Over the last few decades, the common style in interior design has become streamlined, tailored, and sleek. While this can be perfectly lovely, many feel that attention to detail has become a lost art, and there are very few designers today who know how to implement them well. Why? Designer Linda Kerekes summed it up best during my “anti-trend” series last January…
“During Mario Buatta’s heyday in the eighties, we designers had the privilege of having clients who would put money and thought into the purchase of the best fabrics and beautiful silk trims. We would use custom workrooms to create wonderfully crafted draperies and upholstery. This was because the classic design favored by the upper class society figures of the day were meant to be permanent, timeless, and forever. They were the models that others wanted to exemplify. Designers were creating permanent backgrounds for the clients’s collections of art, things from travels and family photos, their history. Interiors were not changed like couture gowns. They were curated and replaced only as they were lovingly worn out. Clients were willing to invest in the best quality because these things were made to last forever. It would be lovely if we could get back to quality over change,” she said.
Case in point: modern curtains. Open up any design magazine, and you will likely see windows dressed with simply tailored fabric on either side, typically with no frills, passementerie, or detail. Of course all of these bells and whistles are expensive, and one could argue that our nation’s increasingly transient nature contributes to this lack of commitment (according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average person in the United States moves residences more than 11 times in his or her lifetime.) But the late, great Mario Buatta had a solution to that problem. In an interview conducted by Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel in 1981, he said:
“I have had the same chintz in my sitting room (with the dogs) that I’ve had since 1962. I’ve never changed it. I have moved four times, and each time I move, I’ve just added on to the curtains either this way or that way. They have been with me. They are like old friends.” An excellent example of this reuse can be seen throughout the four homes Buatta designed for Patricia Altschul. He also states, “I think curtains are very important, they become architect to the rooms… They can help soften the space and the lines of the room. They also keep out a lot of the draft and the cold.”
Mario was a genius with curtains, and he learned from his mentor John Fowler.
In John Fowler: The Prince of Decorators, author Martin Wood writes (pages 112-113) Fowler “was not only interested in curtains and general upholstery fabrics, but also in historical costume. He spent hours in the Victorian and Albert Museum costume collection studying the fabrics, the pattern, and the cut of the clothes. A particular fascination with eighteenth-century dress can be seen translated into his choice and use of fabrics for decorating, such as his use of slipper satin, and into the way he constructed his trimming details. Slipper satin was obtained from theatrical costumiers, hence the strong theatrical colors such as bright yellow, pink, and mauve. The use of ‘pinked’ edges, done with a pinking machine, seems to have been an innovation of his, as was the use of ruched boarders to curtains. He learnt about curtains and curtain-making by buying antique (usually Victorian) drapery and then spending hours unpicking it to see how it had been made. He quickly grasped that, like haute couture, it was the way the fabric was cut that was crucial. In later years, it was quite common for him to have complex valances made up first in calico just to be sure the effect would work and look right.”
The result was a confectionary delight reminiscent of a couture ballgown. “It is hard to believe that he [Fowler] did not wonder what Marie Antoinette would have liked to have had,” writes John Cornforth (page 146) in The Inspiration of the Past: Country House Taste in the Twentieth Century.
Below are examples of exquisitely designed curtains by various illustrious designers…
What are your thoughts on couture curtains? Swags, bows, tails, choux, balloons, bells, lambrequins, pelmets, pinking, fans, double fans, and frills… I love it all! And I would love to see a resurgence of this classic interior design art form. For additional information on this subject, please visit The Peak of Chic (here and here) and Little Augury. I also highly recommend the gorgeous book Window Dressings: Beautiful Draperies & Curtains for the Home.