Sarah Latham, founder and creative director of Etons of Bath, reveals her top tips for window dressing for Georgian and Period properties
As a specialist interior designer for Georgian and Period properties, I’m often asked to give advice on how to choose window dressings. These types of properties come in all shapes and sizes, from huge windows in Georgian houses to tiny windows in country cottages – and that’s without considering wonky walls.
Here I share my ideas on choosing the right window dressings for your property…
1) INITIAL CONSIDERATIONS
Firstly, you need to decide what kind of statement you want to create in your space as windows are really important to the overall aesthetic of the room. The reason for having curtains hasn’t changed over the years: privacy, preventing draughts, reducing sun glare and for keeping rooms cool in winter, cosy in the winter – these all still apply.
How many windows do you have in the room? How large are they? Is the room big enough to take grand pelmets/headers, swags and tails? Or are simple designs better? Do you want a warm feel or clean lines? If you have a period cottage with low ceilings and lacking in light then a more pared down option is better than a bold statement.
2) PERIOD STYLES
Different style windows will require different curtain considerations. How does the window open? Sash windows sliding up and down offer no disruption to curtains, whereas casement windows open from the side. Higher ceilings and the size of most period property rooms sets precedence to the way windows can be dressed, to dramatic effect.
As a rule, a 60mm diameter pole should be the smallest size considered, as these beautiful rooms can easily take it. And remember to consider the size of the walls on either side of the windows – is there enough space for the drawn back curtains to sit neatly during the day?
3) CHOOSE THE RIGHT FABRIC FOR THE RIGHT JOB
The fabric you choose will determine how your curtains hang, their practicality and how long they’ll last. For example, a thin silk will not work at a draughty window but a thick slubby linen, luxurious wool or a sumptuous velvet will be perfect. Either of these three will drape well, insulate, dampen down noise and block out harsh sunlight. For the summer months you can change your curtains – floaty silks, pretty lace and lightweight cotton/linen mixes are all good choices.
Fabrics by Colefax and Fowler, available from Etons of Bath
4) TO LINE OR NOT TO LINE
Once you have your fabric chosen, the next step is to decide on whether to line them or not. In most cases it’s better to as the pros out way the cons. They will hang better, keep you warmer as well as preventing the fabric from fading in the sun. There are a few choices – blackout lining is essential for childrens’ rooms, a contrasting colour can look fabulous if you want to make a statement, and splash proof for a bathroom and kitchen.
To recreate curtains reminiscent of the Georgian period in a living room for example, you may wish to consider interlining. This is when a material is used between normal lining and the original fabric and can make a huge difference to the overall look and finish of your curtains. They will hang beautifully and give an opulent, sumptuous appearance.
5) BAY WINDOWS
People often ask what the best way to dress a bay window is, and rightly so, as they need special treatment but the results will be stunning. You can now buy specific tracks and poles for bays that make fitting curtains a lot easier. For a classic and contemporary look a soft upholstered slim pelmet will work well to conceal a track, and allows your fabric choice and the curves of the bay window to be simple and elegant.
Remember that less being more. Georgian properties already have beautiful detailing in the cornicing and fireplaces, so to accentuate the original features a bespoke pole, colour matched to the walls with finials that co-ordinate with the coving can be a sympathetic way to dress bay windows.
With rather a large choice of curtain headers to choose from one can be forgiven for not wondering which to look at first. Different headers give different effects, with some working better for period properties than others. At Etons of Bath we recommend pencil pleats as they are the simplest, most traditional yet elegant choice. They look smart and look fabulous with both plain and patterned fabrics.
Other headers that will work are triple pinch pleats – sometimes known as French pleats, they’re quite formal so good for living and dining rooms, cottage pleats – soft and more relaxed, good for kitchens and children’s bedrooms and finally, goblet pleats – these work really well with heavier more sumptuous fabrics.
7) POLES AND TRACKS
It is best to install pole/track prior to hanging curtains in order to get the final drop as accurate as possible. Sometimes more hardware is needed after pole installation to get a better support, especially if the curtains are lined or interlined and are heavy. We may need to change the pole position due to the age of the wall or in some severe cases some walls may need to be reconstructed before hanging curtains, this is something that Etons of Bath can check before your curtains are hung.
Large windows in Georgian properties often mean long and heavy drops so the weight of the curtain needs to be considered when fitting tracks and poles. You can get tracks inserted into a curtain pole to keep the classical look but that also enables ease of use on large curtains, this means they slide along easier.
Bedroom window dressing designed by Etons of Bath
8) PELMETS AND VALANCES
Pelmets and valences are both great classical window treatments that offer a fabulous solution to covering up unsightly tracks and concealing the tops of your curtains, although you don’t need to go the full hog and have sways and tails, unless you want to of course.
A pelmet (also called a cornice board) is a fabric covered framework with a ‘ceiling’ that placed above the window to hide curtain fixtures, a valance on the other hand has no ‘ceiling’ and therefore doesn’t assist with insulation.
9) POOLING VERSUS SKIMMING
Pooling curtains originates from centuries ago and served a more practical purpose where home owners needed to retain as much heat as possible by using the curtains as a draught excluder. These days of course we have central heating, so it’s more down to personal choice these days rather than a functional use. If you have uneven floors then pooling will help to hide this, but when they are open you’ll need to shape them a bit – just like you do when you plump up a feather cushion. Skimming is a neater, more modern option – the idea is that they look smart without dragging on the floor and therefore helps keep them clean.
10) FINISHING TOUCHES
There are many beautiful trimmings on the market if you fancy giving your curtains a unique look. They add definition and depth to plain fabrics and look especially stunning when stitched on the leading edge of the curtain and pelmet.
Other ideas are holdbacks and tiebacks, the latter come in a good array of designs, some with pretty beading and coloured tassels. Rope designs are popular as are tiebacks made from the same fabric as the curtains to create a cohesive look. Holdbacks tend to be made from metal or wood and look like hooks and knobs; they keep your curtains clear of the window.