Behind the Curtains
Ah, curtains. They’re rarely considered once they’re hanging, and yet so much thought goes into their selection. True, not everyone uses them anymore, especially since contemporary aesthetic favors a plainer look. And since the various forms of shades available do plenty to block out sunlight, drapes aren’t always necessary either. But in the Hamptons, where tradition and embellishment are treasured in design, both still hang in the rooms of most households.
For anyone who is in the market for curtains or drapes, whether it be for a new house or to redecorate one you already own, we chatted with interior designers about their methods.
The first step to choosing window trimmings is determining their purpose. “Do you want it to be decorative? Does it need to block the light? How much light does it need to block?” says designer Tamara Fraser, founder of Sag Harbor-based E. Lily Home.
Consider the room it’s in, adds designer Elsa Soyars. For a bedroom, materials that block as much sunlight as possible are probably ideal.
“If it’s a living space, you may want something that’s very light,” she says. “If it’s a dining room, that’s when you get into drapery or a combination with Roman shades.”
Regardless of where it is, however, you’ll want them to have a cotton inner-lining, as even your curtains need protection from the sun, notes designer Greg McKenzie. For a thin material, this will help them look fuller too, he says.
When choosing the style of your curtains, think of them like “a complement to an outfit,” Fraser says. “It’s like putting on jewelry when you get dressed.”
However, it really depends on the space they’re going in. If the overall design of a house is bright and exciting, then intricate and patterned fabrics may fit anywhere, she explains. If not, she usually saves them for bedrooms or libraries, where it’s appropriate to liven up the space with a pop of color.
“Sometimes you do a bright or fun pattern on the drapery and complement it with pillows on the bed or another piece of furniture,” she says. However, she opts for more subtle materials like solids and sheers when window treatments are serving as the background to the room or a collection of artwork.
Soyars is seeing a shift away from heavy, cascading fabrics like jabots. “Unless you’re doing a castle, a grand manor where it calls for that, it’s not the trend,” she says. “But you can still have incredible fabrics that are woven and textured,” Soyars notes, as long as the material has a good “handle,” an industry term meaning “it lays beautifully.” And they can still be embellished, she adds. For example, macramé crochet panels, which can even be hung over sheer fabrics, are particularly popular right now.
Regardless of your choice, make sure it’s a style you’re willing to commit to, since drapery can be pricey, McKenzie recommends. “It’s better to do something that is long-lasting rather than trendy,” he says. “It’s like a sofa, it’s an expensive part of your room.”
Now that you have your style and fabric in mind, and you know the decor you’re aiming for, so what size should your curtains be, and how do you hang them?
To figure this out, McKenzie calls in a professional. He works with an upholstery workroom that comes in, measures the windows, determines the amount of yardage needed and then custom-designs them for each space.
That being said, he does suggest installing hardware as far from the window frame as possible, so windows can be completely uncovered when you stack curtains to the side. This can also trick the eye into thinking windows are symmetrical, or bigger than they actually are.
Fraser adds that unless it’s a small window that’s 4 feet tall or smaller, curtains should fall to the floor. “It should never be short like a short skirt,” she says of drapery. “And it depends on how formal you want it to be – the more it sits on the floor, the more formal and traditional it gets.”