Sunday 5 March 2017

Curious Curtains 1 : pelmet behind a pole

There is a curtain pelmet type that I can only describe as 'Pelmet behind a pole'.

I call it curious because most pelmets, or valances, are fitted in front of the curtains, not behind them. The first time I noticed this arrangement was in an article on Stanley House in London, where designer Nicky Haslam had curtains made based on a 19th century water colour of the same room.

So these are curtains that hang from a fairly prominent and decorative pole, in front of a (usually flat) valance, which fills the space between the pole and the top of the window. 

In this room, the curtain pole is right up to the ceiling, but the top of the window is much lower; about 70 cm I would guess. The space in between is filled with a flat pelmet; it is not a blind that moves up and down; it is a fixed piece, probably lined and interlined, or even stiffened, covered in a fabric with a braid and a fringe attached. 
I have only come across this type very occasionally, but it is not without its merits and nor without its history.  Its merits are that when the windows are not very high, you can still have the impact of tall curtains right up to the ceiling, with a large decorative curtain pole. The pelmet underneath, meanwhile, takes care of the bare wall that you would otherwise see. Behind the pelmet, secondary curtains can also be fitted, on invisible tracks. When top and under curtains are both on poles, it tends to become a bit busy.      
Also, any other type of pelmet would hang in front of the curtains and would therefor cut across them, reducing their height and impact in the room. Nowadays, most pelmets are deemed too fussy, but this type might just work, even in contemporary interiors.    
And it has history - as here, in the water colour of around 1830, used by Nicky Haslam.

I'm just going to show the very few examples that I have found among historic images. The earliest one is a design from ca 1825, by the influential firm of Gillows, which shows three different curtain designs. The one on the right concerns us here. The one on the left looks like it but I think the curtains are meant to run behind the flat valance.  

 This charming interior view, from ca 1842, also shows them very nicely:

A much more elaborate version was made for Aynhoe Park, Northamptonshire, shown in a lovely series of interior views from the same decade as all of these images: the 1840s, which seems to have been the moment for these pelmets:   

It's a bit difficult to see what's going on here - there is a lot of fabric! - but I think the curtains were meant to slide in front of the two swags, with the tails on either side just staying where they were. 

The only image from outside the UK shows a room in Stuttgart, Germany from ca 1845,  a charming lady's sitting room, entirely done up in chintz and with a large plant arrangement in the corner.  The house was built for King Charles I of Wurtemberg, who was married to a daughter of the Tsar of Russia, which is where those corner plantings were particularly popular.  

Here there are wooden poles with the flat pelmets behind the curtains, while the door has the same pole and curtains, but without the pelmet.  I, myself, would have hung the door curtains just a bit higher, on the same level as the others ... perhaps it was felt that the door would then have needed a pelmet as well - but in a room as upholstered like this, I think I would have done that. 

After this image from the late 1840s, I have found nothing until 1907, when Cumberland House, London was photographed just prior to its sad demolition.

This town palace was built for a Royal Duke in the 1760s, the time of Robert Adam, with a large amount of wall space above the windows. Here, instead of the swags and tails that must have been there originally, there are deep, flat pelmets, fitted behind the curtains that hang from heavy, Victorian poles, with Italianate brackets and their own cornices. 

These are very similar to curtains that survive at Sudbury Hall, a beautiful house in Suffolk (through the arch can just be seen the carved staircase that John Fowler whitewashed, against his famous 'Sudbury yellow').  I love the chunky poles and sense of height; other types of pelmet would have cut across the curtains and lowered them visually. 

I have came across 2 actual examples of this pelmet type; both at Broughton Hall, Yorkshire, home to the Tempest family since about a millennium; both in rather modest rooms, but none the less, here is one that could well go back to the 1840s:

And one in a bedroom which has since been redecorated. It looks a bit later and has an interesting pelmet consisting of an enormous kind of fringe :

Not so long ago, the interiors of Frogmore House, another royal residence (in the park of Windsor Castle), were restored to a mid nineteenth century appearance and there is a lovely kind of gallery with a whole series of this type of curtain pelmet arrangement.

There are also some very pretty pelmets at Longleat House, which just hide the tops of the windows.

Although these are 'pelmets behind poles', their modest size, scalloped profiles, fringes and tassels are reminiscent of the lambrequins of the 17th century, but that is a blog subject for another day. 

In the meantime, here is contemporary room by Alexa Hampton, which shows how effective a 'pelmet behind a pole' can be - even in a skyscraper.   

I know the title 'pelmet behind a pole' is not very poetic, so, as with my previous post about 'chandelier socks' some of my readers may suggest another name!
I would also be very appreciative of other images of these very 'Curious Curtains'.


Stanley House, photo = found on Pinterest.
Stanley House, watercolour = in: John Cornforth, English Interiors 1790-1848.  
Gillows Design = in: John Fowler/John Cornforth, English Decoration in the 18th century.
Interior with blue curtains = in Davids/McCarron-Cated/Gere, House Proud - 19th century                                                                 watercolour interiors from the Thaw Collection.
Interior at Aynhoe = in: Lily at Aynhoe , watercolours by Elizabeth Cartwright - Hignett, Aynhoe                                          House, between 1835 and 1847.
Stuttgart interior = in : Peter Thornton, Authentic Decor.
Cumberland House = found on website 'British History Online'.
Sudbury Hall = photograph Andreas von Einsiedel. 
Broughton photos = model's own
Longleat house = in: The Victorian Country House

Friday 18 September 2015

Chandelier Socks

One of my all time favourite rooms is the drawing room at Hambleden Manor. If you missed my raving about it (and my sadness about its recent demise) read about it here . It is just a wonderfully warm and smart symphony of colours and comfort, created by John Fowler and Lady Hambleden.
I'm glad I have a reason to use this image again: it shows the subject of this post... the chandelier
sock; the fabric wrapping around the chain that the chandelier hangs from the ceiling with. I have no idea if there is a more common name for these bits of fabric but I have always called them that. 
They were a common feature in rooms that John Fowler had had a hand in; another famous example is Nancy Lancaster's yellow drawing room in London, now part of the Colefax & Fowler head office. 
Recently I talked about these fabric socks with a friend and he put them down as '...rather 60s and decoratorey' , which was clearly not a good thing. I suppose this was the legacy of John Fowler speaking and the many imitators of his style. Chandelier socks were lumped together with those wide ribbons and bows that pictures were hung from in the 80s (more about them perhaps in another post).

However, when I looked through my images I found examples throughout the 19th century; chandelier socks were everywhere, EXCEPT .... in England. So where Britain is concerned my friend may well have been right (with 1 exception which I will show), but in the rest of Europe they were widely used from the age of Napoleon onwards. 

The earliest I have found dates from 1810, and it depicts, in fact, one of Napoleon's sisters, Caroline Murat, in a room at the Elysee palace in Paris, two years after he made her husband King of Naples.  
This was the 'Silver Salon' on the ground floor of what is now the Presidential Palace, with terrribly smart silvered furniture that was upholstered in red taffeta and embroidered with silver. The chandelier sock is clearly conceived as part of this scheme.   

Only one year later her drawing room in Naples was depicted with a chandelier chain covered in cream fabric and gold fringe, much like the rest of the room.    
This image shows what I love so much about these artistic interior views. Not only do they offer an astonishing amount of historical detail, but they also depict rooms in a way that photography could never have done. Looking at the ceiling and the carpet you realize that we see the entire room, not just one end of a room that was actually much longer. To replicate this image on film, you would have to remove one entire side of the room ! It's like a stage set, and this particular perspective has never actually existed. 

So from around this time these chandelier chains wrapped in fabric become common in images from France, Italy, Germany and Russia. Right from the beginning they seem to have been part of the decorative scheme. Palatial interiors tended to be very colour coordinated and I have found only one or two images where the fabric used for the chandelier is NOT in the dominant colour of the room. 

In the 1820s this lovely private room in the Royal Palace in Munich, had gorgeous wall paper, an interesting glazed door and a chandelier sock that matched the curtain pelmets.  
    Another beautiful room where absolutely everything matched and coordinated, was in one of the outer pavilions of  Tuileries Palace, and it depicts the Duchess de Berry with her son in 1822. The upholstery used many meters of braid, but the chandelier sock was quite simple and probably in the same fabric as the walls and the curtains.
More European images later, but now the question of Britain, where it seems that exposing the chandelier chain was preferred over wrapping it in silk. There are so many views of 19th century British interiors and in all of those I found just ONE single image with a chandelier sock, in a view from 1823 :    
It is at Cassiobury Park and the fabric matches the room. I particularly love the painted ceiling and the illusion of an open sky where a large bird is flying around, conveniently carrying a chandelier. It reminds me of one of the rooms in the Royal Pavillion in Brighton, built for the Prince Regent (later King George IV). There a giant Chinese dragon flies through the sky carrying the chandelier. I still remember being mesmerised by this idea when I saw it aged 14.

The Prince Regent loved everything french and his interiors are of an unimaginable opulence EXCEPT ... for the chandelier chains. One almost suspects he had a personal dislike for them. At the time that in Paris they were clearly used in the smartest interiors, his excessively upholstered rooms had chandeliers with uncovered chains.
In 1820 the Rose Satin Room was entirely hung with ... well, rose satin, which must have looked incredible, but was there no little bit left over to cover the chandelier chain with ? This was in Carlton House Palace and the amount of fabric used for these rooms is completely over the top, and yet in none of them the chandelier chain has a fabric cover.    
What you do sometimes see in English rooms is a chandelier hung from ropes and tassles; Here, in Buckingham house (later the Palace) this is made in the same colour as the rather splendid curtains.    
Perhaps this was a pully system that allowed for the chandelier to come down and this may explain the lack of fabric socks: perhaps in Britain they used to lower the chandeliers in a different way, which meant that the fabric was impractical ...? Even so, there are many images of opulent interiors, throughout the 19th century where you think "If this had been the continent there would have been fabric around that chain".

So, back to the continent and on to those marvelous images of the Winter Palace that the Imperial family commissioned all through the century. The detail of these views are incredible and I wish I could show them all. The private entrance was quite an austere and masculine room, and yet the chandelier (an oil or gas lamp?) is hung from a fabric sock, matching the red of the carpet.
I end with a couple of these fantastic interior views of the Winter Palace. Many rooms had chandelier socks. Here is the Dressing Room of Empress Maria Alexandrovna from the 1840s.
Both this, and the view of here bedroom, show chandelier sock of quite unusual design.
The Large Drawing Room of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, in 1858, had one in red.
The Small Cabinet of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna, in 1868, had one in green.  
And the Stroganoffs, down the road, even had them in 1865, in what I presume is chintz. 

As always I would love to receive more images and I would particularly appreciate images of 18th century chandelier socks, if they exist. Thanks for reading


Hambleden Manor
in: Jones, Colefax and Fowler

Brook Street, Nancy Lancaster's drawing room
in: Jones, Colefax and Fowler

Caroline Murat in the Elysee Palace
Watercolour by H. Lebas, 1810
in: Gruber, L'art dcoratif en Europe

Caroline Murat's sitting room in the palace of Naples
Watercolour by E.H. Montagny
in:  Gruber, L'art decoratif en Europe

Dressing Room of Crown Princess Room of Bavaria
Watercolour by
in: Thornton, Authentic Decor

The Duchess de Berry in the Tuileries Palace
Watercolour by Auguste Garneray
in: Praz, An illustrated history of Interior Decoration

Cassiobury Park
in: Gere, House Proud

The Rose Satin Room in Carlton House Palace
Watercolour by W. H Pyne
in: Watkind, The Royal Interiors of  Regency England 

The Breakfast Room, Buckingham House
Watercolour by W. H Pyne
in: Watkind, The Royal Interiors of  Regency England 

The private entrance in the Winter Palace
Watercolour by K.A. Ukhtomsky

The Dressing Room of Maria Alexandrovna
Watercolour by L. Premazzi

The Bedroom of Maria Alexandrovna
Watercolour by Premazzi

The Large Drawing Room of Alexandra Feodorovna
Watercolour by E.P Hau

The Small Cabinet of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna,
Watercolour by E.P Hau

The Boudoir of the Stroganoff Palace
Image from the Internet

Sunday 16 November 2014

The Joy of Painted Blinds

Today's roller blinds come in all sorts of colours, fabrics, stripes and patterns and this to my mind is a big improvement over all the plain beige and cream ones that most of us grew up with.
I recently came across this photo of the treatment that a creative person had given to an off-the-shelf roller blind from Ikea.
I think this is a charming, simple and effective and it made me think of several bespoke 'painted' blinds that I have come across during my imaginary travels through historic rooms. There are not many of them, so I can show them all here, hoping that some readers may be inspired to paint or design something similar. I'm pleased I have persuaded one client to go this way; in a dining room where the curtains won't always be drawn at night, roller blinds with painted decoration can be elegant and fun, and give as much privacy as curtains would. 

As far as these images show, painted blinds were particularly popular in Germany. It is remarkable that all of them depict private spaces that are situated inside mostly royal palaces. date from the first half of the 19th century, but then that was also the height of the art of the interior watercolour, which was particularly taken up in that country, so whether these blinds existed in southern countries I couldn't say. 

The earliest image I have found dates from 1829.
Princess Augusta's 'Muslin Closet' in a Berlin town palace decorated by the then uber fashionable Schinckel was entirely hung with muslin drapes with decorated borders. 
Luckily for us the window on the right is shown with its blind completely down, so we can see, behind the plants, how they were decorated with Greek ornaments
Another private sitting room, this time in the Palace of Bamberg, is depicted in this gorgeous watercolour of 1844. The decoration is in a Roman/Etruscan style, and this particular Princess took the floral arrangements to an altogether higher level.
As in the Berlin image one of the blinds is shown as drawn down and the elegant decoration can just be made out behind the seated girl : 
The view through the window suggests an upper floor of the palace, so one can sympathize with this young lady's desire to bring so much greenery into her room; the gardens must have been a long walk away!

If I may digress for a few seconds : I love the wacky flower support thing that she has on her desk, and here is a contemporary image of  something similar:
Another one of my favourite images dates from the 1830s and shows a private sitting room in the Royal Palace in Berlin.
I love the blue and gold in this room, which must have been in an important part of the palace, judging from the decoration and the height of the ceiling. The picture hang is also quite grand, but the room is furnished as a private domain; with a sofa, a reading table, a couple of light chairs, and a charming seating area inside the window. There is also a small, personal rug under the table, protecting the grand carpet.  
What suddenly struck me though, is what I THINK is a semi-transparent, painted blind in the window. I'm not entirely sure of it, but here's a detail :
Now ... is this a plant on the window sill - or a landscape with a tree painted on a semi-transparent blind ? It looks even more like a painted tree reflected in the big mirror. It appears that through the blind one can spot a pediment on columns of  a nearby building. It must have been painted on something like muslin, which presumably doesn't roll up easily like paper or canvas. The user of this room will have had servants to attach and remove the blind, so I guess practicality was not of prime importance.

The next example is also semi-transparent and was published in a French magazine in 1840 and may there for not depict an actual room. 
Even so, the half drawn up blind painted with a Chinoiserie scene looks charming.
An equally elaborate design was present in another private study in an apparently royal castle in Silesia, around 1850. The windows  have smart, embroidered surrounds (of which the proper name escapes me right now ....) and seem to lack draw curtains. Instead, there are blinds painted with a fantasy river landscape. This must have been in summer, and I love the row of miniature plant pots on the window sill.    
Ten years later we see the only English image of a similar blind:
In this design for a bedroom, published in Berlin in 1871, we find an elaborate idea for the curtains, which includes two elegant blinds:  

So far these are all blinds that show their best effect when they are fully drawn down. They are painted landscapes or decorations that perhaps looked a bit odd when the upper part was invisible and the design would start half way the window.

Blinds that solve that problem would need to be of a much simpler design and the earliest of those I have found in a charming watercolour of a very private sitting room at Buckingham Palace. Here, Queen Victoria's family enjoyed views over the gardens and the afternoon sun. There were striped awnings outside and painted blinds on the inside.
They had a border of (presumably) flowers in between two thin lines; a design that worked regardless of high or low the blinds were drawn. 
The same was true for this curtain and blind design that was published in 1900. Here too, the design always works, as it's really only a wide border along the bottom. This kind of decoration is not difficult to do and could be easily painted or stencilled on a roller blind today. 
And finally an actual painted blind that I was very happy to spot in an auction catalogue.
Somehow this reminds me of rooms in Italy or Spain - backgrounds in films like The Leopard and other gloomy, dusty rooms. For a study I think this would look very smart indeed.

I have no idea really how widely used blinds like these were; among thousands of  images I have only found these few. Painting this kind of interior views was not as widespread in southern countries as it was in the North, so there is very little evidence for their use in countries like Italy or Spain.
On top of that, due to their material and their use, very few of them will have survived the ages. 
Sad, because I really like them !  



As a result of this post, I was sent two photos by a reader, Penelope Bianchi, of paper blinds that she found many years ago in an Antique shop in Florence, and which have clearly found a very sympathetic home in California. Thank you Penelope!
In her message she says that there were blinds like this in the Madelaine Castaing sale, but I never saw the catalogue. I would love to receive photos and add them to this little collection. Any one? 



My blogger friend John Tackett , from  The Devoted Classicist has kindly reminded me of a blind fabric, that in fact could be one of the most famous ... silly me ....
I am unclear as to where the original idea came from, but John Fowler used it a lot, and as a result it has never really left the scene. It has been widely mentioned in blogs, like herehere and here
At the moment it is available from Nicky Haslam, who himself is closely linked to John Fowler, as he uses the latters home as his country retreat. The fabric is called Shutter Stripe.
This is a detail: 

John Fowler used it in his sitting room, which lends it a strangely Southern State American atmosphere, although the busy King's Road must have been very audible in this room. 


As I am making a little collection of painted blinds here on my blog, I will add a photograph that I was given last week of a blind that my friend Michael Dillon painted for a project designed by Caroline Percy. I think it is beautifully elegant, very effective and I hope it will inspire my readers.  


Many of the images came from that invaluable book AUTHENTIC DECOR, by Peter Thornton.

1. Ikea 'tree' blind :
2. Berlin interior : Authentic Decor, page 248
3. Bamberg interior: Authentic Decor, frontispiece
4. Design for a window wall: Authentic Decor, page 242
    (from Wilhelm Kimbel's influential furnishing journal published between 1835 and 1853)
5. Blue and gold sitting room : Authentic Decor, page 261 
    (Described as: A Royal love nest - sitting room of Countess Liegnitz, the morganatic wife of King           Friedrich Wilhelm III, 1824)
6. Chinoiserie blind: Authentic Decor, page 262
    (from: Le Bouteiller, Journal de l'Industrie et des Arts utiles, Paris 1840) 
7. Study, Sagan Castle, Silesia, 1850s
8. English sitting room by Lady Honoria Cadogan, in Inside Out, Charles Plante
9. Bedroom designs, Berlin 1871, Authentic Decor, page 326
10.  Buckingham palace (1848):  House Proud - 19th century water colour interiors from the Thaw      Collection, Davids/McCarron-Cated/Gere, 2008
11. Design for curtains: Authenic Decor, page 322
    (from: Ernest Foussier's 'Nouveaux Modeles de tentures, Decorations de fenetres', Paris 1900)
12. Photograph: Sotheby's catalogue of Christopher Hodsoll sale, 29 Oct 2002