Thursday, 19 May 2011

A Private Function


An Englishman’s home is their castle, so interior designer Jamie Hempsall explores ways to keep your domain stylishly private

 The net curtain used to be the true mark of middle-England domesticity, a sparkling white set demonstrating a well-kept and respectable home.  Of course, their true role was to ensure privacy for the householder, whilst affording them a surreptitious view into the outside world and access to filtered natural light. 

The humble net has fallen out of favour in recent years.  However, there is still a real need for many of us to be able to ensure our homes retain an element of privacy; not to mention to provide protection from direct sunlight for delicate fabrics and furniture.

The most obvious modern day replacement for the net curtain is the voile which filtered over from the Mediterranean market as people sort to recreate the lighter look seen there.  These window treatments are usually made from cotton, rayon or silk and come in an array of patterns and colours.  They work best made up as curtains, with a generous allowance of fabric (allow two and a half times the width of your window as a minimum) and benefit from a pinch pleat heading.   If you are thinking of making them up yourself, be aware that voiles can be difficult fabrics to work with and only purchase header tape specifically made for them.

However, in the last five years strings have become a fashionable alternative after serving their apprenticeship demarking VIP areas in some of the trendier nightclubs.  Strings inject an element of chic and a contemporary update to any interior scheme.  I find they work equally well as a stand-alone window treatment or a supplement to curtains. Many ranges come in the form of vertical blinds which are no longer the hideous product once associated with 1960s office blocks, but provide a subtle alternative to allow the householder to vary the impact of direct sunlight and external view. 

Despite appearances String Blinds are incredibly hard-wearing and perfect for high traffic areas such as patio doors where you can keep them closed, but still pass through easily (although you may find barbeque guests finds it difficult to resist making a “ta-dah” entrance into your garden!).  The product is usually laser cut to the exact length you require and most companies offer them in a wide array of colours which should satisfy even the most vibrant interior scheme.

I have also used semi-translucent gauze roller blinds to great effect over the years, particularly in places such as dining rooms where delicate woods can become easily damaged by direct sunlight.  Opting for a more ornamental finish ensures confidence that these blinds will enhance your scheme, rather than being a necessary evil.  Whenever, I use roller blinds, I generally opt for a chain lift mechanism, rather than spring-pull as I find that they are much easier to use and require less maintenance.  I would definitely also recommend installing remote control operated blinds for windows that are harder to access (battery and solar powered options now make these a more cost effective option).

Sometimes, privacy can be a bit more of an issue and, therefore, you may want to seek something that has a more permanent feel – particularly at night when voiles and translucents effectively become see-through when back lit.  The traditional venetian blind offers one of the best ways to block out the exterior, whilst allowing light in and is experiencing another period of popularity, having last seen true dominance in the stripped back interiors of the early nineties.  The sheer range of finishes that are now available, from natural woods to slats that can be custom colour-matched to your walls, make these a terrifically versatile product.  They tend to work best with modern interiors and in places where you do not have other window dressings. 

If you are considering using venetian blinds in a bedroom as your main window treatment and your sleep is affected by light, be aware that many mechanisms do still allow a lot of light pollution even when fully closed.  However, new mechanisms are available from a small number of companies (such as Shuttercraft) that provide a more effective blackout solution, they are only slightly more pricey, but definitely worth the investment if this is likely to be a problem for you.

Although previously more popular in the American market, slated shutters are also now being introduced more widely into UK homes.  This does tend to be a more significant investment and a very definitely style statement, but they are incredible effective and, as they tend to be made-to-measure, can help provide excellent solutions to non-standard window shapes.

Of course, if you are really looking for the ultimate in day-time privacy, but do not want to consider the option of blinds or shutters take a tip from Hollywood and look directly to your windows.  One-way glass where the occupant can see out, but the outsider just sees a mirrored finish is now much more commonly available, if a little pricey.  If you do not want the expense of replacing your windows, are extremely methodical and good at DIY then you can achieve a similar effect by applying a mirrored window film which is available on-line from just a few pounds.  

Don’t blame me though if your home ends up on a map of the “Rich and Famous”.

Jamie Hempsall is a member of the British Institute of Interior Design and an award winning interior designer.  Visit him at or call 0800 0321 180.

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