Opening to Style

A change of draperies can give a room a brand-new personality.

Focus On Decor

July 25, 2004|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Universal Press Syndicate

From simple sheers to lavish silk-embroidered panels, draperies are so much more than window dressing. They can shape a room's personality and ground its design style.

Fashion colors, patterns and a range of styles to blend with interiors once were available only as custom options. Ready-to-hang curtains had a bland, generic look, usually off-white and pinch-pleated.

In recent years, retailers and catalogs made shopping easier -- if you had standard-sized windows. But now, even if a 10-foot-tall window needs to be dressed, the search for appropriate attire is not impossible.

There's an amazingly broad choice of off-the-rack curtains embracing most design styles and fashion-forward hues in prices from under $10 to several hundred dollars for a single panel. Headers may be shirred, hand-tucked, box-pleated, tab-topped, embellished with buttons and may even include valances.

From ball-gown silks, dressed-up velvets and damasks to romantic florals and toiles to sporty denim and even animal prints, some designs may pass for custom at a fraction of the price.

The Silk Trading Co., a specialist, features its trademark Drapery Out-of-a-Box, and the high-end haute fabrics, including lush striped and patterned organzas as well as silks that are embroidered, beaded or trimmed with ribbon, are available by the yard. Designs are luxurious and classic.

"We try to do rooms that you can wake up in five or 10 years from now and they won't look dated," says the California-based company's co-owner, Andrea Kay.

The Curtain Exchange is another resource whose designs reflect the latest fashions. On its Web site, styles are shown in room settings created for designer show houses. The company allows customers to try out panels on a 48-hour approval basis.

At Target, you'll find a selection of Simply Shabby Chic curtains from Rachel Ashwell, who made California cottage style popular. (Think soft florals, white beadboard and slipcovers.) And at K-mart, Martha Stewart Everyday features ready-to-hang draperies remarkable more for price than style. An example: cotton duck curtains in sage green for $18.

Instant beautification

Part of the reason for this growing home fashion category is a preference for instant gratification -- buy them and hang them. We've also come to appreciate the finishing touch that curtains impart.

"We want our homes to be a little prettier," says Heather Paper, editor of Haven, a quarterly publication available through furniture retailers. So, she says, consumers are seeking more coordinated, decorated looks when it comes to curtains.

By definition, a drapery or curtain is material that hangs in a window or other opening, serving as a shade or screen as well as decoration. For whatever reason, the word "curtain" has taken on a less formal connotation than "drapery." Even today, designers are divided on the usage, some simply deferring to "window treatments" to cover everything.

Curtain styles are cyclical, often mirroring interior design and furniture trends. The excesses of the 1980s, for example, were marked by an over-the-top, heavy, layered look, often crowned with swags, every edge dripping with passementerie -- tassels, fringe, braids, cord, gimp or rosettes.

A sampling of specialty magazines such as Window and Wall Ideas will tip you to the current vogue's simpler styles. Building and remodeling trends have put more windows in homes, and often those windows are larger. While privacy, insulation and noise reduction might still be considerations, blocking views may not be as much of a priority. Curtains are being purchased to frame the view rather than cover it up -- unless there's something to hide.

There are plenty of good reasons to use curtains. A powerful design component, curtains can alter the proportions of a room. Hung well above the window trim, curtains stretch a vertically challenged interior, lending an illusion of height. Moving panels outside of the window frame compensates for narrow windows.

A curtain's color may affect the overall design scheme. Sticking to a tone-on-tone approach, where curtains melt into the wall, lends a sophisticated, seamless look, a la the late Billy Baldwin, a Baltimorean who was considered one of the most influential designers of the 20th century. In an all-neutral space, a spot of color is electric.

So is pattern -- say, stripes. How wide the stripes are, whether you run them horizontally or vertically, and the choice of fabric will greatly affect the look of the curtain. A broad, alternating stripe of French blue and sage, for example, is an engaging focal point in a formal living room.

Inverted box pleats, with a contrast color peaking out from beneath, is tailored, not fussy. Cotton twill lends a more casual look, which works well with cottage style. Pull from the stripe color to echo a hue in chairs, art or accessories.

Changing ambiance

Curtains can transport to another time and place. Some patterns hint at global connections. Others suggest historical references.

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