Curtains & Window Treatment

Gain Expert Insights from Ellie Cullman & Lee Cavanaugh

Read What Ellie Cullman and Lee Cavanaugh Have to Say:

New York-based interior design firm Cullman & Kravis principal Ellie Cullman joins partner Lee Cavanaugh. From Cullman’s apartment, the duo discusses their collective insights around curtains and window treatments.

“We’re obsessed with curtains,” says Cullman. “First, wherever possible, please have long curtains. My thinking is that all of us are trying to be taller and thinner, why on earth would you cut your elevation off with curtains that end midway or ¾’s of the way down the wall. Obviously, with certain circumstances, that shorter length is called for, such as if you have a window seat or cabinetry. But as a general rule, we want to have long curtains.”

“When you have the long curtains, you want to really mount them as high as you can,” Cavanaugh says. “People sometimes don't fully understand that if you mount your curtain rod right at the window, you still have a large surface of the wall exposed all the way to the ceiling. Mount it as high as you can because it elevates the room. It makes the ceiling seem taller. It makes the window seem more gracious. And what we did in earlier applications, when every window had an over-the-top treatment, whether swags, or tassels and trims or jabots, or valances, they are no longer in the design picture–now it’s elegant, long, gracious but we still ensure they are customized and have flair.”

According to Cullman, at least four inches on top of every window are required, and four inches on either side. “Six inches is actually more desirable, but we'll settle for four. And it's so amazing to me that quite a number of contemporary architects want to take their windows up to the ceiling, where there's no place to hang a curtain rod. This is a design direction on which we are very interested in advising.”

“And even though the curtain panels are simple,” notes Cavanaugh, “what we also address is all of the working elements, like blackout or solar shades, all of which can be hidden behind a simple Roman shade, or behind something that serves as camouflages so you don't have to see all the guts behind it. Something that's so important is to collaborate with the project architect, so together in the early stages, you can accommodate these variables.”

Cullman believes that “we're not covering the window, we're framing the window. How much the curtains should bend and puddle on the floor. In previous times, when very expensive four inch tassel trim finished the bottom of the curtain and the leading edge, the curtains, puddled the width of the tassel trim so they'd be four inches on the floor. Now that design is not in vogue, and the current approach is to either just graze the floor, or have a slight bend as it hits the floor.

“I advise that when you look at your windows, you should look at them as if it's a body, similar to when you are buying a dress and say, ‘I need sleeves’ or ‘I need this length skirt.’ The same is true for curtains. You have to look at the window, think about the function of the window, where it is in the house, and dress the window as if you were dressing a person to be as attractive as possible.”

Cavanaugh shares that often people don't have to dress up curtains at all. “It’s equally as exciting to have a fun fabric that doesn't need any sort of embellishment. It's the mixing of the recipe where you don't have to have everything embellished. One could have a tape added on the edge, or have nothing. The fabric can be the statement. Again, it's just mixing it up so it's not all the same.”

Cullman references her own living room curtains, as they really exemplify the modern curtain style. “First of all, we have panels which are never touched. We have a little break on the floor and instead of doing the complicated, heavy tassel fringe that we used to do, we worked with an embroider in India to come up with the chosen design.”

“We worked on this design and what we did is we didn't want the eye to get tired by seeing all the curtains in the same proportion. In other words, the embellishments were done down the leading edge and down the bottom. We determined a really good placement for the horizontal band of embroidery. And to pull the whole thing together the embroidery on the banding matches the Roman shade that is tucked behind the curtain. The Roman shade acts as a buffer so that you don't see, for example, the top of the Venetian blinds, which are not very pretty. And it also hides the lights that are in the upper reaches of the window header.

One very important note that Cullman emphasizes? If embroidery is part of the curtain design, it must be on a fabric that's strong enough to take the embroidery well, since the embroidery itself weighs a lot. Ultrasuede is often chosen for its durability.

Cavanaugh adds that wool, or a wool blend, are good curtain fabrics as well, but cautions that thin silk never works because it pulls and puckers and it doesn't hang very well, which is something you always have to think about when you're doing curtains–how the fabric's going to drape, and how it holds its shape. “And these fabrics are all lined as well,” Cavanaugh counsels. “That also helps to keep its shape and prevents light from coming through.”

Cullman shows what a Roman blind is–a series of folds that can go all the way down to the windowsill. In her own apartment, she needed to do a Roman blind because there's a cabinet under the window. “And because the Roman blind is short, I jazzed them up even more than usual. I worked with a wonderful curtain maker in India to add embellishments onto the silk of the curtain. And what's fun about it is that it's not done symmetrically, it's sort of random as if you threw all these paillettes up in the air and they just fell on the curtain.”

Cavanaugh references a Roman shade in the kitchen, made from a fabric she calls the Jackson Pollock fabric, the pattern is like splattered paint. “This Jackson Pollock fabric came embroidered like this right off the rack,” notes Cavanaugh. “We didn't customize anything in this space and the kitchen where it's more whimsical, it's more fun, it's colorful. And everything was just purchased as is.”

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