Journal Insight #11: Curtain Poles – part 1


I think that on balance, the biggest area of confusion when ordering curtains are the poles and track options they can be hung on, and so in an effort to keep these insights to a few minutes light reading, rather than writing one long-winded essay I am breaking this down into 2 chunks.

Next time I will be looking at curtain tracks and (my favourite systems) ‘hybrid’ tracked poles, but today let’s focus on traditional wood and metal poles with rings.

The very first thing to think about is the size of the pole. Get this wrong and its all goes south; literally.

Metal pole diameters will come in anything from around 19mm and wooden ones from 25mm upwards. The smaller the diameter the larger the risk of deflection once you either hang a (heavy) curtain on them or try to span a large distance with just a few brackets. The balancing act between the aesthetics of slim and sleek poles with the need to support the weight of the curtain is a constant challenge and at the end of the day decisions just have to be made. As a curtain maker I always err on the side of caution and prefer to beef up the pole so robustness takes precedence over the final look. For dress curtains that aren’t going to be pulled back and forth you can be less strict and if you are hanging sheers or lightweight curtains the options are also more open.

For many curtains there is a lot of weight to manage (just watch the fitter heft them into the room before hanging) and it is critical to choose poles that are thick enough to take the weight and daily use. It is rare that we use anything less than 35mm for a wooden pole when hanging lined and interlined, preferring to go up to around 50mm if possible.

In terms of cost, going up sizes can make a huge difference. Once you hit 50mm the price can jump significantly as the brackets, finials & rings also go up in size. If budget is an issue then you may need to balance things or wait for our next insight and look into the world of tracked poles.

Next are up are brackets. If you open up most pole suppliers’ brochures you will find a vast array of brackets and it can be a little overwhelming. They exist for broadly 2 reasons. First is the look – you want to be able to find just the right look for your project. The more cost-effective suppliers tend to limit options here as this clearly reduces their stock holding costs and logistics, but the more bespoke and higher-end firms will offer a wide assortment of brackets.

Probably half the variety of brackets is to do with technical options. Are you face-fixing them or suspending from the ceiling? Do you need extension brackets to clear obstructions, how about double poles to hold both voiles and curtains on one system? For doorways we regularly use recess brackets that fit against the side wall. If you have limitation on space to fit brackets you may need versions with smaller back plates so you can squeeze them in between architraves and covings. It is vital to choose the right system to work in your environment, and so my advice is always to start here and then see what looks you can get within those restrictions.

Bay windows offer a particular challenge that the pole industry is well equipped to solve. Some metal poles can be bent either on site by a suitably skilled fitter, and others in the factory with the angles and measures all supplied beforehand. If it is a wide bay you will require extra brackets that the rings can move passed and so specialist passing brackets and rings are available. A word of caution: In my experience passing brackets always need more care when opening and closing curtains, and so managing your clients expectations is vital to avoid return trips. If you pull the curtains too fast they can catch on the brackets and get rather annoying – a little care makes the world of difference.

There are fewer options for bay windows when using wooden poles. Byron & Byron offer their Metamorph system that is built to order for you with angles added at regular intervals so rather than being curved it is faceted. The good news is that where these joints are created they are reinforced with a clever metal system that means they joints are at least as strong as the rest of the pole. Not cheap, and the delivery costs are significant (sent in a custom-built crate), but when installed they look fab!

One issue with poles is that the rings can rub along the length of the pole, especially with heavy curtains where they ‘bite’ into the pole. There are two easy solutions. Add some polish to the pole once a year and you will see them glide far easier. A more permanent solution is to have a glide-strip added which means the rings sits on this rather than the wood and pretty much solves this problem. Don’t worry, it sits on the top of the pole and is virtually invisible.

To cord or not to cord your pole? That genuinely is a question I have weekly with our clients. Some suppliers will add a track to the pole and this means you can cord the pole meaning you can open and close the curtains using the cords rather than pulling them with your hands. There are a number of practical benefits to cording:

  1. If you can’t easily reach the curtains, perhaps you have a sofa or table in the way, then they solve an immediate issue.
  2. If you have linen or silk curtains you may be wary of touching the leading edges too much, Linen will crease every time and silk will show any grease marks.
  3. Some curtains are harder to pull especially if very tall and so cording overcomes this.

Some clients simply like corded because it’s what they have always had, and that’s fair enough.

There are also drawbacks (no pun intended) of cording. If you have weaker walls where fitting the brackets securely is an issue you probably want to avoid this as all the force when puling on the cords goes through the outside bracket and so exposes any weaknesses – although if this is the case look out for next week’s insight as alternative solutions are out there! Cording also adds probably 30%+ to the cost.

In terms of finishes, wooden poles give you almost unlimited options as they can be finished to order for you. Byron & Byron offer a great finishing service. Many wooden and metal poles can be RAL coloured at extra cost, which can be a great way to make the pole an intrinsic part of your design.

There are unfinished poles out there which you can then paint yourself. A nice idea, but remember that the pole suppliers will add many coats of specialist paint, bake them on and finish with special coatings. There is nothing worse than a heavily scratched pole after a few weeks of the rings running along it.

A quick mention on hand forged poles. We use these regularly and they give a great look in the right environment. Using a specialist forged pole maker is, in my experience, more successful than engaging a blacksmith, who will have all the skills but perhaps lack some knowledge of the nuances needed for a successful solution. Made by The Forge are a good first stop.

A style I go to more and more are French poles which curve back to the wall. They look fantastic and the curve back means you can lose some of the fullness when drawn back. The minimalist brackets make for a super clean look too.

Finally – finials. I’m not going to say much as I’m sure you know all about them, just one thing to remember is to be clear when measuring whether the length includes or excludes the finials.

If you’ve found this helpful, please share.

Next time… Tracks and Tracked Poles

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Journal Insight #10: Hand-made curtains vs Machined curtains
Next Post
Journal Insight #12: Curtain poles and curtain tracks – part 2

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