A fresh breeze in window treatments

Katrin Cargill keeps it snappy and simple to shed light on design for windows

August 11, 2002|By Claire Whitcomb | By Claire Whitcomb,Universal Press Syndicate

If you want to know what the well-dressed windows are wearing this year, just open Katrin Cargill's Curtain Bible (Bullfinch Press, $35).

Forget chintz and the ubiquitous hotel swag. Katrin Cargill presents windows with extremely snappy outfits -- reversible toile and cream panels, appliqued super-graphic valances and pleated organdy that billows like a tutu.

A Texas decorator turned international magazine editor (House Beautiful, The World of Interiors), Cargill has no patience with the expected. She divides her book into style categories -- contemporary, country and classic -- and then illustrates window treatments that are so imaginative that you'll probably be seeing knock-off versions in the next Pottery Barn or Ikea catalog.

For instance, in the classic section, Cargill takes plain creamy wool curtains and edges them with pinking-sheered scallops and poof-ball trim. In the country section, she takes an old monogrammed sheet, turns the top down so that the embroidery is prominently displayed, and then attaches it with little pink ribbons to brass rings.

In the contemporary section, she suspends grommeted panels from a tension wire. Instead of using plain panels, Cargill makes her own by stitching together alternating strips of lime linen and orangy, polka-dotted parachute cloth, linking them with rows of airy threadwork ribbon.

Cargill, who clearly knows her way around a sewing machine, offers detailed, illustrated instructions on 30 projects. Each proves that simple does not have to be boring. With the right fabric (a soft, tea-dyed linen floral for an inverted pleat shade) and the right finishing touch (sequined flowers for a blue-and-white-striped roman shade), even standard styles can look fresh and new.

Consider Cargill's tab-topped curtains. Instead of just the ordinary offerings of department stores, she makes hers reversible -- cream on one side, green plaid on the other. The tabs are finished fabric-covered plaid buttons. The tiebacks are cream, edged with plaid.

One of her most spectacular treatments involves a white dining room with a huge window. It's curtained with a patchwork of some 40 blue and white dish towels that catch the light like stained glass. Cleverly, the rod is hung at ceiling height, making the window look even taller than it is.

Cargill knows intuitively when to hang a valance higher than the window molding, and when to extend the rods wider than the opening to make a window look bigger than it is. She believes that "the problem-solving potential of curtains is vast." But she never makes the mistake of gussying up a window when a simple roller blind will do.

"The more complicated the solution," she writes, "the more likely it will be the wrong one." Thus, instead of ruffles and flourishes for a traditional living room, she'll hang panels of creamy linen and finish them with wide bands of fuchsia velvet and mauve satin, creating a border reminiscent of the stripes on an old-fashioned tennis sweater.

In a modern living room, she'll go minimalist, with a twist. She'll hang four panels of plain beige linen scrim. At the center of each she'll button on a simple linen hand towel. At the center of the hand towel she'll blanket-stitch a small square of vintage embroidery. The result is crisp, graphic and tactile.

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