Interiors: Blind man's buff
When we must shut out the dark, why not replace it with something bright?
I spent the winter hiding behind drawn curtains, listening to the storms beating on the glass. As far as I was concerned, a window's main job was to keep the outside where it belonged. Then, on one of the first bright days of the year, someone cleaned the glass. I came into the room and jumped. The window was so clean that I thought that the glass had been removed.
"A window is the place where natural light comes into the room," says the interiors blogger Will Taylor. "You want to welcome in the outdoors rather than close it off." For that reason, he's not a fan of ostentatious curtaining. "I'd avoid big pelmets, drapes and dangles. Keep it simple, keep it graphic, otherwise the window dressing gets heavy and oppressive and detracts from the light."
Architects love to dispense with curtains altogether, allowing the natural light to flow through their design without impediment. But most of us feel the need of some type of window dressing to protect us from the cold hard world. "A lot of people think they can get away without having curtains at all," says Paula Nolan Keogh of the Dublin-based design company Wild Things. "They like the look of the window without anything around it. But they always end up getting curtains in the end." We live in a chilly country. It's difficult to get through the winter without a solid set of shutters or warm cosy curtains.
In terms of style, the Irish tendency is to keep the window dressings neutral. The most popular choice for curtains is plain linen, velvet, or self-patterned fabric (that's where a pattern is the same colour as the background, but a slightly different shade). "Everyone's gone mad on grey," says Nolan Keogh. "Otherwise it's your taupes and your creams and your beiges. Solid wood shutters are popular too. You can paint them in any colour you like, but most people go for white or cream. Sometimes they might ask for grey in the bathroom, but the front of a house doesn't look great from the outside if one of the shutters is a different colour - it's part of our job to make people aware of that."
Irish people prefer to leave the curtains plain, but can often be persuaded to spend a little extra on the hidden pleasure of a luxury lining. On average, Nolan Keogh finds that people spend between €500 and €900 on a full set of curtains for patio doors, depending on the price of the fabric. Roller blinds too are available in every colour under the sun. Grey is the most popular Irish choice, but people will often dress up a plain blind with sleek chrome brackets, which adds around €40 to the cost of the blind.
A recent survey by Hillarys, a company that specialises in curtains, blinds and shutters, concurs that the prevalent Irish taste is for neutral colours. In both Ireland and the UK, 85pc of adults admitted that they stuck to the same colour palette in most areas of their lives, mainly opting for beige and monochrome interiors. When respondents were asked when they last injected some colour into their lives, almost a quarter (24pc) said "never". The survey also revealed that 71pc of the respondents would like to "use more colour", while 58pc agreed that they felt "bored" and 27pc "depressed" about the lack of colour in their lives.
I don't have a problem with neutrals per se but colour can make a big difference to the way that you feel about a room. Will Taylor agrees. He's all about colour. In fact, you could describe his modus operandi as guerrilla warfare against beige. "Colours paint a picture of who we are and windows are a great opportunity to dip your toes into a new palette or to add a touch of colour to an otherwise pared-back room," he says.
Taylor recently styled a bedroom with wooden shutters in an intense nautical blue, reminiscent of Greek island holidays, but he recognises that bold blocks of colour aren't for everyone. "It's about the execution of colour rather than the amount," he explains. "A light touch and a subtle approach works just as well. If you like neutral window dressings, consider adding a splash of colour to a grey curtain with an acid yellow pom-pom trim. Or you could combine a white curtain with a shocking pink trim." A Roman blind could likewise be in a neutral colour, but with a bright border. If you're wedded to neutrals, his advice is to prevent blandness by layering them in interesting ways. "My message is - don't use the same shade of the same colour - it just becomes a blur of nothing."
Window dressings from Hillarys start at €44 for a small (61cm x 76cm) roller blind; €142 for pencil pleat curtains (127cm x 137cm); €143 for Roman blinds (65cm x 75cm); and €322 for the smallest size of shutters in their Craftwood range. Among the other options for cheering up a bleak expanse of glass, window stickers offer a possible alternative to frosted glass. Their advantage over curtains or blinds is that they let in the light and, because they can be peeled off when you're done, they work well in rented spaces where you can't make big changes. Pixers have some interesting designs for window stickers that can be customised in size and cost €37 per square metre.
If you're naturally good with colour - around the window or anywhere else in the home - there's an opportunity to show your style with Hillarys Creative Colour campaign, which seeks to find the most creatively coloured home in Ireland and the UK. The prize is £1,500 (€1,929) worth of shutters with full details on www.hillarys.ie/creative-colour.
See also brightbazaarblog.com wildthings.ie, hillarys.ie and pixersize.com.