To Curtain or Not to Curtain?

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By Sue Pipal

Some people have strong opinions about using curtains in mountain homes. In fact, over the years, I’ve found myself convincing clients to add curtains on more than one occasion. Always, they come back and thank me later when they see how beautifully livable mountain rooms with custom drapery treatments can be.

We do have gorgeous views here, and I understand why people want to emphasize them. However, homeowners sometimes falsely believe that curtains block views and light. Curtains done correctly can both enhance and frame views, amplifying the aesthetics overall.    

RELAX: Nubby textural curtains can warm up and humanize a room. Photo courtesy Dragonfly Designs

Up the cozy factor. Curtains can add a softening and humanizing effect. Many of our Tahoe rooms have high ceilings and high volume. Large scale like this can create a feeling of vulnerability in a space. Curtains add a coziness factor that gives rooms a more welcoming and personal feeling.

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Mountain construction style often utilizes heavy, rustic materials such as tongue and groove ceilings, big bulky beams, stone fireplaces and flooring, or wood walls and floors. These materials can feel cold and isolating, especially in big rooms. Curtains counterbalance and personalize hard, masculine elements with fluidity, lushness, and calm. Using curtains along with plush upholstered pieces, plump throw pillows, and luxe area rugs is how designers increase comfort and livability in homes.

Keeping private things private. In cities and dense urban areas, curtains are often used for privacy. In close neighborhoods people may want to pull curtains to prevent others from spying on their evening activities. In the mountains, however, many houses are situated so that rooms are more private and homeowners might be less likely to feel put on view, especially when homes back onto wilderness or the lake. Even so, good window coverings should always be considered, at least for bedrooms, and bathrooms with exposed windows. It’s not only to prevent people from peering in but also to save the neighbors from potential embarrassment at having to watch what may go on inside a home. It’s just nice manners.

GOODNIGHT: Elegant, soft privacy curtains make this bedroom a peaceful and safe space to relax. Photo courtesy Ralph Lauren

Black it out or let the light shine. Some folks cannot sleep unless all light is completely blocked. For this situation we use heavy backing materials designed to create a blackout effect. Other folks are happy to awaken to light streaming into a room and love curtains that are sheer or lightly lined. And of course, there are people who like to lay in bed and see the view first thing in the morning. For these, we employ clickers or smart home voice controls that can open curtains immediately upon waking. One needn’t even leave the bed!

Crazy window shapes. Many of our mountain home windows are not compatible with hanging curtains at all. Windows set into tightly sloping, A-frame walls in the shape of triangles or trapezoids will simply not accommodate curtains. For clients who prefer sleeping in dark rooms, installing appropriate window coverings can sometimes be a challenge and, in some cases, the only option will be blinds.

Blinds versus curtains. On the subject of blinds, let me just say one thing … boring. If your goal is to create a beautiful room, unless you’re considering gorgeous rustic blinds of the finest textiles or grasses, fabric curtains or Roman shades will always be preferable.

Tokola fabric has a stylish, striped, geometric pattern and a nubby, rustic stripe great for heavy, cocooning curtains. Photo courtesy William Yeoward

Choose the right fabric and trims. Here are my preferences: For contemporary mountain style rooms, I love nubby, woven, textural fabrics in solid colors or neutrals. It’s usually best to avoid the smooth and slick in the mountains unless you are a highly skilled designer that can make an unconventional look work. For more traditional mountain style homes, it comes down to a decision between elegance and charm. Again, textured wovens can be beautiful, but consider adding rustic trims to luxe them up. As for patterns, these days I am favoring colorful ethnic ikat weaves, rustic woven stripes in nubby textures, trading blanket fabrics, Native America-inspired block prints, and other traditional printed patterns featuring woodlands and trees, ferns, mountains, and forest animals.

Tailoring. The tried-and-true pinch pleat never goes out of style, but these days there are lots of subtle options to choose from. Most of the curtains I’ve had produced in my local workroom in the last few years have used a more contemporary inverted pleat. For ultra-luxe curtains, ask your draper to use fabric at a 3-to-1 ratio to the width of the window. And for the fullest and lushest curtains you might even consider using luxury interlining between the featured fabric and back lining. Also, hang your curtains high. It’s a misconception that curtains need to hang from just above the top of the window. For rooms with 8 to 10 feet walls, I usually take my curtains to about 6 inches below the ceiling. Tall curtains, like long legs, are elegant, lead the eye upward, and create good bone structure in a room.

Hardware. Getting the hardware right is critical. I always prefer rods and rings, usually heavy wrought iron. A simple ball finial is fine, but there are other decorative finials that can be beautiful in mountain homes. You can spend a lot of money on luxury hardware and it is often worth it. If you want to save money, however, Target makes a simple French curved metal rod. Get it in a bronze finish and order affordable bronze metal rings from Amazon.

A kid favorite: This theater fabric lends itself to fabulous Roman shades. Courtesy photo

Whimsy in kids rooms and bunkrooms. Why not make these rooms fun? There are so many charming fabrics that bring kids’ mountain fantasies to life.

Always avoid curtains that are ill fitting. One last piece of advice here — if you are going to buy ready-made curtains, be sure they reach to the floor, and buy from a site that offers them in a variety of length options. Designers prefer curtains to kiss the floor, just barely touching down. Measure carefully before you buy. Hang them high and drop them all the way down. And don’t skimp on the fullness. It’s often not enough to buy a panel for either side of the window. This will look flimsy and just plain wrong. Consider using several panels on each side to give your window a luxury look. Ready-made curtains can be fine, just be sure they follow all the same rules custom made draperies do, otherwise the look will be off.

Curtains are one of those tricks that designers keep handy in their back pocket. They add the final finishing touch of comfort and beauty to any room. Yes, even in the mountains.

~ Sue Pipal has been an interior designer in the Lake Tahoe area for 25 years. She is the owner of Dragonfly Designs as well as tahoedreaminteriors.com. For help with selecting or installing curtains, or for any other design questions, email Sue at spipal@att.net.

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