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Windows And Their Decorative Treatment
( Original Published 1917 )
The windows of a room, together with their hangings, constitute a very important item in the general scheme of interior decoration. Most windows should, of course, be curtained in some way to insure privacy, to soften the light, and to add to beauty. There is no one feature of house furnishing which as quickly tends to give a home-like atmosphere as proper curtains and draperies at the windows. A room which has looked bleak and bare seems to become livable, at once, when some suitable, thin fabric is hung at the windows.
A well-tested theory in connection with curtains is that, in the decorative scheme of the room in which they are placed, the curtains form the transition between the walls and ceilings and the furniture. In painting a picture three values must always be considered, the foreground, the middle distance, and the background. Each has its own place, yet there must be a pleasing transition from one value to another. If the age-old art principles of unity, harmony, and rhythm are observed, there is a complete continuity in progression from foreground to background. A beautiful room is a picture, so, the furniture, being the most important feature, should be conspicuous as foreground, the curtains as middle distance, and the walls and ceiling as background. The furniture of a room should be strong in line and tone, and the walls should be reticent and delicate in color. The curtains, then, must be the harmonizing link between, giving a final touch of beauty and grace.
Few home makers realize that the shape, size, and method of hanging the draperies of a window often seem to alter the entire architectural structure of the room, and even of the window opening itself. If a room is low ceiled, an effect of greater height may be gained by using narrow side hangings at the windows, falling in straight lines from the rods at the very top of the window to a distance of two feet below the window sill. If the material of these side hangings is heavy and rich, these strips may be made as narrow as eighteen inches, without a sacrifice of dignity. No blinds should be used with these side hangings, but soft, straight curtains of some sheer material are used inside, next to the glass. Side hangings may also be used in a room which is unfortunately too high in ceiling. In this case the hangings should be broader and should extend only from the lower edge of the woodwork at the top of the window, down to the window sill. Across the top a rather deep valance should be placed. When the thin inner curtains are draped back, the slanting lines so formed, although not usually to be recommended from an artistic point of view, still tend to give even greater breadth.
If the windows of a room are few in number and too small to let in a sufficient amount of light, great care should be used in the curtains. Only the thinnest fabric should be used next to the glass, and if hangings are desired at the sides they may be placed beyond the edge of the window opening, covering the woodwork. This is also a good treatment for a window, when the woodwork is unpleasant in color or form. However, when the woodwork is well designed, it is always best to show it, for it gives the window a point of unity with the rest of the room.
If it is felt that there must be roller shades, they should be drawn up to the very top of the windows, out of sight, during the daylight hours. It is never a mistake to let sunshine into the house, even if it does fade the rugs and discolor the wall paper. It is better to have a healthy, and therefore happy, home than an unfaded gloom. People often speak of the effect of restfulness of a dimly lighted room, but, in reality, strained eyes are too often the price which is paid for that form of dusky coziness. It is always best to let in all the light possible, merely softened with the sheerest of curtains.
The roller shade which is in general use in the majority of houses is not really essential to any room where the windows are properly curtained. The draperies next to the glass will keep out the crude light from the room, and will insure sufficient privacy. If, in the evening, heavier curtains are desired, the side hangings may be arranged so that they can be drawn across the window, by the aid of a simple pulley arrangement with cord and tassel at the side. This avoids the necessity for the roller shade, which is never beautiful, is often hanging askew or is out of order, and as generally used keeps out too much light. An otherwise pleasing room is sometimes spoiled by the various roller shades at its windows hanging crookedly, or at different levels.
If, because of their convenience or for some particular reason, roller shades are desired, there are several points which it is well to know. When roller shades are used, they should be made of glazed material. A glazed material stays clean much longer than an unglazed material, because the smooth surface does not catch the dust. A blind made of glazed material also pulls up much straighter than one the material of which clings to its own surface. Opaque green shades are best for the bedrooms, for they shut out the light most completely, and green is a restful color for the eyes. Two-toned shades are often used, green on the inside and white on the outside. This is especially desirable when white shades are used in the windows of the rooms on the first floor, so that, from the outside, all the windows of the house seem uniform. White holland shades without much dressing are usually better for the living rooms, as they let in the greatest amount of light while still giving privacy. Holland shade material may be bought by the yard and easily made up at home. A holland shade usually keeps fairly clean for two years and then is often very successfully laundered. No attempt at adornment by the use of lace or fringe should ever be attempted. This only draws attention to the shades.
Another mistake which is all too often made is in the use of short or sash curtains stretched across the lower half of a window. This form of curtain not only detracts from the beauty of the room in which it is placed, but is a detriment to the outside appearance of the house as well. If it is necessary to shut out the neighbor's view from bedroom, dining room, or living room, it is best to do so by the use of very thin net curtains, hanging back from the glass, close to the heavier curtains which are made to draw.
The proper hanging of curtains is quite important. Thin white curtains should never be hung from rings or hooks. As they are usually not required to draw, the rod is best slipped into a stitched heading. Rods of white enameled metal are proper to use, as they can be washed. Brass rods, which are so often used, are not as satisfactory, for continued cleaning and polishing is required to keep them in fit condition.
Heavy side hangings should be hung upon wooden poles matching the woodwork, or on strong iron rods enameled the color of the window casing. If the side hangings are to be used to draw at night in place of a blind, the casing for the curtain rod should be sufficiently large. If there are net curtains next the glass, side hangings made to draw, and a valance, three separate curtain rods, one outside the other, are required. If muslin curtains are placed next to the window and the side hangings are not to be drawn, then there need be only two curtain rods, for the side hangings and valance may be placed on the same rod. Again, if there are to be muslin curtains and side hangings, but no valance, there need be only one rod used, the side hangings and the muslin curtains being placed upon the same rod.
No window should ever be hung with a single curtain stretched across it, and even when screening is necessary a few inches should always be open in the center between the curtains. The most beautiful pictures possible for a room are those made by glimpses of the outside world, framed by the soft folds of the window hangings. Even the despised smokestacks often take on a wonderful beauty when only a small portion of the sky line is shown in this way.
In conjunction with simple hangings and good design, the beauty of a curtain depends upon its color and texture. The buying of curtain material for her windows is no easy problem for the woman who wishes only the beautiful and yet must take count of the cost. There is no branch of furnishing upon which such great profits are made by most merchants as in curtain materials and in readymade hangings. With a little knowledge it is possible to save more in curtains and their fittings than in anything else in the ordinary furnishing of a house.
For the brackets arid poles at the windows, it is always best to measure windows oneself, buy the fittings of the proper length, and then hire a carpenter to put them up. The resultant bill will always be found to be much smaller by this method than when the merchant sends out a man to take measurements and put up the curtain rods.
In the same way, when expense is to be considered, it is always cheaper to buy the materials and make your own curtains and side hangings than to buy them ready to hang. The one exception to this rule is perhaps the hemstitched curtains of fine scrim in white or ecru. The simple machine finish of these curtains is very fine and the price of two dollars a pair is not prohibitive. Fine net curtains, finished with a simple hem, are also to be had at little more than the cost of the material, and at about the price of scrim. These two varieties of curtains are suitable in all or any of the rooms in a house. Sheer muslin curtains with wide hems are especially good in the bedrooms. They are usually best hung in straight lines, but occasionally ruffled muslin curtains, looped back daintily, are used in strictly colonial homes. No lacetrimmed or all lace curtains should ever be used, with the possible exception of exquisite real lace. Even the use of that, however, is decidedly questionable in taste and it is fortunate that not many people can pay the extravagant prices of such curtains. Machine-made lace curtains are not inexpensive and are exceedingly ugly. They should never be used, as they cheapen the entire appearance of the house. In purchasing them, the home maker surely disobeys the good old household rule, "Buy only the best of its kind."
Where the walls of a room are finished in light tones, it is usually best to have white curtains, if only one pair of curtains is used. If, however, the walls are toned darker, and only one pair of curtains is wished, it is more pleasant to have tinted curtains. Contrast between a dark wall and a light window is to be avoided if possible. In color, window curtains should be a repetition of the general color scheme of the room, but in a lesser degree. White curtains, used alone, are out of place unless the woodwork and the wall paper are white or very light. Delicate, transparent colors blend more readily with the walls of the room, and tone with the colors of the view beyond the window glass, tempered and softened by distance. Cream and ecru scrim, and madras at forty cents a yard, are universally pleasing. Figured madras, at seventy-five cents a yard, having a white or cream background and a delicately colored conventional design, is sometimes desirable in a room where the walls are tinted in a plain color of a rather darker tone.
In a dark-walled room, however, which has none too much light, it is often best to use thin curtains of net. Net curtains are so transparent that, though they protect the occupants of the room from the curious gaze of the passer-by, they still let in much of the colors of the outside world. Although this tends to blend the window with the walls, there should still also be side hangings used with the net curtains, which will complete a transition from the light window to the darker wall. If the wall finish is plain, it is often well to have a material with a background the color of the wall, bearing a design in tones of the window. A figured hanging should never be used, however, in a room with a decorated wall. There the hangings should be of a plain color, and of a shade intermediate between the dominant tone of the paper or stencil and the window tone. By this means the observer's eye is carried around the room in continuous progression. There is no distinct break in rhythm when each window is reached.
In color, the outside draperies of a window should repeat the dominant color in the room, often that in the rug. In this way a feeling of unity is procured between the walls of a room and its furnishings. Where the carpets or rugs are plain, the dominant color may be found in them or in the upholstery of the furniture. Where figured or oriental rugs are used, some pronounced motif usually supplies the color key of the draperies, which should be of a solid tone. The material chosen for the overdraperies should generally be used again in couch or chair cushions. In bedrooms or in the living rooms of very simple homes figured denims used as draperies for the windows and for couch covers and cushions give an effect of cheerfulness which can hardly be equaled in any other way. In more formal rooms where greater richness is desired, and where portieres and upholstery are of the same material, a heavier fabric should be used, such as velvet, velour, aras, monkscloth, or extra-weight denim.
Color, however, is of vastly more importance than material. It is better to buy unbleached muslin or some other very cheap cloth and have it dyed the proper hue, than to use hangings made of the most rich and luxurious fabric which do not harmonize with the walls, floor, and furniture of the room in which they are placed.
There is a general rule which it is well always to remember in interior decoration. It is this - Use plain rugs and hangings with decorated walls, plain walls and rugs with figured hangings, and, as a usual thing, plain walls and hangings with floor covering bearing a pronounced design. There are, of course, exceptions in charming instances, such as in the use of chintz draperies woven to match the design of German papers, but usually the rule is safe to follow.
The materials for the side hangings of a window may be quite inexpensive though very effective. Quaint figured cretonnes in various designs and colors can be obtained for from forty to seventy-five cents a yard. Im ported English cretonne at ninety cents a yard is especially charming. English, French, and German chintz are very beautiful and cost but little more. Plain colored cretonnes, poplins, and homespun range in price from twenty-five cents to forty cents a yard. The rough weave of unbleached muslin is most effective when draperies made of it are dyed to match the dominant color of the room in which they are placed. Japanese toweling with its contrasting blue and white is attractive in dining rooms of the simpler sort and in many bedrooms. It may be purchased at almost any department store at one dollar for a bolt of twelve yards.
Other colors may also be had in Japanese toweling, and, although not usually as striking, are sometimes very pleasing in the softer hues. Mercerized cotton poplins are sold for fifteen cents a yard, and, when hung, give almost the effect of the more expensive sun-proof silks. Another material having a rough weave and the color of raw pongee comes at the same price. It is really very rich looking when used in a room in tones of brown. A plain, washable material called casement cloth is made in England, and may be had in excellent values of dull blue, green, and brown. It is thirty inches wide and costs only thirty-five cents a yard. It is especially suited to simple curtains used next the window or as side hangings and has the advantage of taking stencil well, where a very formal design is permissible.
Of the richer fabrics, there is also a great variety, especially woven for use in classic drawing-rooms, pleasant living rooms, dignified dining rooms or cozy breakfast rooms, as well as for the halls and bedrooms. There are hangings having little luster in soft silks, reps, poplins, aras, tapestries, and other effective stuffs. Fabrics with a pile are richer, giving soft color with lustrous high lights and deep shadows. There are velvets of many kinds, of cotton, linen, silk, and mohair. Some have high gloss, some very little, some are striped or brocaded or woven in elaborate designs. Reproductions of the most notable examples of velvets, tapestries, damasks, and brocades of historical periods may be procured at reasonable figures. The sense of harmony should be used in the choice of these various fabrics, however. Rich, quiet materials should be selected for dignified rooms in the pretentious homes. The draperies should be in keeping with the purposes of the rooms, and should be of the kind that will be pleasant to live with day after day.
Wool tapestries of close, hard weaves, reproducing many of the designs and colors of priceless stuffs, may be purchased at prices ranging from four dollars a yard upward. These are suitable for side hangings for large windows, for door curtains, and for upholstery. They are fifty inches in width. All-wool tapestries have the advantage of being practically fadeless, but there are also many cheaper grades which come in a mixture of cotton and wool and are very beautiful in design and color. Tapestry cloth usually suggests rooms of dignified proportions and furnishings, but simpler rooms, especially those of the colonial type, are often suited to its use.
Mahogany furniture suggests velvet and velours for the heavy draperies. The doublefaced velours at from three to four dollars a yard are very inexpensive for the appearance of richness given.
Velvet and satiny wool damasks are of course more beautiful in texture, but are much more costly.
Aras cloth at a dollar and a half a square yard is usually best with craftsman and Mission furniture and with oak furniture of the simpler kinds. The richness of the hangings should never overshadow the furniture of the room, for it should be kept in mind that the hangings are a part of the wall or background of the room picture.
Where heavy hangings are necessary at the doors, it is sometimes best to have lighter weight side hangings at the windows, but of the same color. For this use there is a material called secco silk at thirty-five cents a yard, sun-proof silk at two dollars a yard, and silk pongee at seventy cents a yard, as well as many others.
As with the inside curtains, the most economical plan is to buy the materials and have them made up in the house, using simple hems or plain gimps and bindings for finish. In searching for the desirable fabrics it is often well to pay a visit to the clothing material sections of the department stores. There curtain fabrics may sometimes be purchased which are more suitable than are the materials carried in the house furnishing departments, and there is usually a great saving in expense to the thrifty housewife. They must only answer that test of good hangings -harmony with the various parts of the rooms in which they are placed.