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.
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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.
That lovely time of year is upon us again – light showers and then bright sunshine. It’s the perfect time for freshening up everything around the home. Curtains and blinds should come down to be cleaned and the window spaces thoroughly wiped down. It isn’t easy to do this sort of thing when the window dressings are still in situ. If venetian blinds don’t lift off, it is possible to pull them into the very highest position and clean around the back with a flim feather duster or micro stick this removes the dust from behind the blind and around the corners of the windows. Clean windows with malt vinegar does wonders – I’ve always found that spraying the windows with slightly diluted vinegar then immediately drying and polishing off with scrunched up newspaper works better than any duster and cream cleaner. Another good tip is to use clean rain water from the garden butt. I strain a can load through an old kitchen sieve.
One of the things you really need to consider when you move house, is how are the windows dressed currently – unless it’s a new build. What is the view immediately outside and can anyone see directly in? My best pal lives on a quiet estate and opposite are the sides of houses only – no overlooking windows or any problem. Therefore she has never felt the need to put up blinds or tulles or nets at all, just has some gorgeously coloured curtains that pull across at night to keep out draughts. Now though, she has thought that a fresh approach is needed – updating her decor, she has changed colourways quite dramatically. Instead of thick curtains hanging each side of the window, she’s now got shutters which open fully in the daytime but shut firmly of an evening and look very smart from both inside and outside.
I have connections with two or three community groups nearby – we meet regularly, at least monthly for two of them. Our choice of venue is very limited so it is very dissapointing that the one we are expected to use is so dreadfully grubby and has a permanently unkempt air about it. I dread to wonder what our speakers think when we welcome them. All they see is a rather ugly squat single storey place with a few parking places. When somewhere is rented out for hire, and this is the purpose of its existence, it should really be kept along other commercial property lines. Decent decor, clean and functioning washroom facilities, and top here – a decent fresh and well equipped kitchen. Our hall was built with public subscription so it isn’t going anywhere soon – but it’s not good enough for wedding receptions or anything that really matters anymore. Very sadly.