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DIY Formal Pipe Curtain Rods

24th February 2015

I probably owe our neighbors an apology.  Let me explain.

We moved into our house 3 years ago.  It was built in 1935.  Downside – it’s smallish with tiny closets.  Upside – it has a lot of cool old details – I love the big front windows, arches and high ceilings.  It has an old fashioned fancy living room that I like to call “the parlor”.  In my mind, that room is one long running episode of NPR’s Dinner Party Download.  In a house full of Frozen toys, it is adult-zone.  I also love to use the room to have impromtu family dance parties.  We like to really break it down.

Here’s where the apology comes in.  We had no curtains in the parlor or adjacent dining room – for 3 years.  No matter where our neighbors lived on the street, they could probably see us dancing like buffoons to old skool Positive K a couple times a week.  Sooooooorrrrry.

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Finally, we committed to drapes.  My Mom (an amazing seamstress and DIYer) made them for us.  We said forget Christmas and birthday gifts for as long as you want – we don’t want stuff.  We want drapes.  They were a ton of work.  9 foot tall white linen drapes.  They weighed about 200 lbs.  She made in her sewing room in Pennsylvania, packed a carry-on of clothes and flew them as excess luggage from Philly.  (My Mom is just….awesome.)

Now to get these suckers hung.  We needed something that looked kind of formal.  I wanted wrap-around sides to increase the insulation (1935 windows are about two steps up from a plastic bag stapled to a frame, insulation-wise).  They needed to support a ton of weight and match the fancy parlor-cum-disco vibe.

I priced out drapery hardware.  The best price I could find was several thousand dollars.  Something deep inside me revolted and hollered, “Oh HELLLL no!”  That just sounded like the most boring way EVER to spend my money – and kind of 1st-world-problems ridiculous.  Out of principle, I just couldn’t do it!

Enter iron pipes.  Just like you, I’ve seen tons of drapery rods on pinterest made out of iron pipes.  But they always look rustic and heavy – which I really like in some spots but not the parlor.  I figured with a little metallic paint and proportion changes we could make them formal enough.  I figured out a solution and everything cost about $250 for all the rooms.  $3500 vs $250?  No brainer.

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Supplies:

  • 3/4 inch black pipe cut and threaded to the lengths you need ($16/10 ft)
  • 3/4 inch black pipe nipples in 2 in length ($1.32/ea @ Home Depot)
    (Btw, ha ha, let’s giggle here because I’m going to have to say nipple a lot in this post.  Pause.  Let’s get it out of our systems.  Deep breath. OK!)
  • 3/4 inch black threaded floor flanges ($6/ea)
  • 3/4 inch black iron threaded tee joint ($3/ea)
  • 3/4 inch black steel elbow ($2/ea)
  • wood screws if you can anchor into studs or dry wall anchors with a high weight rating
  • Syrlig curtain rings – ($4/10 pk)
  • Split rings – 30mm ($5/50)
  • Spray paint – I used Rustoleum in Antique Brass
  • tape measure
  • level
  • electric drill
  • drop cloths

Instructions:

1.  Assembly is easy.  The hard part is planning.  First of all, measure your window width from outside moulding to outside moulding.  Now figure out how much extra overhang width you want on each side.  Never hang your curtain rods to the exact width of your window.  Decorating 101.  Give it 8-16″ of overhang on each side, depending on the scale and placement in the room.  These were big dramatic windows, so in some cases I gave as much as 16″ and we made the drapes to those specifications.  It makes the windows look bigger.  Designbynumbers.com has awesome illustrations on the proportions that are important to consider when you’re planning.

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Designbynumbers.com has awesome tips on decorating proportions.

2.  Now that you know your total curtain rod width (window width + overhang) let’s figure out the pipe fittings that you need.  A most basic rod – one that is all one piece in the middle requires the pipe, 2 floor flanges, 2 nipples and 2 elbows.  If you have too much length to span without middle support, you need the complex window.  A complex window is 2 pipes cut to equal lengths, 3 floor flanges, 3 nipples, 2 elbows and 1 tee joint.  The extra fittings add width.  Calculate 2″ per elbow and 2.5″ per tee joint.  Using that info, back it up from there to figure out your pipe length.  Quick example.  You need 130″ curtain rod.  It’s  a complex window.  You need two pipes each cut to 61.75″.

Simple window = desired rod length – 4″ for 2 elbows
Complex window needs 2 pipes cut to = (desired total rod length – 6.5″ for 2 elbows and a tee joint)/2

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A quick note – when the pipes are measured the threading is not included in that measurement.  In my experience, the fittings never completely cover the threading so there’s a little give to this – your actual length will probably be a little over.  I didn’t care.  As long as they were centered you wouldn’t notice a difference.  If you’re needing very exact measurements, you may need a second round of cutting to get the threading length reduced.

Home Depot or Lowe’s will do the cuts for free.  Best to call ahead and make sure that their pipe cutting machine is in service.  (I spent one afternoon on a city-wide Home Depot tour looking for a functioning pipe cutter.)

3.  Time to assemble your curtain rings.  I found that the plastic Syrlig curtain rings from Ikea were incredibly sturdy.  The hooks that came with them weren’t strong enough to hold my drapes, though, so I put a metal split ring on them instead.  Count out the number of pleats that you have in your drapes (by the number of hooks you have), and that is how many rings you’ll need. Get to assembling.  Using a screw driver to pry open the split ring is the fastest way to get through this job.

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The finished assembly will look like this. You’ll only be able to see the top ring from the front of the curtain. But paint them all anyway. I didn’t paint my split ring because I got lazy. Shame on me!

4.  Paint!  The 3/4 in pipe feels more delicate than the 1 in. pipe that people usually use making curtain rods.  The paint also goes a long way to keep the look formal.  I was trying to match two chandeliers with brass accents that I found for a steal at the Restoration Hardware outlets.  I found the Rustoleum Antique Brass Metallic spray paint was a near perfect match.

Expect the pipes to be greasy and generally filthy when you get them.  Wipe the pipes down with a rag as best you can.  (They have to be cut with oil – there’s no getting around the mess.)

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I threw out a drop cloth, laid out all my pipes, fittings and assembled rings and started spraying.  You don’t want the paint to drip, so spray lightly and come back every 20 minutes to give another coat.  You’ll be slowly rotating the pipes to cover all sides.  Patience is key.  I kept the covers on the very ends of the pipes so that the threads didn’t get gunked up with paint.

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5.  Once everything is uniformly painted and dry. Start assembling.  There is a trick to hanging these.

For a simple window, you’ll assemble everything and then hang it.  Make sure you put all the curtain rings on before assembling.  (I liked to put one curtain ring on each nipple to give that wrap around effect.)  First, remeasure the assembled rod – remember that the middle may not be the exact middle of the pipe because the fittings may not screw in the same amount on each side.  Mark the middle of the rod with a piece of painters tape and a marker.  On your window, mark the point that is both in the middle of the window and at the height you want.  Match up the middle points.  Using a level, figure out where to put the holes on one floor flange.  Drill and attach.  Using the level, mark holes for the second flange.  You’ll need another set of hands for this because these are heavy!  Drill and attach.  You’re done!

For a complex window, breathe!  This one is easier but you’ll still need another set of hands.  First figure out the center of the window and the height you want the rod.  Attach the center floor flange.  Then screw in one nipple and the tee joint.  Next assemble one side of the curtain rod (floor flange > nipple (+1 curtain ring for wrap around) > elbow > pipe > remaining curtain rings).  Screw the whole assembled thing into the tee joint.  Use your level to get it straight, mark off the spots where the floor flange should be.  Drill and attach.  Repeat on the other side.  Done!

6.  Hang your curtains by putting one drapery hook in each of the split rings.  Stand back and marvel at how much more finished your room looks.

Your back might start hurting from:

1) the weight of all that saved money in your wallet, and
2) the hearty pats you get from friends and family at the dinner party you throw to strategically show off/celebrate your new curtains and homemade rods.

“Yea, I just grabbed my level, screwed it into the tee joint and drilled.  NBD.”
Go, girl!

One thought on “DIY Formal Pipe Curtain Rods

  1. Ernie Sandona

    Maria,
    This is the most awesome idea EVER! I am glad to see you have acquired your mother’s DIY skills. Will see your folks next week for a little R&R at an all-inclusive in the Dom. Repub. Hello to W_, S_ and P_.

    Reply

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