Let’s be honest: curtains aren’t sexy. At least, not traditionally. In fact, have you EVER heard the phrase ‘ooh look at that sexy curtain!’? No – me either*. The problem with curtains is that they’re often cheap, flimsy and ill-fitting. And if they’re not, they may cost more than you might expect.
But here’s the thing I’ve discovered: curtains – good, well made, tailored-to-your-window curtains – are perhaps THE best way to transform a room from yeah-it’s-ok to WOW-NO-WAY! Yes, they’re expensive compared to, say, a statement designer cushion, but they’re worth every single penny. Seriously.
My recently renovated sitting room is an excellent example of the power of a gorgeous curtain or two. Here, the walls are painted a statement dark blue, which definitely helps with the cosy, cocooning vibe. And yes, removing the laminate and sanding the original floorboards gives the room a more authentic Edwardian feel. But the dusky pink, floor length, fully lined velvet curtains on a brushed brass rail? It’s like my room finally put its decadent party dress on, ready for a fabulous new year. Not to mention the fact that it feels (and actually IS, thanks to the curtains covering the draughty windows) a couple of degrees warmer.
“Our curtains are like couture for windows,” says Mary Walsh, co-founder of bespoke curtain company The London Curtain Girls (TLCG), and a subscriber to the curtains-as-fabulous-home-clothing concept. Together with business partner Laragh Bohn, she made my – yes – my SEXY pink velvet curtains, and I still can’t get over how much I love them, or the extent to which they’ve transformed my sitting room.
Working with TLCG has properly opened my eyes not only to the dramatic change a beautiful pair of curtains can make to a room, but also to the thought, care and attention that goes into making them. Did you know, for example, that 54m of fabric were used to make these curtains? FIFTY FOUR ACTUAL METRES! Who knew?! Well, Mary for starters.
So who better to give us the curtain low down (and yes, they should ALWAYS hang low to the floor) than TLCG’s Mary herself. I cornered her in my sitting room with a cuppa and gave her a good curtain grilling – here’s what she had to say on her favourite subject…
*Though I did SAY it when referring to my new sitting room curtains just last week. And just now…
EM: Hey Mary! So, how long have you and Laragh been making curtains?
MW: Hey Emily! Well, we’ve been in this industry for a combined 20 years. Before that we both studied interior design and worked for different designers getting experience and learning our craft.
EM: As you’ve probably gathered [ha! Another curtain pun!], I’m totally obsessed with these beautiful curtains you made especially for this window. I just adore the suede-like softness, the way they perfectly fit my window and the swish the make when they close! Can you tell me a bit about how they were made?
MW: Yes of course! The pink velvet fabric is Milborne Tea Rose from GP&J Baker. We used 18m of this, 18m of a 100% cotton interlining fabric, and 18m of satin lining. That’s a lot of fabric! The pole is a 25mm stainless steel brushed brass finish bespoke bay pole from The Bradley Collection.
EM: So if I’m doing up a room, how do I know if I need curtains or blinds or both?
MW: It’s really up to the client and also depends on the window style. Some windows suit blinds better, but taller windows generally work better with curtains that draw the eye up. Often we suggest fully lined and interlined curtains with a sheer roman blind underneath for privacy while still allowing daylight to come through. Sheer curtain can be a good way to treat a large expanse of glass such as bi-fold doors.
EM: OK then, let's get down to the nitty gritty: why ARE good curtains so expensive?
MW: Firstly, the fabric quantity. Most curtains require a minimum 8m of fabric. Then the lining and interlining. This adds substance and warmth to the curtain fabric. And finally the production process – our curtains take on average 2-3 weeks for production: everything is hand stitched and tailored to your specific window. It’s essentially a tailored suit or couture gown for your window.
EM: That's such a good way of putting it. So what are the most important things when it comes to getting curtains right for a room?
MW: Taking into account the style of the room and existing furniture, the natural light and where it falls, the ceiling height and the function of the window. We always advise our clients to choose a fabric and style that is timeless and a good investment rather than being too on-trend. Part of the service we offer is advising on the best curtains for a room - it's like an interior design consultation throw in for free!
EM: Out of interest, what is popular for curtain styles right now?
MW: Simplicity – natural fabrics and unfussy headings, for example a cartridge pleat curtain fitted on a slim brass pole.
EM: Which of the curtains you’ve made do you like best?
MW: We have lots of favourites and we always find that when curtains are installed they really complete a room. The most challenging window we dressed was a curved double-height window overlooking the Thames, where function and luxury were both key. Lots of research and a high level of workmanship went into this project. We were delighted with the end result.
EM: What’s the best option if I want to block out as much light as possible?
MW: Curtains made with blackout lining and interlining, fitted on a covered lath and fascia track system.
EM: What types of fabrics work for curtains? Are there some that don’t work at all?
MW: Almost everything but we advise against pure silk and heavy-weight upholstery fabric. Silk rots in the sun and it’s difficult to hand stitch upholstery fabrics.
EM: Should curtains always reach the floor if possible?
MW: Yes, they should always reach the floor. Short curtains to a windowsill are a no-no!
EM: What’s the deal with curtains ‘pooling’ on the floor? Should they ever be longer than just touching?
MW: Pooling only works in a grand traditional home where you have tall elegant windows, dressed with intricate pelmets with lots of embellishments. Imitation silk or fluid velvet fabrics work best for pooling.
EM: How do I work out how much space the curtain needs at the side of the windows?
MW: We tend to allow 20cm either side of the window – but it depends on where you want the curtains to sit on the wall.
EM: What sort of pole do I need for a bay window?
MW: A bay window requires a bespoke pole that has been measured and fitted by a professional fitter to make sure that all angles are correct. Off the rack bay window poles don’t last, it’s best to invest in a good bay window pole.
EM: Does it cost much more to have those curtain-opening cord things like in hotels? Would it be worth me having them?
MW: Corded track systems are a lot more expensive. Hotels have them due to their functionality, and because they want to avoid the curtains being damaged by overhanding. Personally, I like to draw my curtains by hand – it’s a much more tactile experience.
EM: Me too! So - what would you be doing if you weren’t making curtains?
MW: It would definitely have to be something related to interiors and the creative industry. We both love homewares, lifestyle brands and textiles. We love to go on sourcing trips to keep our minds inspired.
EM: What’s next for TLCG?
MW: In the new year we are adding another arm to our business: bespoke upholstery items. We are just fine-tuning our designs…
EM: If your bespoke upholstery is anywhere near as fab as your curtains you can put me top of your waiting list…perhaps an ottoman…?
This post was in association with The London Curtain Girls who gifted me my stunning sitting room curtains - they're only too happy to help with your curtain and roman blinds questions and requirements, so do give them a bell. As always, all opinions are my own, and if I don’t like (or, in this case, completely love) something, I won’t write about it.