Curtains are still the main form of window covering for the majority of households. They are versatile, warm and perform a wide variety of functions. Yet, despite their importance they are often hung as an afterthought! In fact, a well hung curtain can make a huge difference to the décor and feel of any room. When you choose your curtains you must think about their purpose, the style of your room and even the form of the curtains. Understanding their history will help you to choose the right one for your room.
Originally, curtains were used to help keep a property warm; there was no central heating! These curtain were usually long, heavy affairs, the more of the space they covered the better the heat insulation. In fact, it was common to hang tapestries and drapes on castle walls to help keep the warmth in. Choosing a curtain to maximize light in a room was an unheard of option in medieval times. The earliest known curtains were hung over doorways and windows; they were made of animal hide and did not hang well.
To many, the Egyptians are the founder of the modern clothing material. They were experts at spinning linen and flax, later they moved onto wool, cotton and even silk. These materials were created as advancements in dyeing; weaving and mass production were becoming a part of industry. The result was a curtain made of a pleasing textile that not only looked good but flowed well; whilst keeping the warmth in.
In the 13th century the Italians perfected the making of glass and it became an option for windows. Until then, wooden shutters had been the only option and these not only let drafts in but blocked out all light. Keeping a large house or castle warm was nearly impossible, even with an open fire in every room. The smoke inside the building, combined with the darkness would have made for a very unpleasant living environment over the winter months. The more northern you were the colder it got and the more essential these heavy drape curtains became.
The Renaissance period
The period between the 14th and 17th centuries is known as the Renaissance; it was during this period that the average home started to resemble the modern homes we live in today. Glass became a standard feature and helped to reduce the drafts and coldness. Windows were even designed with obscure glass or stained glass; possibly negating the need for curtains altogether.
Most windows are plain glass and so the need for a curtain continued; if only to prevent noisy neighbors watching your every move. Even with the development of glass, curtains remained pieces of material draped across the openings.
The 18th and 19th Centuries
The textiles that had been used for so many years in the eastern parts of the world started to come to the west during this period. This inspired a new range of textile production in France, Italy, Holland and the UK; each product was adapted to include a western feel.
It was only in the first half of the 19th century that mass production started to take off and these gave the humble curtain a new market. Curtains were now a viable option for almost anyone, instead of being the preserve of the wealthiest. The middle classes chose to employ designers to ensure their curtains enhanced the look and feel of their homes. Many curtain styles from this period are very ornate.
The two world wars took their toll on curtain design. Limited materials and funds meant all curtains became simplistic sheets, designed simply to cover the window and even to stop light getting out. The post-war years saw many buildings becoming multiple dwellings and this led to curtains which fit with the architect of the building, although maybe not to the interior décor.
It has only been in the last twenty years that curtains have been seen as part of the interior design and more than just a functional item. They really can make a huge difference to the look of a room. The ideal height, model and material will transform your home into the most welcoming environment!
By: Edward Francis and VanessaArbuthnott.co.uk!