The Monarch of window treatments
There are many ways to treat a window (take it to the theatre, buy it dinner – sorry, I couldn’t resist), but for me the queen, or king of course, is a fabulous pair of curtains. I just love curtains !!!! When I first started in the trade some 40 years ago it was in a curtain and soft furnishing shop in Romford, in my home county of Essex (cue the jokes). I wasn’t allowed to even speak to a customer until I’d learned the art of unrolling and re-blocking fabric. I was then sent for time with the curtain makers, time with the fitters, and time with the buyers. It was the type of apprenticeship you just don’t get these days, but boy did it teach you to appreciate the product.
For me curtains 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 pair of well-made 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.
Curtains come with a variety headings. The basic types such as pencil pleat, where a tape is pulled up to achieve a kind of “soldiers in a row” effect, are the entry level. Eyelet headings, where a pole goes through the top of the curtains, can look very smart in a contemporary room – but only if it is a chunky 50mm diameter pole with 70mm eyelets. Anything less doesn’t really work for me. Wave heading is the relatively new kid on the block, and gives a similar effect to eyelet headings, except that instead of having a pole go through the curtains there is a very discreet track fitted above them. This again is a heading that only works in a contemporary setting. My out and out favourite though is hand pinch pleat, sometimes called French pleat. Here the fabric is hand sewn into groups of 3 pleats, which when professionally fitted and dressed gives the most elegant of effects. The curtains can be hung from a track or a pole, or surmounted by a pelmet, and will look equally at home in a contemporary or traditional setting.
A good pair of curtains will be hand sewn and of course lined. But good can instantly be made into fabulous by adding interlining. This is a fleecy fabric inserted between the face fabric and the lining, giving bulk and substance in any situation but particularly to more diaphanous fabrics such as silk. It also has the properties of adding insulation, deadening sound and reducing light intrusion. In short, interlining adds a lot to the look but not a massive amount to the cost.
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 !!!
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. Thin and weedy pelmets 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.
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 bays can also be accommodated. Motorised poles are now available too, however the price of these is not for the faint hearted.
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 visual treat !!!
John Biddell, John Charles Interiors
Live 24 7 magazine editorial - June 2017