As God as my witness, the first time I saw Gone with the Wind, my future working with interiors was solidified - "and I'd never be hungry again!" It was the summer of 1998, and just like every other red-blooded 10 year old American boy, my cable box was tuned to Turner Classic Movies for their presentation of the 1939 Oscar winner for Best Picture.
Growing up just south of Atlanta, not a 20 minute drive from where the fictional Tara was to have been, and visiting the Maragret Mitchell house where the novel was penned, was enough to peak my interest something fierce.
But nothing would compare to the first time I saw Scarlett O’Hara rip those green velvet drapes down from the parlor windows (so Mamie could make a dress suitable enough for Scarlett to abase/ visit Rhett Butler in pursuit of the $300 she needed for Tara’s tax bill). I was both fascinated and appalled.
Drapery, I’d soon learn, could make or break the flow and continuity of a home’s design. It could tie things together, or make the whole look of a space seem cheap and démodé. Tara, Twelve Oaks, even Rhett Butler’s apartment in Atlanta was a testament to this; each property filled to the gills with thick, soaring drapery lavishly layering each window.
Without a doubt, drapes are my favorite part of the design or redesign of any space. No other single element, save only a rug, can transform a space like well made, properly hung curtains. The right choice of fabric and trim can be both an aesthetic knockout and practically advantageous, while the wrong choices can actually detract from the beauty of a space or fail to stand the test of time.
I can only imagine how hot it was to wear one of those hoop skirts over a set of pantaloons in 1860, long before the advent of air conditioning. Back then, the heaviness and weight to the drapery was an effort to keep hot air out and cool air in by insulating the windows from the outside elements.
Last month, while on a trip through Italy, I toured the Pitti Palace in Florence and was floored by each room of opulent window treatments. The heavy textiles adorning the windows and secondary sheers, an example of drapery that’s been designed and fabricated with both practicality and aesthetics in mind. For centuries, Italian consumers and artisans have demanded the best and haven’t shied from color. They boldly mix pattern, patina and palette - they really go for it - not unlike the rooms of Tara that ache to be dignified, if not royal.
I’ve gone ahead and made all of the mistakes for you and have put together some fast and loose rules for nailing the look and function of the drapes in your space:
1. Yes - your space probably does need drapes.
- The real question is, will they be functional or not? Do you need to close these daily for privacy or light blocking or are they just needed to frame your windows?
2. You’re only as good as your installer.
- You, your husband, step-dad, sister, sister-in-law or friend cannot install your drapes. Even if they can they probably shouldn’t. You should utilize a professional drapery installer to install the hardware and hang your panels at the proper length, breaking just above the floor.
- Friends, as I’ve said before, don’t let friends pool their drapery.
- A good drapery installation can make mediocre drapes look great and high-end drapes look even more high end. On the other hand, even the best drapes and hardware, when hung improperly, will deflate the style and look of the space.
3. Don’t skimp on quality, heavy duty hardware that will work throughout your home.
- Choosing a hardware finish that can work throughout your home, or in multiple rooms on the same floor, will make your life easier.
- Skip the telescoping rods - opt for a custom cut-to-size wrought iron rod and match your drapery rings, brackets and finials in one consistent finish.
- Consider a french return rod for a crisp but softened look. Say no to wooden rods and bulbous finials.
4. Drapery should tie together many elements of the room in a harmonious, effortless way.
- It’s a heavy load to carry, but the drapes should make the upholstery fabric, rug, pillows, throws and other textiles all sing in concert with one another.
- Don’t rush your fabric choice, but rather, allow time to audition fabric and trim choices alongside the other elements of the room.
5. Reach out for an expert.
- The go-to expert for all things drapery on my "team", Maggie Davern, a textile expert and graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, says, "when in doubt, fuller panels are better". She recommends not skimping on panel width and "for the love of all things aesthetically pleasing, no swags, jabots or anything you saw come out of the decor of the 80's and 90s'."
- Utilize a designer to help you select the right fabrics and trim for their workroom to create custom drapery for your space.
So while Scarlett O'hara's style, and the dramatic looks we see in the homes featured in Gone with the Wind, may no longer be in fashion, (just like pantaloons and fascinator bonnets) we can still borrow from the glamor of this time, carefully injecting the sense of opulent luxury into our own spaces.
The biggest trend changes in drapery occur in their fabrication; how the curtains are cut, pleated and where and how they fall. Not unlike the changes we see in fashion, if you choose high quality, functional fabrics that you love, you can always rework, restyle and make what you already have feel new again.
After all, tomorrow is another day!