Insta-Wow—Dramatic Draperies with Designer Leslie May

Text: Leslie May

Even if you think your room doesn’t need window treatments, it does. Full panels, tailored valances, or scalloped Roman shades are what make a room feel finished, warm, and cozy. Windows are a blank canvas, like a muslin mannequin awaiting her fitting, and every window is only half-dressed without window treatments. You can purchase ready-made drapery panels at most home shops, but the details of tailored pleats and scalloped edges imbibe a room with those delicate details that make a space feel truly bespoke.

My clients often initially worry that window treatments will detract from the view outside or take light away from the space. In fact, the opposite is true.

Image courtesy of Leslie May.

The right window dressing can frame a gorgeous view and, set off the window molding, and will not block light. Delicious drapes also add texture, color, and a layer of warmth.

Another concern clients often have is dust collecting in puddled draperies. I prefer for drapery panels to “kiss” the floor, so they touch the floor but do not break.

Image courtesy of Leslie May.

A talented seamstress is essential to translate my dreams of billowing ball skirts or tailored Chanel suits into window dressings. I often show my seamstress details from vintage fashion photos as a starting point for my designs.

The best fabrics for window treatments are those that are not too stiff, but other than that, the options are endless. If I am working with a printed fabric to bring a lot of energy and movement into a room, I focus my drapery designs to be more sculpted and about the overall body of the window treatments. With a solid fabric, I put a lot more attention into the detail and into creating texture, like a fan pleat along the leading edge of the drapery panel in the same fabric as the body of the drape, so that the texture and pleats are what catches the eye.

As in fashion, the fit is essential. You never want drapes to look too skimpy, like a dress that’s too tight—that is not a good look! Even on single windows, I do at least 1.5 widths of fabric and 2 widths if I am going for a fuller look.

Image courtesy of Leslie May.

Trade Tips

• Lining—always line draperies to give them body. Add an interlining or a bump cloth lining for even more substantial weight. I prefer a simple lining, but this is definitely a matter of preference. Blackout lining is preferred for bedroom drapery.

• Hardware—I like a classic antique brass, 1 1/8″ rod with matching rings.

• Sizing—As a general rule, draperies should cover the window molding. Allow for the rod to extend a minimum of 5″ on either side of the window molding to ensure that the treatment covers the molding and approximately 1/4′ of the glass when stationary.

• Trims—yes, always! Tape trims are what I use 99% of the time. Grosgrain ribbon is also a favorite.

Image courtesy of Leslie May.

Hanging—More Than Curtain Panels

• Roman shades—Often there isn’t space for flowing panels, so a more tightly tailored look is just what the space calls for.

• Valances—Provide a detail to the top of the window, a trick particularly useful if you prefer to hide the rods.

• Not Just Windows—Fabric can frame anything: beds, bathtubs, nooks. But I especially love the royal treatment that bed drapery affords.

Image courtesy of Leslie May.
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