Friday, October 25, 2013

Curtain Spiff-Up

First of all, you should know that I graduated from the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC (ie: the most historic place ever) with a degree in Historic Preservation. Now, you will understand why I have a very strict rule when it comes to choosing housing. I only choose old-- the older, the better.

Currently, we live in a circa-1910 monster Victorian of which we occupy 75% of the second floor. I adore our apartment except for a few glaring oversights (a proper dining room, which means that living room dinner parties are the norm; a second bathroom; a dishwasher; a garbage disposal). Just because I love historic buildings does not mean I want to live historically. I enjoy the finer things in life, such as motorized dish washing and more indoor plumbing.

You should also know that one feature of historic buildings that I love the most is original windows. This can be heartbreaking at times, since they are a rapidly disappearing feature. Enter: vinyl windows, the scum of the earth. Luckily, both of the historic buildings in which we have lived over the last four years have retained their original windows. Sure, they can be drafty, but there are so many, easy options out there to make them more energy efficient. In my opinion, you take out the windows, you take out the soul. Rant over.

Our circa-1897 building in Lewisburg, WV. Our apartment was the three window bays to the far right on the 2nd floor.

Our old living room. The windows were gorgeous.*
(The wall color is still a favorite, Valspar's Woodlawn Lace; the trim is semi-gloss white.)

I tell you all of this so you will understand my strange, unconventional (?) approach to how I dress these original windows. LESS is better. The first thing I have done in both of our apartments has been to immediately rip out blinds and curtains that remain. Our first apartment had awful vinyl blinds, which are not easy to clean and are not made for historic windows. They almost always never fit. Even if you get them cut to width, they are usually too short or way too long. And, let's just face it, they're ugly. Our current apartment had some pretty awful polyester track curtains a la 1973. I couldn't wait to rip those things down.

Our current building before the porchony got a makeover.
Lovely pepto pink polyester curtains, right? This is our bedroom.

Bri's Solution for Window Treatments for Historic Apartment Living

First thing's first: If you know that your situation is temporary, treat your window treatment solution as temporary. AKA, don't put too much time, effort or money into it, since these curtains will most likely not work in your next place and are therefore not worth a major investment. Finally, (most) historic windows are just beautiful and don't need too much dressing up. Embrace the old! Don't try to cover up trim and moldings. Try to do as little to the original fabric of the window as possible. Be unobtrusive, but still make sure that your needs are met. Choose appropriate textiles and hanging methods. And, just have fun!

Here's what I do.

1. Buy two sets of cheap curtain rods for each window. I got ours at Walmart or Lowes for around $4-$8 each, depending on the size I needed. The windows in the bedrooms were wider than the kitchen and living room, so I needed longer rods. I chose silver tone, because although they are cheap, I don't want them to look too cheap. You get it, right?

Cheap silver tone rods.
(The reason both sets of rods are bent and wonky is because we have a white cat that likes to dangle from the curtains when we won't let her out on the porchony. This is another reason to not invest in more expensive window treatments. Naughty creatures!)

2. Depending on the amount of privacy needed in each room, buy 1 to 2 sheer curtains for each window. Since we are on the second floor and have a good bit of tree coverage, I chose to buy only one sheer curtain panel for each window. I did the same for our kitchen. Since bedrooms are a more private area, I got two sheer curtain panels for each window. Walmart and Lowes have sheers for $4 a panel.

3. Buy one curtain panel for each window. I chose to buy curtain panels (preferably at Target when I find them on sale), but you could make them if they are cost effective. I am a sewing and craft dunce, so store bought saves me time and frustration. I chose simple white curtains for the living room, $9 a panel at Target (on sale). I chose printed curtains for both bedrooms. They were on sale, maybe $12 a panel, but I can't really remember. Again, one curtain panel per window is a savings. Sure, the windows would look better with two, but I have found with the sheer curtains closed (meaning spread across the window) and the panel pushed to one side, the window actually looks pretty well dressed.

4. Install, and you're done. My curtains are not perfect for my windows, since historic windows vary in size and shape and I bought stock curtains. Mine hang right below the window sill, but I find I'm not bothered by this. My curtains are 84 in. length. You could always hem them with hem tape or liquid stitches for the sewing challenged.

5. Or, you can jazz them up a bit like I did in the living room.

I picked up some white pom pom trim and a bottle of liquid stitches to add some charm and de-cheapen my cheap ass curtains.  I still haven't finished one of the panels as I bought all of the pom pom trim that Jo-Ann's had (a whopping two rolls!) and they still haven't restocked. :( Things like this make living in West Virginia not so fun. I feel like we are always three steps behind. Anyways, I bought two rolls of pom pom trim ($3.99 each), which was enough for 1 1/3 curtains, and a bottle of liquid stitches ($7). My total after coupons for the project was about $12. I will need one more roll of trim to complete my panel. So, about $15 total for my update. Applying the trim was super easy. I laid the curtain flat on the ground and put a few paper towels under the area I was applying. You do have to press on the trim and hold it for a bit, but once the glue starts to dry, its stuck. And because the glue is water soluble until it dries, its easy clean-up. I thought I would have to reinforce parts of the trim with a thread stitch, but so far, so good. It took me about 30 mins. to do 1 1/3 curtains. Not bad!

Last year, Cap and I picked up a bag of 6 curtain tie backs from the flea market for $1. She has two in her dining room. I decided to add two to the living room to further dress my windows. Since our curtain panels are usually open, pushed to one side, the addition of the tie backs really dresses things up and is functional. W kindly drilled the holes and just screwed them in. I think it took him 5 mins. after I picked the height. I am forever finding curtain tie backs at antique shops, so keep an eye out. They are a fun and unexpected accessory for a room.

(Note the black cat passed out on the radiator. You'd think it was cold or something!?)

*WINDOWS IN OUR FIRST APARTMENT: I ripped down the vinyl blinds. In the living room, I put up two sheer panels per window and one tea-stained curtain panel per window. In our bedroom, which also fronted the road like the living room, we used double-sided tape and attached sheets of white butcher paper with a dark gray curtain panel  in each window. The paper provided complete privacy and filtered the light in a very nice way. Since the view was the same from the living room and bedroom, we didn't mind not having a view from the bedroom.

*We have not painted in this apartment.

Do you have any easy and cheap window dressing tips?

Coming up:

I apologize for the poor quality photos--working on it!



  1. I def. have the same round silhouette prints from your first apt.! Love them.

    1. i still have them! did you know that mad men's peggy has them in her apartment (over the kitchen sink)? you can see them in the episode where don crashes the car with his mistress in it and the mistress stays at peggy's! :)


    2. I'm def. going to google that right now.....