered), its diameter, and finish, you can customize the length, which eliminates the telltale telescoping rod notch. Buying a custom rod will also mean you have to shop for the additional hardware yourself, including finials, mounting brackets, and rings, for example. But according to Hersch, Highland Forge will “double-check your order to be sure you’ve got all the parts you will need to make the hardware work.”

Best DIY custom-cut curtain rods

Photo: Retailer

Size: Custom length | Material: Brass | Finial style: Custom

Another way to avoid the telescoping notch is to custom-cut your curtain rods yourself with metal tubing and a pipe cutter. Strategist senior editor Simone Kitchens made custom rods with lengths of this K&S Precision Metals brass tubing. “Our 1920 Craftsman house already has a lot of brass hardware, so I wanted vintage-y curtain rods to match,” she says, but she couldn’t find antiques that were the exact right length. She split the difference between new brass rods and vintage rings and finials bought at a salvage store in Albany (look for similar styles on eBay). The pipe was cut to size with a pipe cutter, below: “Brass is a soft metal so you can cut it with an electrician’s conduit cutter,” Kitchens says. “We just clip the exact length we need. A hacksaw works too.”

Best splurgy custom curtain rods

Size: Custom length | Material: Iron | Finial style: Custom

If you want to splurge on custom brackets, curtain rings, and finishes in addition to customizing the length of your curtain rods (which offers a degree of aesthetic control beyond what you’ll get with our best-in-class curtain rod), I recommend the Shade Store. Interior designer Betsy Burnham says its hardware provides a clean, unfussy complement to any drapery. “Our preference for window hardware is thin, black iron rods with the smallest rings possible, as I think the hardware should be tidy and unobtrusive,” she says. Burnham adds that the Shade Store’s step-by-step process ensures that you won’t forget anything you might need, like finials and rings.

Some Strategist-approved curtains to hang on your rod

Our experts

Betsy Burnham, interior designer
Katy Byrne, interior designer
Nicole Fuller, interior designer
• Erin Gates, owner of Erin Gates Design
• Megan Hersch, owner of Studio MG Interiors and RoomLift
Megan Huffman, interior designer
• Simone Kitchens, Strategist senior editor
• Sarah Leon, editorial consultant
Dani Mulhearn, senior designer at Havenly
• Jeremy Rellosa, Strategist staff writer
• Katherine Tlapa, interior designer
• Teddy Wolff, photographer and co-founder of The Deligram

Additional reporting by Lauren Ro.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The Very Best Curtain Rods