Whenever you see old films and documentaries about the Victorians, after noting the wonderful looking clothes and hats the women wore, one thing stands out – the amazing festoons of curtaining at the windows. These were used for decoration and to keep the room as warm as they could – there wouldn’t have been central heating, only fires made in the main rooms. They went in for oversized curtains when they could get away with it with lots of blousy colours and chintzey patterns. Sometimes, especially if the windows were in a drafty corridor or on a landing, some would have to have the curtains sown with exta weights in the bottom hem so they curtains stayed down and absolutely in the position they were intended for instead of getting blown about in the drafts. Nothing makes you feel cold more quickly than seeing curtains and blinds moving about. Let’s face it if they’re at that stage, then nothing will get you much warmer.
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The interior design of any property generally reflects the owner installed at the time it was last set. I belong to a general interest group and a couple of the members are experienced seamstresses and undertake regular recovering of chairs, making of matching curtains, blinds and other soft furnishing items. This to them makes the point of interior design – it’s a very important part of making their home feel designed around them and their family. The rest of us less talented buy whatever we find in the massive out of town home supply emporiums. But to have the home actually stripped out and either refigured or added to takes nerve, money and a professional home interior design team. They have the skill to look at a room or dwelling and see potential – can that unloved little corner be lit and refurnished with an existing chair or cabinet . . . Would knocking out that bit of wall open up the kitchen or utility and bring in more light, etc etc. Always use a professional if your budget allows. It adds to the value of the property so much.
To make a truly grand job dressing the windows in any room needs some preparation work first. As with all decor related activities, cleaning around the framework to get rid of all those creepy spiders and other insects and creepy bugs. Then the glass needs a really good clean – perhaps with lemon juice in the rinsing water. The new e-cloths are superb at leaving a streak free finish. So. also if you’re dressing the bedroom windows, adding a blackout layer is a popular idea to prevent additional light from pouring in. Ensuring the main curtains are fully lined will also help reduce light polution. If using roller blinds, they too can have a blackout backing to try to keep the area outside as dark as possible. Venetion blinds are definitely a smart idea in kitchens and bathrooms. I’m thinking that venetian blinds are a superb choice for the kitchen and bathroom as they are manufactured in either plastic or wood and can instantly lift a room with their elegant fuss-free looks.
Way back in in Victorian times the need for curtains and window dressings was not purely for decoration and keeping ahead with fashionable trends. There was the somewhat bizarre social etiquette aspect to be taken account of too. In the days when families would entertain – the lady of the house would accept into her home another lady of her own house and it was all done very politely and in very heavily prescribed order. No one was alllowed to see legs – of any sort, be they attached to a young female, or furniture legs. It got quite ludicrous for a period. House furnishings and decor had to be of exacting nature too. The housekeeping staff would have to abide by eery new social dictat as far as placement of furniture and the covering of same. Antimacasas flourished greatly in this period – covering chair and table and even piano legs at the height of the Victorian folly period. A case of modesty being take to the most silly degree.
When I was walking down the town last week I couldn’t help noticing that two of the little cottages I pass have either changed hands and are now owned by the same family, or there’s someone offering a grat deal in these attractive american style wooden window shutters. Before this, I can’t really say I’d taken any notice of their window dressing as it was probably fairly bland. I only notice when blinds or curtains really make a statement and enhance the window cavatity int the wall! These new indoor shutters were almost identical to those I’ve experienced when staying over in the – US. They keep out lots of sunlight and heat – which in somewhere like the deep south is seriously necessary. They have to have airconditioning on 24/7 so anything that reduces the effect of the humidity is essential. The traditional wooden shutter blind across windows is now as traditional there as applie pie!
Swags and ornamental curtain displays are most definitely things of the past. We don’t currently go in for great big side curtains with massive swags on pelmets that stretch over the entire width of the window. This was such a fashion for so many year – probably due to the prim Georgians and Victorians, when here was a surfeit of curtaining materials and no one worried a jot about the travelling footprint of every mm of fabric. These days however the concerns are more ecologically based. We need good window dressing of whichever sort will protect us, our furniture and household effects from any damaging rays from the sun; any damp from water ingress and this can mean spores drifting about causing disease and many types of asthma. We also need to keep out the cold. Nothing is more debilitating than feeling cold when you’re trying to concentrate on reading, homework; letter writing whatever. When window covering is needed, it pays to speak to experts in that field. A combination of cost effective curtains, blinds and shutters will provide all the protection needed at a good price is planned and sorted as a project and not just knee jerk reaction to things.
I have spent a few holidays over in the States with family – it’s great living in with them for a couple of weeks at a time to really take in what’s different about life over there and here. One of the stand-out features for me is the difference in weather. How we dress our windows to suit this weather differs too. We just pull blinds down or close curtains. They have wonderful window shutter blinds which are made of wood. You have to keep out the extreme sunlight and heat when they have 70% humidity – otherwise the aircon is prohibitive to run. We have been seeing the advent of the same blinds over here now. In fact I know several families who have invested in them – more for show than keeping out extreme elements of course! One thing they don’t do is hang washing out – even though in most states they have much better weather all year and saving the use of tumble driers would save this planet overnight!
I help out at a local historic house – it’s actually known as a Hall, but is not particularly big. Being of palladian design, this means it has very balanced number of windows and doors on all elevations. The windows in fact all go from floor to ceiling in just about every public room downstairs. This is a huge amoun of glass to cover up to keep the cold out in the winter, as I can testify. The hall still has all the original internal window shutters that fold back each day. The sheer height of the windows involves one of us standing on a plinth to reach and unlatch and lift off the iron restraining bar so the shutters open. It’s such a basic design but it still works after 300 years. The thick wooden shutters themselves have been painted over many times and they’ve also warped a little – nothing too dramatic though, as they wouldn’t all fit so neatly and efficiently to let in bright sun but keep out the miserable darkness of a rainy night!
Whilst I was away on a quick trip to Texas, my host family were very busy and very kind but unable to take a lot of time of of their day jobs to entertain me – that was fine, I found plenty to satisfy my curious mind. However, they did enrol me as a family guest at their rather fantastic country club . . . . . Now we are definitely talking posh. It was grander than any spa or hotel I’ve been in to date. They had the most wonderful windows – huge but with style. The window dressings were equally impressve but also very functional. Being a privacy protection site, they had special see out but not see in windows; then they had the formal slatted shade producing shutters. There were also great swathes of curtain dressings to with side swags. It probably was rather OTT but such gorgeousness was a luxury.
I have noticed lately that some of my younger family friends have been adopting a more classical approach to their choice of soft furnishings and window dressings. After years of that rather grim combination of grey, black and grey, red-black-grey etc. I am sure this is because of the rather wonderful selection of blockbuster tv series currently – most of which have a historical theme. Particularly high on the list is anything Victorian. As we celebrate 200 years since her birth this year, there will be even more. These programmes reflect fashions and customs of the time. Very feminine bedrooms, pretty lace and floral themes. Bedding sets may be more modern with duvets, but the covers and matching curtains really do reflect a sumptuous feel which you don’t get with an austere minimalist theme. Pretty patels and chinz may not be everyones’ taste but it brings a lighter, softer air to any room.