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Interior Decorating - Windows And Their Treatment

( Originally Published 1919 )

THE windows in many abodes suggest that the householder has forgotten that their primary purpose is the admission of light and air. To be sure there are seasons when the latter is needed but sufficiently for ventilation, and many times when we may have too much sunlight: it is for the modification of light that window hangings have been devised. It is also but right to remember that nothing gives so bare and desolate an appearance to a room as an undraped window, and that upon the quality and quantity of admitted light much of its charm depends. The two necessities of light and ventilation on the one hand and modification and decoration on the other will not be found conflicting if we proceed with proper information and judgment. Beginning with the simpler treatments we shall find before we have finished that many things may be done to give special interest.

The most generally sensible treatment for the usual double-sash window is that of simple curtains of white or ivory white on rings, suspended from a simple brass rod. Traverse rings and cord will be found a great convenience. When it is desired that the window be entirely unobstructed for light, for air, or for cleaning, the curtains may be drawn fully back at the sides and secured by simple cords to knobs or catches.

To the above may be added, if desired, one-sash curtains of the same material or of thin silk, suspended on rings from a brass rod attached in this case to the upper part of the lower sash. The long side-curtains may then be left undrawn, and, if the shade is pulled half way down, the room is in the daytime obscured from outside view.

For the sake of privacy when the lights are lighted and also for the tempering of glare by day it is necessary that further obstruction be provided; either in the form of blinds or shades, or heavy inside curtains which may be drawn across the windows.

The good old Venetian blind is unsurpassed and adds to the advantage of shades that of admitting more air. It may be painted any tint to agree with its surroundings. If shades are used they should be heavy and opaque. White or light tints are certainly best with white curtains. The idea of the two-colour shade —white within and dark outside—is good as the opacity is increased, but the green outside usually seen does not properly accompany exterior architecture. Perhaps other shades and colours may be secured.

If coloured curtains are added to the shade and long curtains of white, the one-sash curtains had bet-ter be omitted, as the long white curtains may then continuously be drawn across the window. Decorators sometimes employ two or three sets of sash curtains of gauze for the tempering of light to the exact tone they desire, but one curtain of silk can usually be secured of a shade which accomplishes this result. A voluminous and "befrazzling" window "dressg"—we might then call it—is too apt to remind one of the maze of lingerie, silk and furbelows with which women of a former time (not now!) felt compelled to bedeck their persons. Nevertheless, sometimes a shimmering effect is desirable and this can be achieved by the use of double gauze curtains of different shades, such as rose and aquamarine, blue and silver-grey, etc.

Our own feeling is that in simple and small rooms and especially in bedrooms, the simplest arrangement is the very best, while other rooms of a more ornamental character may well be more elaborately treated.

When shades or blinds are used heavy curtains are no longer a necessity (the pulling down of the shades totally excluding the view from outside) so that we are free to choose medium, or light-weight fabrics, as, frequently, we may prefer.

Sash curtains, whether of white goods or casement cloth or silk, may be arranged in two tiers—one for each sash—so that the upper set may remain closed to modify light and the lower set be drawn back to admit it.


The architecture of the window naturally plays an important part in the determination of curtain treatment. Where the wall beneath the window is recessed as well as is the window itself, the obvious suggestion is that the curtains should be long. It is undeniable that in handsome apartments rich curtains sweeping over the floor give an opulence of appearance, but for reasons of cleanliness it is certainly better that they should escape the floor by an inch or so.

Where the window only is recessed and the cill has a pronounced extension, curtains of cill length are naturally indicated. A slight cill extension is no obstacle to long curtains if desired, as the curtain flows gracefully over it. Even if a radiator or piece of furniture, such as a dressing-table, occupies the central portion of the window, long curtains may still be used, hanging straight at the sides and not being drawn.

Thin curtains have usually been made of cill length, but if this is done the draught takes them out of the window immediately the sash is raised, and they become soiled. Furthermore, thin curtains must be carefully placed on stretchers when laundered or they will shrink till they no longer reach the cill. Another objection is that where there is no furniture below the window cill-length curtains give a "boxed-in" appearance. A better plan, therefore, is to have these curtains ex-tend slightly below the woodwork under the window—how much depends upon convenience and proportion. Where two pairs of curtains are used, it is customary to have the thin pair short whether the coloured pair be short or long.

The most usual plan where, there are over-curtains and valance is to have them cover the window casings, but unless these are bad in style, condition or colour there is no reason why this arrangement should prevail, and there is a valid objection to it which seems to have been universally overlooked. Where curtains cover the woodwork they naturally stand out somewhat further beyond it, so that the general effect is the projection of the outline of the window into the room, while the feeling should be that. a window is recessed. If, therefore, the exceptional circumstances mentioned above do not exist, it is preferable that over-curtains be contained within the casing. The rod is then run across slightly back of the fore edge of the woodwork and the valance placed in front of it but still within the casing (Plate 85). When the curtains are translucent or transparent there is still greater reason for this arrangement, as if they were placed over the out-side woodwork this would show through and the result would probably be disagreeable.

Another advantage of the showing of the wood-work where it is good, is the preservation of architectural lines.

If, because of ugliness, it is found better to hide the casing, opaque curtains should be used. By the same means much may be done in remedying defects of size or proportion. If the window is. noticeably small for the room, the setting out of such curtains somewhat along the side wall and the raising of the top of the valance above the framework will naturally increase its apparent size. If high and narrow, the curtains may be set out at the sides and a deep valance employed (reducing the apparent height), the head of the latter then being set even with the top of the casing. If a window is law a valance had better be omitted, or confined to a narrow strip merely to carry the colour across.

For a deeply recessed bow with three or more windows there are two most attractive treatments, both of which are illustrated :

I. A valance run across the front of the alcove, and curtains to the floor at each side, these being of heavy and rich material. Light silk or casement-cloth short curtains of a different but harmonising colour at the windows themselves. (See Frontispiece.)

IL Long curtains at the two sides of the bow, valance following the tops of the windows with short curtains (Plate 84 B).

Ranges of casement windows, so frequent in Tudor houses, are treated in this same manner without the long curtains.

For double and triple windows but slightly recessed with cill straight across, it is best to run a long rod straight across the front, from which hang side and dividing curtains all of the same length, to the 611, below the woodwork, or full length, as will give the best appearance under the existing conditions. To these a valance may be added.


Valances are not only a strong decorative asset but often seem required as a finish: it appears rather illogical, for instance, that coloured draperies should hang at the sides of a window without their being connected by a similar drapery running across the top. This necessity has been felt by some decorators who, in cases where a valance is not advisable, have covered a pole with the material of the curtains. Such a coloured cylinder is, however, inappropriate, and the result can be much more reasonably attained by the use of a valance so narrow that it is but a band of colour, giving the advisable connexion and finish.

With white curtains and white woodwork there is no necessity for a valance, but simply pleated valances may frequently be used with attractive results.

Valances naturally have a lowering effect, so that, as previously said, in many cases it will be advisable either to omit them or use the narrow band described. This lowering quality, on the other hand, makes them extremely useful in too lofty rooms.

Valances may be plain, shaped or pleated, and some unusual effects are mentioned in a succeeding section.

In period rooms cornices may sometimes be used advantageously and an illustration is given of an excel-lent selection in Neo-Classic style.


In the reaction from the elaborate and costly creations of lace which were the pride of our mothers, the frequent present prescription of absolutely plain material for thin curtains goes, perhaps, too far. Especially is this the case in drawing-rooms facing upon the street, for from that point inner curtains are not visible, and perfectly plain materials are not appropriate to the front of a handsome house, however well they may answer for simpler ones. In such instances it is advisable to have strength and simplicity in the design chosen but to add to these a certain richness. If no inner curtains are used, or if they are of solid colouring, there is much freedom of choice, but if inner curtains are patterned and varied in colouring a greater severity in the thin curtains must obtain and the two must not conflict in design or scale. Drawing-rooms, reception-rooms and boudoirs are all "of an elegance," and, unless redeemed by handsome inner curtains, plain thin materials leave something to be desired. There are many beautiful stripes, figures and patterns in net and madras (Plate 83 A).

Dining-rooms and living-rooms are sometimes elegant and sometimes simple, and the curtains chosen should be in accordance.

For cottages, many apartments and simple bed-rooms nothing is prettier than flounced muslin curtains : they have a charm all their own and are most convenient, as they can be purchased ready to put up. Other execellent selections are plain materials with insertion near the edge, or with a wide hem and a narrow edge of Cluny lace sewed on the inner side and foot. Plain materials, from scrim to theatrical-net, are so numerous that it is hardly worth while to at-tempt to record them; all that is necessary being the selection of what is appropriate and pleasing for its particular use.

If the woodwork is ivory, cream or buff, it is bet-ter that the curtains should be similar in tone, but if it is pure white or of another colour, pure white curtains will be better: they seem to retain their freshness longer than the tones.


Coloured curtains next the sash are sometimes advisable for adding richness, the modification of light, or to carry out a decorative effect. If the natural light of a room is cold or dreary, thin curtains in one of the shades of yellow will brighten it and enliven the whole atmosphere of the room. Rose will warm it without so greatly increasing the effect of light. If, on the other hand, there is too great glare, cool green, blue-lavender or soft blue will modify it. In making a choice the colour-scheme of the room must, of course, be considered.

Among the materials for such purposes are thin silk, Japanese gauze, Japanese crepe, thin poplin, sun-fast and English casement cloth.


The moment that definite colour, and especially patterned colour, is introduced in window hangings they become a vital part of the decoration of the room and need special consideration. The windows are decoratively more than a continuation of the wall area, and may therefore be given a livelier interest, but it is seldom that they should become the strongest colour-note in a room—that to which the eye first travels. An exception to this rule is covered in the following section.

If the walls have been treated so as to maintain their place as background, if there is a sufficient sense of restful spaciousness in the room, and not already too much colour, then the windows may be given richness and decorative value by the use of over-curtains in solid colouring, plain, striped or patterned, or in two colours, or varied colour if not too insistent in effect. The degree of prominence the windows will stand is determined by the room and its furnishings. If the room seems already small and stuffy, over-curtains will increase both defects if they be heavy—usually they had better not be used at all. It is always to be remembered that white curtains increase the apparent size of a room while those of colour lessen it.

As has been noted, it is not necessary that over-curtains be heavy if shades or Venetian blinds are used: our facilities for securing just what is desired in colour and effect are therefore much extended. In many rooms, especially those which already are sufficiently dark, the translucent effect given by unlined striped and plain silks (Plate 84 A), poplin, printed linens and cretonnes, thin brocades, etc., is superior to the lined and heavy velvet, corduroy, damask, brocade, tapestry, heavy silk and other goods which are appropriate where opacity is desired.

A study of the room will indicate whether translucence or opacity is best Sometimes a window is the one distinguished feature in an otherwise difficult room and it then seems advisable to "play up" this interest in order to redeem it from the commonplace. Close consideration should be given the materials used, their colour, pattern and arrangement.

Coloured curtains may here be used throughout, and two suggestive effects are mentioned. Simply for exemplification we will take rose as the dominant in both, though any other colouring may be used according to the scheme of decoration.

I. Sash curtains of thin silk in stripes of rose and champagne with a thin black line. Over-curtains and valances of thicker but still translucent rose silk of solid colour. Edge these with black and make the looping band of solid black, or use black silk cord and tassels. There would be no objection to a self figure or stripe in the weave of the over-curtains and valance.

II. Sash curtains of thin rose silk, or else the shimmering effect given by two sets of gauze—rose and grey-blue, rose and pale green, or rose and champagne. Translucent over-curtains with valance in two colours or varied colouring in rich or in striking combinations in which rose is dominant. Oriental silks, brocades, striped silks, printed linens and cretonnes are all appropriate—any material, in fact, which gives the effect desired.

There are many variations from the usual. Some of these may be mentioned, and originality will suggest others.

Valances to solid colour curtains are commonly made of the same material. Why not use, instead, a handsome brocade, stripe or other goods, in varied colourings in which the hue of the curtains is dominant? Such a combination is shown in one of the illustrations.

Plain valances and curtains may be banded with broad bands in the same way that braid is applied to a costume. The design should, however, not be elaborate or fussy but rather architectural in its lines. This is also illustrated.

In Italian decoration we frequently find valances of wood, either of plain surface or carved, painted, in either case, with a polychrome design and often gilded.

Handsomely stamped and ornamented paper, duly protected by shellac, is sometimes used for screens, and in an instance known to the writers this was also employed for valances, so as to carry out the decorative effect. This could be mounted upon either a stiff buck-ram or thin board.

Fringes: of silk are, of course, appropriate for the edges of valances if desired.

A heavy silk tassel depending from near each end of the valance and hanging over the curtain below, often gives a good effect. A drop ornament of unusual character might be employed in the same way.

The edging of curtains has previously been suggested, and many excellent combinations may thus be made, with thin sash curtains as well as the heavier ones.

Bands, wide or narrow, harmonising or contrasting, may be set on curtains back from the edge. On solid colours these may either be plain or of some beautiful design cut from another fabric. A band of the narrow, embroidered Chinese strips would be admirable. On ornamental goods a band of black or solid colour is sometimes advisable.

Using the same principles, a wide band, or two or three narrower ones, may be set across the curtains above their foot. The distance from the bottom will naturally depend upon the length and position of the curtains. Bands of insertion may also be used across plain white curtains in the same manner.

In the so-called "Modern" style of decoration strong bands of black upon curtains of Chinese yellow or blue would be most effective. So also would be bands of colour in strong contrast.

Patterns cut from other goods may be applique upon solid colours. An example of this would be the use of the charming ovals of flowers or baskets of flowers found in French goods, set upon grey-blue curtains in a boudoir.

All of these devices give distinction if well managed.


Except for use with extremely large and weighty curtains the bulky wooden pole—from which it seems so difficult to divorce the general public—is unnecessary and therefore objectionable. Those interested in art continually have cause to exclaim : "When will people learn to employ means proportionate to the ends desired!"

A simple brass rod (with the appropriate end-fixtures) purchasable at any first-class hardware-shop or dealer in upholsterers' supplies) is sufficiently strong for almost all domestic uses. If such a rod has to extend over a wide space, such as double or, triple windows or a double doorway, a screw hook at the centre will support it and prevent sagging.

Where there is a valance this naturally hides the rod and rings. If there is none a heading can be arranged in the case of opaque curtains and the rings fastened on at its lower edge at the back so that the heading projects above the rod and hides it. Thin curtains are often run on the rod with a heading above (Plate 83 A). But Why worry! The sight of rod and rings seems to disturb some writers, but things of this kind are precisely on a par with the iron tie-rods frankly run across below the arched ceilings of magnificent Italian interiors (Plate 18). Our refinement may sometimes grow too fussy.


Circumstances vary so greatly that it is unwise to give hard and fast rules, but in general it may be said that if over-curtains are used at windows it is advisable that at doorways (the corresponding apertures) the same colouring should be employed, or at least that the colouring of the one should be in relation to that of the other: if, for instance, the window hangings are to be of blended tones, the portieres might be either the same or solid colour of one of the principal of those tones.

If there are no coloured curtains at the windows the choice of materials for portieres is then limited only by general appropriateness and the necessity of harmony with other decorations.

The popular supposition that portieres must al-ways be heavy is, of course, unjustified. They should often be opaque—as at bedroom doors—but frequently light and unlined curtains give delightful effects.

The objection that door curtains are in the way seems also unfounded for they may be pulled back to either side of the doorway, or to both sides where they are double, in the case of wide doorways. Certainly uncurtained doorways, though not nearly to so great a degree as uncurtained windows, have a bare and unfinished effect. It is, by the way, well to leave most doors on, as it is rarely the case that they are not at some time needed.


It will have been seen how many circumstances there are to consider in the apparently simple matter of the furnishing of windows. It is, however, precisely this advance consideration that avoids costly mistakes. The harmony of our home depends largely upon what we do in this direction : we may have rooms irritating to the nerves through their glare, their dullness or their harshness ; or restful and full of happy charm, because of a pleasing and sufficient diffusion of light, rightly placed and harmonious in tone.

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