A major aspect of my personal, and professional, aesthetic is the elevation of humble, everyday materials by how they are used. After decades of striving to find the best, newest, most unusual, and usually priciest furnishings for my clients, I now delight in re-inventing my relationship with the common place.
I find that allowing myself to be turned-on by things that are usually considered unvalued is empowering and inspiring. These relationships are completely apart from the influence of trends, shelter magazines (which I do not read), and industry brainwashing. Take, for example, the lowly clothes pin. Have you ever really considered its innate beauty and potential? I mean, apart from its intended use on a clothes line?
Recently, I was thinking about drapes. Not curtains, which are usually more casual, unlined, and can be found everywhere from Walmart to Pottery Barn. No, I mean Drapes, as in lined, perhaps INTER-lined, something that hangs beautifully, makes a statement, are energy efficient, and maybe control sunlight so that you can sleep forever no matter what time of day.
Drapes are a major undertaking in any room. The quantity of fabric, cost of labor and proper hardware, plus the need for them to hang perfectly, creates an agenda that requires careful consideration. I rarely recommend drapes for my clients, especially in smaller rooms, because they tend to take up space and dominate a room. But occasionally, the function and aesthetics of drapes is appropriate. So I asked myself, what would humble drapes look and feel like?
I started with burlap. It’s super-inexpensive, available everywhere, comes in a decent variety of colors, and when washed, is quite supple. Are you old enough to remember the Downey fabric softener commercials from the ‘70’s, where they washed some burlap and used it as a baby diaper? Burlap also offers a big bite of texture, one of the design elements I use most. What next?
Muslin is another basic, almost iconic fabric, that’s also widely available, and available in wide widths, perfect for lining. I prefer the un-bleached version, more of a Winter white.
At this point, I had a vision of drapes going in a simple, serene, Japanese space…..the basic golden tan color of burlap reminded me a bit of the classic tatami floor mats often found in traditional Japanese interiors. These mats are bound in black cotton, but I flashed on black cotton velvet, another very basic and accessible fabric, knowing it would provide a bit of elegance and textural contrast to the burlap.
I made a sample to work out the construction and details for my sewing workroom. Between the burlap front, and muslin lining, there is a soft flannel inter-lining that will give the panels substantial weight, yet still be supple. And again, taking my inspiration from tatami mats, I did some large hand-sewn stitching along the seam where the black velvet meets the burlap…..very subtle, but an essential detail.
It seems like the heavy, fussy, silk drapes of the 1980’s and ‘90’s are gone forever….the matching valances, multiple tassels and trims and huge tie-backs would feel oppressive and ostentatious now. Often, they weren’t even functioning drapes, merely “window dressing”! What did these over-the-top statements symbolize? The word that comes to mind is excess.
I like to ask myself, and my clients, how can we provide for our needs in the simplest way possible, while still embracing beauty?