Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More On Window Treatments

I expected a big response from my last post and I got it. Thanks to everyone that posted. There was a lot of good information and good ideas given. First, to clarify a few things. The drapes are in addition to roller shades that have already been ordered. Many mentioned Roman shades, and while those might be nice, I’m not going to toss out $400 worth or roller shades and then order Roman shades.

One person asked a good question and that was, how is the rest of the room going to be decorated. If I was planning doing a mid-century modern look and bring in a bunch of Eames inspired furniture, then the drapes should match that style. As it is, I am planning on a formal dining room. That is, after all, what this room is.

So far I have the reproduction mahogany sideboard above, which I don’t really like all that much. The house came with 6 clawfoot tubs and I was desperate to unload two of them, so I traded them for that. I also have the Duncan Phyfe style table. That I’m not overly thrilled with either, but it was only $160 and it looks good under a table cloth. I plan on putting a large fern or palm in the middle of the bay window, with 2 extra chairs on either side. The only space left will be to the right of the fire place. That will have a small, yet to be purchased, marble top table. Along with the fireplace and built-in, the room will be full.

The best comment yesterday was the one that had the link to the Charles Eastlake article. Eastlake was a late 19th century critic who released several editions of an influential book on interior design in the 1880s and 1890s. The first sentence says it all, “The absurd fashion which regulates the arrangement of modern window-hangings cannot be too severely condemned, on account both of its ugliness and inconvenience.” Talk about not pulling punches!

He goes on to describe what proper curtains should look like. A simple metal or wood rod no more than and inch and a half in diameter, that the rings would slip over, and simple finials. “As for the curtains themselves, when not in use they hung straight down on either side, of a sufficient length to touch, but not sweep the ground.

This idea of “less is more” for drapes seemed to usher in a new trend in the 1890s. In the book “Victorian Interior Decoration”, there is a quote in the 1890 to 1900 chapter in which N. W. Jacobs, a drapery maker at the time wrote, “There were more first-class drapery men in the trade a decade since then there are at the present time, a fact which is accounted for by reason of the change in style of drapery. When the Eastlake and Queen Anne styles came in to favor, almost anyone could plan and cut the plain, straight valances and the long curtains. The experienced salesman were forced in to other channels of life.

Another quote for an 1890s book titled, “House Painting and Decorating” explained, “People no longer think that all of the woodwork of the window must be covered up and hidden by heavy upholstery, so the architect is called upon to design daintily fashioned wooden trim and moldings and the painter is called upon to finish those in the highest style of his art.

While this may describe emerging trends, there were no doubt a lot of people still doing drapes of all sorts in the 1890s. No matter what the decade, the world does not march in lock step where style is concerned. It is not like there was Interior Design Czar that suddenly announced that the world would now design in the Arts & Craft style and Victorian was dead. New styles can exist for more than a decade before they become popular.

I think though, I am moving away from the swag idea and in to something more like what Eastlake described. With the right fabric it will look simple, elegant, and be affordable. What more could I ask for.


Anonymous said...

I missed out on the first comments, so I'll get my 2 cents in here. I still think for someone undecided the most practical and elegant solution is a roller shade and lace curtains. Here's a link to some pricey A & C curtains: although they don't seem to have any long enough they do make custom lengths. Here is J R Burrows offerings:
And for the budget minded, J C Penney:
If you go with the wooden rods and rings get the kind with the metal eye at the bottom of the ring. Then you can make plain panels of a nice gold brocade and sew the rings on at intervals at the top. You will need to add a stiff interfacing at the tops of the curtains if you want them to look nice and crisp, or if you are going for a really casual look don't interface and let the fabric sag between the rings. Since this is a formal room, I would go with the former.
A nice compromise would be the roller shades and long white lace curtains and a velvet swag with fringe for the tops and some wonderful tasseled tiebacks.
Don't worry, Greg, those Victorian upholsterers and drapers were usually all men.

Boolysteed said...

I concur with Eastlake with regard to the drapes. I also went to the peacock room blog sight. There are very good pictures of the original curtain fabrics. Not so much on the swag. A nod to high function. Red wood rods with rings, so the heavy fabric will move easily over the rod when pulled closed or open. Or brass rods with brass rings for same effect. The peacock blog also talks about mimicking the dado on the chair rail or frieze above the window in panels on the curtain. This is an old trick to make very expensive material go a long way or for repurposing old curtains. It's easier to see than describe. But it works to good effect. Cheers.

Pandora said...

I'm just now catching up with your last post, so here are my two cents worth. Check out the pic on this page of the Bradbury & Bradbury site -
I think you could easily put together some velvet (or whatever fabric you like) curtains along these lines - notice the panels running between the velvet parts. You could buy curtains and then have a tailor put the panels in (of some coordinating fabric) - that way you don't have to find ungodly long curtains. If you can find some reasonable velvet panels you could piecemeal something like this. Or buy the velvet by the yard. We have a local tailor that is very reasonable, you might too! Anyway, just a thought!

Greg said...

That is it. That is what I want. Those drapes at the B&B site. Notice how the rod starts below the corner blocks and the fabric is entirely inside the casing. No big finials either. Simple, easy, and with the right fabric - elegant.

Karen Anne said...

The B&B photo is great, just the thing, imho.

A couple of late notes, to me tab curtains always say early colonial.

When I dealt with the dark window frames in my old bungalow, I got dark rods of almost the same color as the window frames and of a substantial but not distracting size, with finials on the ends, so that they looked significant but you really didn't notice them, just the windows and drapes, if that makes any sense.

One of the windows was a bay window, and it was impossible to find a true bay window rod that covered all three, so I got individual rods for each window. I had to have them cut down, but that was not a big deal.

Greg said...


Someone emailed me a photo of their bay windows with a single bar that went across the front. That would not really work for me. The plan has always been to do 3 distinct rods. Like you, I will most likely need to cut them down.

I think the tab drapes seem contemporary to me because they remind me of a Pottery Barn catalog. I put them in my last house, and in fact, some of my furniture came from PB. The whole downstairs had "that look". When I sold the place all of the realtors referred to it as "The Pottery Barn House". The house sold in a month with multiple competing offers.

Jayne said...

Bed Bath & Beyond has bay window connectors for curtain rods. You screw them into 3 separate curtain rods and the connectors make it one big rod that angles into the corners of the bay windows. I just did it in my dining room.

Pandora said...

My sister knows the lady that did the drapes for the B&B Herter Bros room. I will email her and see if you can get in touch with that lady to get the details of that whole setup - I'll let you know!

Greg said...

Cool. I'm going to buy fabric today.

Kathy from NJ said...

I too love those B&B drapes, they will be perfect in your room. I hope you haven't purchased the fabric yet - you need to find out how much you need....I would hate it if you bought 8 yards and then found out you really needed 8-1/2 or 9. You'll need the length plus extra 6 or 8 inches at the top plus 8-12 inches at the bottom for the hem. Width should be two to two and a half times the width of the window plus the side hems.

Katherine said...

You know, I am fairly sure that there is an Eastlake dining table set (on the smallish side in scale) at an antique store near my house.

I found this decorating book from 1910 on the web once (I think I linked it to my's at University of Wisconsin which has killer resources). The book was written in 1910, and it really solved most of my house design problems, since my house was built in 1910 with 1890-5 wood trim and finishings. The author ridiculed the Victorian habits (marble, for example), of which the most revealing was the habit of tieback curtains. Gives a good sense for what of the Aesthetic movement turned into the Arts and Crafts movement.

Another secret I got from that book was to use burlap on walls.

Another blogger that I linked to was quite wise about showing pics of homes that had mixed furniture styles, so you could get a sense of how there is no such thing as a period appropriate 'home'.