Curtain Couture

by Pamela Hughes

Recently, we spent some time talking about the practical, solar control aspects of window treatments: sheers, solar shades, venetian blinds, plantation shutters and the like.

That’s all well and good, and a prime need, especially here where the sun can be so intense.  But there is another reason to treat windows, and that is somewhat less functional and significantly more design oriented.  And that, of course, is having to do with the embellishment of windows.

Fabric treatment of windows can be stark and severe, or it can be exuberant, lush and over the top.  Both have their place and depending on the nature of the space, the architecture, the client and the budget, each can be appropriate.

Some of the simpler treatments, and ones which easily lend themselves to the more casual aspects of living here on the Florida coast, are roman shades.  These treatments consist of panels of fabric which are supported by a (generally) flat valance at the top, and then a series of horizontal pleats providing a decorative element when in the raised position, and a (generally) flat panel when lowered.  The panel can be truly flat, or it may be fabricated to have permanent pleats sewn into the face fabric, or a series of ribs sewn into the face fabric.  All of them have a pattern of rings attached to the back panel or lining.  This fabric not only protects the face fabric from direct exposure to the sun, but allows the more durable backing fabric to provide a surface to attach the rings which in turn allow passage of the cording, which raises and lowers the shade.

The fabric for the face material can be almost anything that is suitable for the room interior.  In many cases, we look to use muted and neutral fabrics, to not draw attention to the shades, but rather have them be more background to the other more dramatic and dominant design elements in the room.

We, however, often provide subtle elements on these sorts of shades.  The use of fabric banding, trimming tapes with subtle contrast embroidery can add nice detail touches to otherwise plain treatments.

Roman shades work particularly well on windows that do not descend to the floor.  We often install them with a valance that extends over the window casing.  If the home is contemporary and does not include casings on window openings, these shades work well to provide some richness to an otherwise stark opening.

For full-height openings and french or sliding glass doors, we often like to use a dramatic and well-scaled decorative pole with finials.  From this rod we then hang full and voluptuous drapery panels.  These can be either fixed panels or ones that can actually close, for both sun protection as well as privacy.

The array of poles, rings and finials available today runs quite a gamut.  They can range from simple iron or metal rods, with wrought finials, to elaborately carved or turned wood poles.  We often call these to be finished with colors and patinas to harmonize with the other woodwork or furniture pieces in the room.  Sometimes metal leaf is applied, either silver or gold, and given a beautiful glaze to make it appear to have grace and age, rather than be glaringly bright and new looking.  We want them to blend rather than shout out their presence.

The fabrics suspended from this armature then is really what we want to focus on.  Once again, the fabric here may be subtle and rich, perhaps linen or silk, but elegantly wrought, using almost dress-making details.  Edge trims, contrasting hem fabrics, can be part of the finishing palette. 

Alternatively, the fabric itself can be a powerful and bold damask, a dramatic print, or perhaps a colorful woven to make a significant statement in the room. 

The fabric can be pleated at the top, where the rings are attached, or can be folded over to make a hem, with a decorative trim element at the bottom edge.  There are just a million ways to provide variation and uniqueness to one’s interiors.

Another way to provide traversing panels is to provide a decorative valance at the top of the panels.  These can be simple, flat fabric-covered “boxes” to shield the traversing rod and mechanisms from view, or they can be elaborately shaped at the bottom with scallops and curves.  Another treatment is to provide a simple fabric valance, with perhaps box pleats at the center or third points, or maybe a series of box pleats at intervals, just as texture or for interest.  One can go on and on in the varieties and possibilities.

If we are part of the early planning process of a new house, or are embarking on a grand renovation, we often have a drapery pocket constructed.  This consists of configuring the crown moulding out about 10” to 12” away from the exterior wall surface, which allows the installation of the drapery tracks for sheers and the decorative drapery panels on the ceiling.  This allows the mechanisms and the tops of the pleats to be concealed, so the fabric just descends directly from below the crown moulding.  It is a clean -looking and tailored approach when the client does not want elaborate decorative drapery rods.  This treatment works particularly well in bedrooms, but not so well in multi-storied spaces, where the drapery panels would become awkwardly long.

All of the above drapery treatments can be motorized, and in the case of our large homes, we always recommend having this done to simplify the process of leaving the house for an extended period. 

Other treatments in our vocabulary of design possibilities are more elaborate treatments that we use in traditional homes, such as swags, jabots, heavy bullion fringe, and large passementerie tassels and tie-backs.  These are such fun to do, but often are not called for in our more relaxed Sarasota places.

Hughes Design Associates