In this Q&A Sue gives her essential tips on choosing curtains for an old or historical interior.
Q: What are the main points to consider when planning curtains for an older property or country house?
Sue: There are three key points. The proportions of the windows. A larger/taller portrait windows can be dressed using thicker poles perhaps in dark wood with antique brass rings, brackets and decorative finials. If the window is smaller/shorter and landscape. I might suggest a finer antique brass pole with antique brass finials. Finally it is important to be sympathetic to the age of the house.
Q: What advice do you give a client to ponder on when embarking on a new job?
Sue: As a curtain maker I love it when customers do some research on what they do and don’t like. If they can assemble a small portfolio of 4 or 5 photos of styles they both like and dislike, it can save time. Photos need to show both the top and bottom of the curtains. This is a really useful exercise for both the curtain maker and the customer.
Q: How do you address issues like uneven floors and ceilings?
Sue: Your eye is automatically drawn to the top of the windows so the pleats are important. Triple or goblet pleats work well for curtains hanging from poles.There is a skill to fitting curtains with uneven ceilings. An experienced fitter will fit by eye rather than using a sprit level so when you walk into the room the pole appears straight however if you were to measure the curtains, you would find the drop may vary from left to right. If this is the case you need to allow the curtain to break on the floor. This is a commonly used trick to disguise any discrepancies.
Q: What poles would you recommend for each room?
Sue: There is a lot of choice when it comes to poles. For a country house I prefer dark wood or antique brass/bronze poles in the more formal rooms such as dining, reception or study. Painted poles look good in bedrooms as they have a slightly softer finish however this does not mean that dark wood poles don’t look effective too.
Q: What are the best fabrics for country houses? Presumably now with the energy issue, warmer is better so what would you recommend?
Sue: I would always recommend having your curtains lined and interlined. This not only gives them a more tailored finish but helps with draughts which can be a problem in country houses. The choice of fabric is subjective, however embroidered or patterned fabrics can look beautiful in country houses. When choosing fabric it’s a good idea to find a feature in the room to help with colours; maybe the tiles that surround the fireplace or perhaps decorative plastering on the ceiling could have an influence. Colours can also be drawn from a particular piece of artwork that is being used or displayed in a room.
Q: When might you introduce patterned linings?
Sue: Contrasting linings can be a clever/novel touch especially if the curtains are being used as a divider between two rooms. It’s fun to see both sides of the curtains.
Q: What’s the most effective way to hang curtains if there is cornicing? Or high ceilings?
Sue: There is no hard and fast rule as to how to hang curtains if there is cornicing, however I like to fit the pole/pelmet as close to the cornice as possible. This gives the room height. If there is wall space between the window frame and the cornice – commonly known as ‘dead light’ – it may be better to have a pelmet, valance or possibly swags and tails. By choosing one of these treatments, the wall space is hidden, giving an illusion of extra window height.
Q: How often would you use or in what situations would you recommend a pelmet?
Sue: I actually like pelmets. Some people feel they are old fashioned but covered in the right fabric with an interesting shape, they can be very striking.
Pelmets work in most rooms but are particularly effective in bedrooms especially if you are trying to cut out light.
Q: When and how often do you suggest a curtain hanging over a door or doorway?
Sue: Curtains over doors really help with keeping the heat in especially if they are lined and interlined.
Q: Any other tips or suggestions?
Sue:I think it is important to allow your curtains to hang over the wall space to either side of the window/door. We tend to extend our poles or pelmets by 250-300mm either side of the architrave. This means you will get maximum light when the curtains are open. In bedrooms I like to have sheer curtains for privacy and to reduce the glare of bright sun light as well as thicker main curtains perhaps with blackout lining. We use blackout lining when requested however I never use the words ‘100%’ or ‘complete’ blackout in the same sentence. Blackout lining will stop light coming though the fabric light may still filter around the sides and over the top. Roman blinds are also an option for windows.
Where possible, I fit my Romans outside the recess and approx.150mm above the reveal. This allows maximum light when the Roman blind is fully open. Unstructured or soft Romans are a popular style and give a simple finish. If there is a radiator under the window, customers are often concerned about loosing heat. In this situation, I would recommend full-length dress curtains with a working Roman blind. This way the radiator will never be covered