Hanging Curtain Rods on Plaster Walls

The last time I blogged about the living room window blinds that came with our house, I went into exquisite detail about how ugly, broken, and potentially dangerous they were. (In case you missed it or think I’m exaggerating, check out my ranty post about their irredeemable awfulness from a few weeks back.) It was self-evident from the beginning that those old blinds had to go.

But what to replace them with? In classic guy fashion, Joe wasn’t very picky — he just wanted something functional that would provide privacy at night, since our living room windows look right out on the street.

But my preferences were more specific. Crazy specific, you might say. I wanted curtains, but not just any curtains… curtains that were easy to open and close. None of this nonsense of wasting 15 seconds every day messing around with them. My dream was to be able to stand in one place, pull a cord in each hand, and fill the room with light in a single fluid motion. Like being queen of the world.

Those preferences pretty much meant draperies on a traverse rod, and happily, our living room has pretty much the ideal setup for that. There’s the narrow span of wall between the two windows where both cords can go, and there’s even a big old radiator in front of it, so that once the cords are anchored to the wall, they’ll be pretty well out of sight and out of reach of little baby hands. For reference purposes, here’s that shot of the entire window wall again:

The living room windows as seen when we moved in.

As for actually hanging curtain rods on our walls, there was one little detail that complicated matters: our walls are plaster and lath, not drywall. This is important because one of the first things we did was pick up a stud finder, to locate the studs in our walls, so we’d know where to attach the curtain rods… only to learn the hard way that stud finders generally do not work when you have plaster and lath. Maybe there are some super turbo ones that do, but ours just kept going off randomly and inaccurately no matter where on the wall we placed it. (In the words of Rick Perry, “oops.”)

So that left two basic courses of action:

  1. Use some kind of toggle bolts or wall anchors that are specifically designed to secure things to plaster walls.
  2. Drill holes randomly and see if we hit something solid. (Keeping in mind the dangers of getting carried away, of course.)

Or better yet, drill the holes where we wanted them, and then if there’s nothing solid enough to hold the screws, make use of the anchors. There seem to be quite a few different kinds of wall anchors designed for just this purpose, but the ones we were considering using looked something like this:

Product image from here.

But when I started drilling into the walls above the window, I noticed immediately that there was a lot of resistance — like I was drilling into very hard, very solid wood. There did seem to be a point past which the wall hollowed out, so maybe the solidness was just the lath (aka the wooden slats the plaster sticks to.) But whatever it was, it had no problems holding the screws in place when I drilled them straight in.

A random closeup of one of the curtain brackets.

And despite some vague fears that the curtain rods would just fall right down again, I think they’ve proven themselves to be attached quite securely. The rods actually went up in early October (I guess you can chalk that up to pregnancy nesting energy in the last weeks before Lily was born) and the curtains themselves have been up since early last week. So far, there hasn’t been the slightest sign of wobbliness, instability, cracks in the walls, or anything else that might suggest a problem, though if any of that ever changes I’ll be sure to add an addendum to this post.

Here’s how the bare rods looked for four months or so, between when we put them up and when we actually added the curtains:

One of the new curtain rods, with the blinds still on the windows below.

As the photo above shows, we took a “high and wide” approach to hanging the curtains — high to emphasize the vertical height of the windows, which I think was a good move considering the radiator situation below them, and wide so that when the curtains are open, they’ll block as little window as possible. But the curtains themselves are a subject for their own post, since they were kind of a DIY hack job… so stay tuned for the epic finale to this series of posts about living room window treatments!

In the meantime, I’d be curious to hear from anyone who’s had experiences attaching things to plaster walls, whether it was curtain rods or photo frames or something else entirely. How difficult was it? Did the results turn out as expected? Should we expect our walls to cave in six months from now? Feel free to share any thoughts or stories in the comments.

2 Comments

  1. I have been trying to hang curtain rods on plaster walls, but haven’t had a whole lot of luck. I was able to get 2 rods hung up, but there’s one window that no matter what kind of screws I use, it doesn’t work. It’s been a nightmare.

  2. I believe I have the same curtain rail system. There is a broken component, but I don’t know what the make is. Could you tell me what the make of your rail system is or where you got it? Thanks.

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