Draping of Windows and Beds
( Originally Published 1930 )
EVEN as recently as the times of the great Renaissance the window was shamelessly free of draperies. Incredible masses of velvet brocades in designs of magnificence, and damasks and brocatelles in rich hues, were draped wherever draping was possible—except at windows. So we have largely to imagine the method appropriate to our recent Renaissance architecture.
The Renaissance maiden in her jeweled velvet gown peeped out into street or garden from a casement far smaller than the window now. Houses had scarce finished being refuges from an attacking enemy, be-sides which glass was rare and costly. Glass-makers had not yet arrived at the production of plate-glass, but gave their customers panes that were thick and bubbly, or of the kind called bull's-eye. What need for curtains when even the most inquisitive peeping neighbor could not see through, and the sun itself thrust in a ray with difficulty?
With the Seventeenth Century came larger windows, for then the chateau was replacing the castle; the noble was changing from a soldier to a courtier. And these large windows developed a style of curtaining. Contrast the old buildings of the Louvre (demolished) with which Francis I was pleased, with the Pavilion Louis XIV in that same palace, to appreciate the change in window size.
The silks of Lyons and of Spitalfields were taking the place of the more Oriental silks of Lucca, Florence and Venice. These were used lavishly on walls, and what more natural than to trail them over onto the wide spaces of the new large windows. Late in the Seventeenth Century the draperies hung in lavish fulness on either side the window, and were finished at the top with a lambrequin very much in the style of the state bed.
When importations began from India, light muslins were among the wares. It is hard to think of a world without cotton textiles, yet until that time Europe had practically none. They arrived opportunely for the increasingly large windows, these transparent muslins. The fashion was to hang one very wide curtain across the entire window with the silken stuff on either side. This single curtain was drawn to one side when occasion required free passage of view or air. And this prevailed until some bright person thought to split in two this muslin veil and make the curtain as we know it now.
With France setting the fashion for more than a hundred years of decorative beauty, we look to the draperies of "the three Louis' " for counsel as to the arranging of our own. In all cases the long curtains were perforce the same in manner, but the difference in style shows mainly in the materials used and in the arrangement across the top which hid the mechanism of the hanging and connected the two lines of curtain drapery.
In the fashion of Louis XIV, the formal lambrequin was used, either plain or cut in dentils or tabs which were trimmed with galloon. The style of Louis XV departed from formality and aimed at a careless richness which seemed to flout the conventions even as did the Court. The lambrequin was replaced by loops and drapings, and these were ornamented with fringe and lace. And last the style of Louis XVI readopted the classic, and became restrained by lessening the amount of material used and employing silks of greater lightness such as taffeta. Lambrequins were arranged in small festoons but of perfect balance; that is, they were alike on both sides of the center. Very narrow tasseled fringe edged these lambrequins.
The fashion for windows in England was practically the same as in France. Indeed all Europe imitated France, or at least attached their own imaginings to the French designs, thus giving the difference peculiar to each country.
Chintzes or cretonnes belonging to this time, made ideal window-dressings. Great as was the craze for them in France, English styles are more faithful to them, for their use has never been discontinued. So accustomed are we to cretonnes that it is hard to think of a world without them, especially in summer when all the house seems dressed en gala with the slip-covers that enliven it.
The lambrequin is made a necessity by the architect who groups three or four windows together. Long curtains cannot hang between each, but only at the end windows. The expanse of sash curtains coming between needs some link between these widely separated breadths, and it is the pleasure of the lambrequins to form that link and thus bring unity to the draping.
Two forms are most suitable in these days when the severity of the modern mode has a restraining effect even on the styles of the Eighteenth Century. The first is the simple straight band with noticeable absence of trimming; the other is cut in an almost architectural arrangement of arches, one over each window of the group, and is deep enough to force attention. The straight curtains at the ends count as columns to sustain this arch, or the lambrequin may descend low at the two outside borders.
It is always the window that decides the manner of its dressing. The arched top high in the room needs at least a shallow draping or a lambrequin that follows those same shallow lines, unless the long heavy curtain is skilfully draped to form a protection from the high light during the day. It is this individuality of the window that makes the curtaining of the house a problem.
When France was setting the fashions at Versailles and in the numberless houses of La Pompadour, du Barry and the imitating courtiers, the mode required many tasseled fringes, much figured galloon worked in scrolls. Today we are forced to eliminate many elaborate details even while adopting the spirit of a style, for it is an age in which we must reckon with the smoke and dust of motor-cars, and industrialism, and in towns, of the huge heated apartment-houses.
The desire to let light into the room, especially in towns, has made a difference in the type of window drapings. Thin fabrics are preferred to thick, and linings are often banished as in the case of taffeta. That marvelous material called rayon so well imitates the silk-worm's thread that taffeta and gauze are possible to all. Modernistic decorators make free use of these in getting severe effects which are pleasingly simple. A group of windows, for example, is hung with voile in three shades of one color, laid one over the other. A full curtain to the floor is of the lightest shade; a second curtain over that falls two thirds of the way, and a third curtain, the darkest, falls but one third of the way. Thus the window is a flood of trans-parent color deepening towards the heavens.
A large-meshed silk net in silver color is used by the modernists to screen the sash or to border an alcove in a full mass almost like the waterfall of a summer brook. Pompeian red, cobalt blue, or jade green are similarly used except that the window panes are left clear and a valance stretches across the top to connect the fluffy curtains, and this valance is made of layer on layer, opulently full like a ballet skirt. The effect is as gay and amusing as the presence of a premiere danseuse.
Sash curtains of printed voile laid nearly flat and without division in the center of the window look like a new sort of painted glass, but as different from old stained-glass windows as the modern window-pane is from the leaded one.
With the inclination to preserve light rather than to block it out, the sash curtain takes on such importance as to make possible the banishment of the heavy hanging. Among the modern fabrics are voiles and nets, which carry a pattern in white floss, sketchy but effective. The lightest of these when seen against the pane seem like an etching on the glass. More striking are the heavier modernistic drawing of palm leaves, and even a vision of horizontal clouds with a setting sun behind them all in white or cream, of course.
Is it freakish to use odd materials for heavy draperies at the window ? Perhaps, but with magic in his hands, the modern eccentric can employ with good effect such things as suede leather, black patent cloth (which looks like lacquer) and silvered leather, which hangs with severity yet with soft radiance and if it has a tape-wide border of jade or some bright hue, it is an entrancing addition to a reception-room of today.
The fairies seem to work on looms that produce a white voile covered with large modernistic design brocaded in white velvet. With light filtering through, the value of voile is lost and the strange velvet motive floats like a chain of soft white figures against the day.
As exclusive patterns peculiar to the occupant of the house are a desideratum in the home of modern decoration, the pattern of the curtain may be designed by him who designed the room, and translated into satin applique on voile.