Window Treatments for Heritage Homes
written by Johanne Yakula
If our eyes are considered the windows to our soul, then in building terms, the windows create much the same feeling to a building. Given their significance, it is very important that window treatments are chosen to enhance the qualities and character of the windows.
There are a myriad of books and information on how to create window treatments. Recreating a certain look that is appropriate for a turn of the century or arts and crafts interior requires information about what was popular during that era. This information, coupled with the personality of your own home can help to create the wonderful effect that happens when a room is in harmony with its architectural environment.
A few things that must be kept in mind, however. First, you must consider where your home's first occupants would likely have fit on the socioeconomic scale at that time. Highly formal or ornate window treatments would not likely have been used in a modest middle class home.
The proposed window treatment must be appropriate for the room. The style for a bedroom will differ from that of a dining room, or parlor.
It must also be remembered that although certain ideologies or ornamentation influenced each individual style, they existed more often than not, simultaneously. Thus, the Victorian styles did not change overnight upon the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. The "Arts and Crafts" movement existed alongside "High Victorian" in the latter part of the 19th century, and continued well into the early 1920's! The "Edwardian" styles influenced home design from the beginning of King Edward's reign in 1901, until the latter part of the second world war - long after his death in 1910. The more rural an area was, the longer these styles influenced the building and decorating of homes.
This knowledge increase options for design. Few homes were built based on a "pure" architectural style. For example, Arts and crafts details are found in homes that may be predominantly another architectural expression. Thus it is up to the homeowner to decide which of the styles should be featured.
As previously mentioned, the Victorian styles, albeit less popular, continued into the early years of the twentieth century. The dark interiors with lush fabrics and heavy ornamentation slowly gave way to the lighter interiors of the Edwardian era.(C1901 - 1915) Dark , grayed colors were relinquished in favor of pale yellows, spring greens, soft olive greens, and lilac colors.
Complicated window treatments featuring cornices or pelmets, (a top treatment made of wood) lush fabric side panels, elaborate valances and yards of lace gave way to softer simpler styles. Although cornices were still in evidence in higher end homes, their styles were less ornate. Where wood trim (millwork) had almost always been painted or stained dark brown, it was now often painted white. Lace panels were inserted inside window casings in order to show off beautiful woodwork. The more ornate lace designs were saved for the "public" rooms, whereas simpler styles were featured in the bedrooms. Simple roller blinds provided privacy as required. Chintz fabrics in designs that coordinated with the wallpaper in the room were also extremely popular for bedrooms.
Kitchen window treatments have always created decorating challenges. Edwardians living in higher end homes could afford servants, and the idea that the environment the domestics worked in should be attractive did not occur to the owners. Thus, many windows were left unadorned. In middle class homes, where the women in the home did their own cooking and baking, simple window treatments were favored: cotton prints such as gingham , or solid shades hung from plain brass rods.
Another window "treatment" that was extremely popular was stained glass. Stained glass was found in late Victorian homes right up into art deco homes. The only thing that changed was the patterns that were used. The late Victorian era (Art Nouveau C1890 - 1910) was influenced by Louis Comfort Tiffany's fluid, organic designs. These shapes were abandoned in favor of more geometric style during the Edwardian era and into Arts and Crafts styles. The latter favored design motifs influenced by medieval, gothic styles. Incorporating stained glass into your windows is one of the fastest ways of creating a period look.
The Arts and Crafts movement was created as a protest against the excess in ornamentation during the Victorian era, and the effects of the industrial revolution on the population. Its ideology was based on the medieval belief in good craftsmanship, and pride in creating an object with one's hands.
Arts and crafts designs are almost devoid of extraneous ornamentation, preferring to highlight shape, structure and above all, honesty in materials. Because it espoused a "back to basics" philosophy, the colors that signified the movement were based on nature: muted gray blues, and Grey greens, browns, warm grays, terra cotta, and golds. The most popular fabric and wallpaper designs were based on flora from designer William Morris's own English country garden. Today these designs are replicated on fabrics and are great for use in window treatments.
Casement windows with stained glass panels and garden or bay windows with seats were popular aspects of the style. Homespun fabrics with embroidered designs of stylized plants were very popular. Lace panels and sheers made of muslin, and voile were still used, but the designs featured woven stripes, spots, or figurative patterns. The curtains were hung on simple rods of copper or wrought iron. Often they were half curtains layered one over another, but in all cases the look was "cottage" and unpretentious.
This is but an introduction to period window treatments than can be adapted to your own home. Do your research at libraries, or visit historic homes to gain information on what was available. Combined with your own home's special requirements, a period window treatment will pull together a room like no other single decorating element can do. Above all be flexible, and have fun.
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