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349 Hagley Road, Edgbaston,
Birmingham, B17 8DL

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Curtains & poles

It's curtains for you!!!

Now I’m not a fan of meteorologists at the best of times. By that I don’t mean that I’d be rude to one, or “dis” them as the youth currently say. No, it’s nothing personal, it’s just that if almost anybody else employed in any other business got it as wrong as they constantly do, there would be virtually 100% unemployment. If you want to know what the weather’s doing, look out of the window, I always say. Anyway, I’ve just heard that a bunch of them have got together, and they now reckon that we could be in for 10 more years of the rubbish summers that now seem to be the norm.

So what’s that got to do with the price of fish I hear you ask? Well, I’d say it’s now even more important to spend some serious time and a little money on making your home really beautiful. After all, apparently we won’t be venturing much outside the door for another decade or so.

This month I thought we would take a look at curtains. I just love curtains !! For me they make or break a room. They can add colour, texture, drama, warmth (both metaphorically and literally), softness – the list goes on and on. I know a well made pair of curtains in a fabulous fabric will undoubtedly set you back a good few quid, but believe me it’s so worth it !! My heart sinks when a new client comes to us saying that the building work has gone over budget, and consequently they don’t have much left to spend on the curtains. It’s such a shame. The new heating system might be top notch, the technology bang up to date, so much so that you could run a bath at home while you’re on holiday in Crete, but a skimpy set of curtains at the window is going to absolutely ruin the impact of any room, and devalue the overall effect entirely. Not only that, but it’s going to tarnish the impression that any visitors will take with them. We always advise people in that situation to wait until they have the funds to give the windows the proper treatment the project deserves.

The current trend in curtains is still towards the simple and elegant. A fabulous pair of lined and interlined curtains with hand pinch pleated (also called French pleated) headings, hung from a pole exude understated style. For those of you not familiar with interlining, it is a fleecy fabric that is incorporated into the curtains between the face fabric and the lining. It gives a much more sumptuous drape to the curtains, as well as having insulative and room darkening properties. It is pretty much essential when using fine fabrics such as silk, but will enhance the look of almost any set of curtains, especially linen or velvet. It adds loads to the look, but not too much to the cost, so is well worth considering.

Hand pinch pleating is my favourite heading on curtains for several reasons. Firstly, the heading size is individually tailored to suit the track or pole. Secondly, the groups of three pleats are sewn into place, so that once the curtains are dressed and left open for a few days upon initial fitting, they will always fall uniformly and elegantly whenever the curtains are opened or closed. And thirdly, hand pinch pleated curtains look just as fabulous in a smart contemporary setting as they do in an older traditional room. Goblet pleats are similar to hand pinch pleats, made in the same way but having a single pleat instead of a triple pleat. These look at their best in traditional locations. There are of course other headings that can look just as appropriate in different situations. Pencil pleat or even standard gathered headings suit a more rustic location, while eyelets can look really good in a crisp modern room, especially where there is little stacking space to the sides of the window. I particularly favour big 70mm eyelets, hung from a 50mm diameter pole. This looks sooooo smart !

Just a few words about poles before we move on. The variety of poles available today is truly staggering, ranging from traditional wood, through all sorts of metal finishes, to clear acrylic and high gloss lacquer in more or less any colour. There are amazing finials (the bits that go on the end) incorporating leather, suede, hand blown glass, Swarovski crystal, and even ones that light up !!! For beautifully crafted traditional wood poles in an array of diameters up to 67mm, and finishes including antique silver and gilt, you can’t beat Byron & Byron, while for a fabulous range of the smartest contemporary poles, including some wrapped with soft faux suede or pearlescent faux leather, check out Walcott House. We have a splendid Walcott House display just inside our showroom which always proves an instant attraction to little folk who come in with their parents, what with its bright beads, fascinating glass and multicoloured lacquers.

One more thing about poles; do please be thoughtful when choosing the diameter. Whilst a thin 19mm diameter pole looks fine above a set of floaty sheers, it looks totally lost and out of proportion supporting a pair of full length curtains. A 30mm diameter pole is the smallest I like to use, and even then only on narrow windows. For me, any pole over a couple of metres wide needs to be at least 40 or 50mm to be in proportion with the curtains. And as for windows of three metres and above . . . break out the 67mm poles – whe-hey !!! (Sorry, I do get carried away, but then again I did say I love curtains).

Of course, curtains hung from poles are not the only way to dress a window elegantly. Pelmets are still (and I think always will be) very much in vogue, and can add that extra bit of drama and style that some rooms really need. In a contemporary room the pelmet will probably be a straight band, or geometrically shaped, whereas in a traditional setting you can really go to town ! A sumptuous, scrolled and sweeping pelmet looks amazing, and gives the weight and importance that a large Georgian or Victorian window needs. Once again though, getting the proportion right is essential. I really dislike thin and weedy pelmets that do nothing to balance a window, or indeed bring anything much to the party. A successful pelmet will be between one eighth and one sixth of the overall drop of the window. Sometimes a client will say that they don’t want it that deep, as it will take too much light from the room. In fact that’s not necessarily true. It’s worth remembering that the light line in a room is diagonally downwards. In other words, because it is set forward a 14” (sorry, that’s 35cms to all you young whippersnappers) pelmet will not take out any more light than a 10” (25cms) one. And if you still don’t believe me, the solution is to have a shaped pelmet, where the parts that cover the window are relatively shallow, while the ends that come over where the curtains stack are deep enough to restore the balance.

As technology is getting ever more important in the home, and the cost of it is coming down, we’re doing more motorised curtains than ever. This is most easily and cost effectively achieved on a straight run under a pelmet, but motorised poles are now also available, however the price of these is not for the faint hearted. I have a cautionary tale though. About eighteen years ago, when motorised tracks were in their infancy, a very good client of mine asked me to install three in his living room, connected to sensors that would automatically close his curtains at night and open them in the morning. Less than a month later he called me and asked me to remove the sensors as soon as possible. None of us had realised that when he wasn’t home, as soon as the curtains closed they set off his house alarm, which called the police, landing him with a bill for wasting police time !! The moral here is to make sure any automated curtains aren’t in the field of your alarm sensors.

The Full Monty of the curtain world of course, has always been swags and tails. Not only are they the Full Monty, but also the Marmite. Personally, I am a lover of both Marmite and swags and tails, although I have to admit that these days they are the sort of guilty pleasure you don’t talk much about when you do indulge – the swags and tails I mean. But trust me, on the right window they are not only a spectacular treatment, but a real treat !!!

John Biddell, John Charles Interiors

Live 24 7 magazine editorial - July 2013