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I recently moved into a period house and need to organize new curtains for each room. I don’t know where to start, but I want to do some research and get creative. Do you have any suggestions?
Designing and making curtains can sometimes feel like a mystical art. Do you know, for example, your pencil folds thanks to your triple pinches? And it’s about as basic as it gets. How about the arcane world of trimmings? Passementerie is the fine craft of making elaborate, ornamental trims or borders for furniture (and clothing, too).
We are talking about pom poms and ribbons, we are talking about braids and cords. Beads and fringes and basically anything fancy and shiny, tangy and delicious. Imagine a huge, yet simple royal cake without frosting. The trimmings are the icing on the cake. There are many more things to consider: where do we stand on the pelmets? Embraces? Swags?
I just started making more elaborate curtains myself. In my hotel project in Paris, for example, I gave all the bedroom windows very simple rectangular rigid stripes made of fabric-covered MDF with a very wide and contrasting grosgrain ribbon border, as a tribute to the late interior designer David Hicks. The curtains themselves were made with a matching fabric and trimmed in the same way.
It would be exciting to have higher ceilings and nicer windows to play with at my country house. I don’t have big proportions, but I still yearn for drama and swags and a gothic headband. See Edward Harpley: This company makes beautiful hats that can be produced in any wood or decorative finish.
Of course, not every room in the house calls for elaborate treatment. It should be noted, however, that a headband can look surprisingly modern: see the bathroom in Nina Flohr’s London townhouse designed by Veere Grenney, with its elegant off-white headband with scalloped edge edged in green. Hard headbands strike me as very suitable and smart: like dressing a window in a Savile Row suit.
Where to start in your own home? There is a huge range to choose from when it comes to fabrics and upholstery and it depends on your personal preferences and what you have inside as well. In a carpeted bedroom, plain curtains of soft, draped linen work very well. In a bedroom that’s painted a solid color, I like a print: something floral, say, or geometric. Large-scale printing can be a bold and vivid choice.
Then again, I also love the matching curtains on the walls, a look created using fabric on the walls in the same design as the window treatments. I am also a big fan of striped curtains. I love Dedar’s line of stripes (their plains are good too) and the silky, soft feel of their fabrics lends itself well to delicate, flowing curtains. (My favorite is his Regimen strip, which comes in many pungent colourways.)
Ticking is a more rustic, inexpensive, completely classic security system that works wonderfully in country homes. Tinsmiths sells a wide variety, and their range of plain and patterned fabrics is also exemplary.
But let’s think outside the box. Think about things like fabric scraps, old wall hangings, and bedspreads. I’m eyeing, for example, a beautifully sunny Uzbekistan suzani circa 1980, available through Nushka, as well as a raspberry-red striped silk panel sold by Katharine Pole. These two elements would make a lovely unique curtain for a back door in a kitchen, for example.
It reminds me of a curtain from Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, which I have always loved: a single red curtain with gray stripes, which stands out beautifully against the white walls of the gallery.
Usually. I prefer brass poles: Jim Lawrence makes some very smart reed sticks. And I’m never the type to turn my nose in front of an ornamental jewel. Once again, Edward Harpley finds trump cards with spectacular things: sign me up immediately for Prince of Wales, Emperor or Osterley! I like my curtains to brush the floor, with a few extra inches.
Decorator John Fowler is often considered the master of elaborate curtain treatment. Look at pictures of pieces created by him in the 1930s and 1940s and you’ll see what I mean. Fowler’s designs have more in common with couture dresses than with your average pair of curtains: all the dazzling shapes and complicated, almost sculptural trims, plus, naturally, hung in the nicest and most perfect way.
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In fact, Fowler researched historical costumes and collected Victorian and Regency dresses to inspire his designs, and you can see the influence in his interiors.
So, my advice? Consider unusual fabric options and think carefully about the details. No, the full Fowler look isn’t for everyone, and after all, this over-the-top, over-the-top style of the Brighton Pavilion is more of a niche approach that would usually only suit the larger of the rooms.
But think of this look as a stepping stone: even a simple contrasting braid on a curtain edge can beautifully finish an otherwise simple and ordinary curtain set. (I love French company Houles’s wide range of trimmings, especially their Greco and Palais Royal braids, woven in key Greek patterns.) Or, quite simply, why not forgo the standard off-white cotton and line up a pair curtains in an unexpected fabric? Small details can elevate the mundane to the remarkable.
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