Sunday, August 23, 2009

Swags or Panels, Panels or Swags

I’ve fallen in to window treatment hell. The only thing I do know at this point is what I don’t want. I don’t want heavy, Victorian-esque drapes with a dominating valance that covers everything. I spent way too much time stripping the paint off the woodwork in this room to now cover it all up with pinch-pleated drapes.

I toyed with the idea of lace panels, but that is really a bit much for me. The next thing you know I would be tossing doilies around the room. Mostly, I’m trying to avoid the house looking too much like an 1890s Victorian. I’m trying to find a nice balance between the old and the new. I want a slightly contemporary look with a definite nod to the past.

I’m almost finished with the paint stripping on these

Above are the windows in question. This is the 3-window bay in the dining room. You can see the other 3 walls in this room in a post from last week. Including the casing and corner blocks, each window is 110X42 inches. This pretty much rules out anything off-the-shelf. I was just at Target and the longest panels they had were 95-inches. Even if I started at the base of the corner blocks they would still hang awkwardly off the floor.

I was going to go to a local drapery place, but after my last experience with a local shop owner I might blow up at them, and not just on the blog, if I was met with a poor attitude. I’ve found that when shopping for drapes or carpeting I’m usually not accepted very well unless I were to go in dressed in a 3 piece suit or something. They pretty much feel like they are wasting their time.

I remember when I shopped for carpet at my last house. When I told the sales woman I needed carpet for 3 rooms and a hallway she immediately took me to the in-door/out-door carpet samples. I had to stare at her her in the eyes, and in a voice like I was talking to a 2 year old say, “No, for inside my house. Three rooms and a hallway inside my house. Later, in the same house, I had another salesman come by to give me a quote on sheet vinyl for the kitchen. What was there was dingy and stained and curling up along one wall. His response was, “What, for a guy like you, this isn’t too bad”. He didn’t get my business either. {Sigh!} It is like I must beg people to take my money sometimes.

I’m going to go with wood rods and holders. I’ve found several unfinished types both locally and on-line that I can stain to look like redwood, so it will match the rest of the wood in the room. For the drapes I was leaning towards simple tabbed panels at first, because I thought it would be easy. I’m sure I could find someone to sew a hem and add some tabs at the top if I found the fabric. However, I think that might be a little too contemporary. It is a nice look, but a little plain for this room.

So now I’m leaning towards swag drapes. If I beg and plead, and maybe buy a new suit, I could probably find a professional to make swag drapes for me. Another trend is to hang fabric over rod and loop it across the top, with the swag hanging down in the middle. I think it is a nice look and not too formal, but it may be too trendy. I want to hang the rods at the base of the corner blocks so the blocks are still visible. I’ve ordered roller-shades from Smith & Noble for the windows, so the swag drapes would be in addition to that, and go to the floor on both sides.

Pinch Pleated With Valance

Tab Panel

Swag – mine would be a little simpler than this

When I used Smith & Noble for the kitchen some people mentioned how they were over-priced and I should shop else where next time. This time I went to three or four different sites and Smith & Noble was right in the ballpark and not even the most expensive. Some sites were really, really cheap, but that makes me nervous to buy something that is so far below what others are selling the item for. I picture the first time I go to roll up the shade the damn thing breaks and pops off the wall and is then a non-rolling roller shade for the next 10 years.

With the roller shades purchased and the rods and hangers picked out, the last piece of the puzzle is the fabric for the swag. So today I went – {wait for it}in to a fabric store. I was so far out of my element I felt like I should have been in a NASA space suit with a tether attaching me to my car in the parking lot. It was like I was in a SciFi movie with deep, noisy inhales and exhales as I moved in slow motion around the rows of fabrics. This must be how some woman feel when they go in to an auto-parts store. I had no idea where to even start.

I strolled around looking at fabrics and noting prices. I figure I need 8 yards per window. Prices ranged from $2.99 to $9.99 a yard, but nothing really caught my eye at first. This is primarily because I’m not sure what I’m looking for. I eventually found my way back to a selection of upholstery fabrics. They were pricey, but really very nice and a lot to chose from. The best part is, they are normally $14.99 a yard, but are 40% off until the end of the month. Some have nice patterns that I think would give me that nod to the past that I’m looking for. Now I just need to make a decision.



Jayne said...

I've been having the same debate myself about my dining room windows. I think simple is better and lets the window trim really show. Have you tried The name is a little misleading; check it out. The best part is that they will make curtains to a custom length or width if what they have in stock won't do. That would really help you with your lovely large windows.

Anonymous said...

swags, and i'd go for a gold or red cotton brocade (not too stuffy, young and moderne!) with gold or red or gold and red trim. and, or, lined with the contrast color so that when it takes a swoop over the rod, you can get a glimpse of its petticoat.
swags, perfect. you can get patterns for them in the fabric shop, or check out different kinds you might like.

Kaci said...

What about some simple roman shades? They are easy to make yourself; custom made can range in price from reasonable to expensive based on fabric choices. No roller mechanism to break and fitted inside the window would allow the lovely wood to show and give a contemporary feel to the room.

Anonymous said...

Hi-I've been reading your blog via Housebolgs and find the work that you've been doing on your house remarkable. As everyone else has said, it looks fabulous.

You're talking fabric now which is what I do on the side. I'm not sure what fabric stores are in your area, but Jo Ann's Fabrics (especially their Jo Ann's Etc. stores) has a lot of fabrics that would look really nice done up as curtains for your dining room. Given the historic era of your house, and the colors you've chosen for the paint, I think a combination of these materials would look very nice. Use the Bolivia Onyx as sheer panels and top them with a solid of the tan Signature Silk Solids. I think you're right in that tab top curtains won't look right, unless you get the right fabric. A light, airy curtain would allow the architectural details to show through without being hidden by a heavy curtain.

If you get to the point where you're ready to have some made, if they don't poo-poo you, ask at the service desk if they have a listing of people who sew for customers. In the Jo Ann's store that I worked in we kept one such list.


Greg said...

Ha! I knew this one would get comments fast. Thanks for the input everyone. Lots to think about.

Katherine said...

Go with a luxury, period appropriate fabric such as a velvet with shiny tassle trim or something brocadelike, and do a straight craftsman-like curtain on wood panels.

In other words, if you do not want the high Victorian nonsense then the period-appropriate place to go is to something Arts and Crafts that (at the time) allowed to wood to show.

The problem with the pics that you are showing is that the fabrics are not period appropriate. If you find something at a Target or wherever that you like well enough, it is not at all difficult to to sew a panel on the top or bottom in order to get the right length. Also it was a huge trend a couple of years ago, so it would look updated.

And I cannot believe that I am saying this, but I would sew them for you if you would mail them to me. Only I cannot promise perfection in the length. That would require actually being there.

I cannot believe that I just said that.

Greg said...


Interesting points. Yes, I agree that the fabric is important, and those pictures don't show it well, but I think the style is equally as important. I'll Google Arts & Craft Drapes and see what I find. Thanks.


The fabric in the link you posted is similar to the upholstery fabrics I was looking at yesterday, and the price is similar, as well. I think I might have been at a Jo Ann.

That is funny that you mentioned about asking if they knew someone who could do the sewing because that is exactly what I was thinking about doing.


Diane Macrae said...

This lady posts at a Victorian furniture message board I hang out at:

I thought you might enjoy Eastlake's rant. :)

Greg said...

I loved that article written by Eastlake. I think it so funny that a lot of people associate his name with The Victorian Age, but the more I read by him it seems he is more often than not riling against the excesses of the time.

This kind of makes sense because most new trends are actually a decade or more old by the time they become popular. There are always the iconoclasts who start new trends or rebel against the old. Then, 10 years later, the sheep follow suit.

Case in point is music, Punk Rock started in the 70s with bands like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Clash, but it is mostly associated with the 1980s. The Clash’s seminal album of “The 80s”, London Calling, was actually released in 1979. The Sex Pistols released God Save the Queen in 1977. The Ramones release their first album in 1976. Rap music followed a few years after when Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five released “The Message” in 1982, which was one of the first big Rap hits. Yet, Rap is associated with the 90s. The list goes on.

Anything that is popular today, in any genre, most likely got its start 10 or 20 years ago in places like LA, NY, or London.

Christine Thresh said...

Go for tab panels. We had a Victorian house in Santa Rosa and I made tab panels for the windows. They did not distract from the woodwork. We hung them on simple wooden rods.
You will be able to find someone to make them for you. They are very simple.

Izzy said...

the red and gold in your room make the room seem small. You should have used a lighter color for the walls, to make the woodwork stand out. The reason people have white or beige ceilings are because it makes them seem more endless rather than closed in. i understand that the color scheme matches the stained glass but it really isn't working in the room. You can pick out red and gold decor.

Anonymous said...

What type of furniture are you gonna have in here eventually? Super formal? Etc. That might help narrow down the curtain options...
And I'll be very curious how you put curtains up on those 3 windows...I have a similar situation going on in my front parlor and I've just left it with lace panels for the time being..

Greg said...


The furniture will be a little on the formal side. There is the built-in, which dominates one wall, and then the fireplace with oak mantle and tile surround opposite that. So far, there is a Duncan Phyfe style table and a reproduction high Victorian sideboard. This is the reason I don't think the tab panel curtains would work too well.


What can I say. There is just no way I could do beige or white walls in any room of my house. This is an 1895 Victorian not a 1995 tract home.

Boolysteed said...

Finally, something I feel comfortable commenting on. When you've touched every surface of a room a minimum three times eg. stripping, plastering, and then painting; it will never feel too small! What do you want to accomplish with this window dressing. Is it just privacy, custom antique roller shades. Roman blinds are elegant and don't take away from window wood work. See for wood blinds on an original victorian advert. There are also good pix of victorian drapes. Most drapes were to insulate against the cold and wind. In that case I agree with Katherine, real velvet curtains, make sure they are lined to add weight and longevity against sun. I have the original stain on all the wood work on my wavy glass windows, with roman bamboo shades. They give privacy and are practically invisible when pulled, i.e. they don't draw eye away from wood casings.

Anonymous said...

tab curtains, as genevieve gorda says, look cheep. cheep. cheep. hope you're watching "Design Star" on hgtv. i think you'd win.

Kathy from NJ said...

I love the red and gold paint, the room is certainly big enough and tall enough to handle it. I prefer the swags hung so the woodwork shows. Can you talk to other restorers in your area and see what they did drape-wise? And how about the Carson Mansion, what did they do?

Kathy from NJ said...

I just looked at the Ingomar dining room and really like the lace panels with valances - it looks like they are hung inside the window frame. What is your objection to lace panels?

Greg said...

I almost went with lace panels. I have no real objection to them. The Ingomar also uses swing arm curtain rods, of which I have two sets. If I had a matching third I might have used them. It is important to note that the Carson mansion (a.k.a. The Ingomar) was built more than a decade before The Petch House.

Kate Roth said...

From a highly regarded textile expert, here's a wonderful site for inspiration and sanity when it comes to dressing your windows. Wallace specializes in Arts & Crafts, but her spare and elegant look is well-suited to your Queen Anne dining room. I was about to swathe my Queen Anne bay in yards of yellow silk, and then I stumbled on the Wallace site, and changed my perspective. Hand-stenciled roller shades with simple inside-the-window hangings set off my beautiful frames and allow them to shine. Wallace offers custom curtains and shades,as well as hand-embroidered linens (bed and table). Not cheap! But you can purchase curtain, shade and bedding fabrics from the site, along with embroidery floss and pattern appliques, stencils, paints and brushes. Wallace & Friends encourages DIY-ers! (These simple window treatments do not require advanced sewing skills, and it looks like you could have endless -- historically accurate! -- fun with the stencils)

Omar said...

I also like the roman shades and have put up a few, particularly in the non formal areas of my house. I do like how they are recessed in the window and don't cover up the wood detail. They look great from the inside, but aren't as easy on the eye when viewed from outside.

For that reason I've gone with full length curtains on my front facing windows. I've mounted them on some metal curtain rods I picked up from rejuvenation. It looks a lot nicer when viewed from the street in my opinion. Good luck!