How the Play “Hamilton” Led to Some Historic Drapery Inspiration
We recently returned from a summer driving trip across New York, Ontario Canada, Vermont, and the Adirondacks. What a terrific vacation! And so reminiscent of driving trips of my youth when my parents would pack up the 5 of us in August and drive cross-country somewhere for 3 weeks to explore the beautiful landscape, see the sights and appreciate the great history of the United States; recharging our batteries before we headed back to school for more formal learning. Although I must say that I learned plenty on those trips!
Historic Window Treatments at the Schuyler Mansion
So, a bit about historic window treatments. When I moved to Massachusetts in 2001, I fully embraced the amazing history of the Georgian and Federal period architecture all around me, and I began researching and creating historical window treatments. I enjoyed giving talks to interior design audiences and writing for trade magazines on this subject. This led to a significant amount of interior design work for me at the historic Wayside Inn in Sudbury, as well as for clients who appreciated and desired the classic period-correct look. As an engineer and perpetual student, I found several crucial texts from the period (written by upholsterers, for drapery was their domain back then as well) for construction of these intricate treatments.
Here are some photos of the parlor from the Schuyler house, the most formal room for entertaining guests, and actually the location of Eliza and Alexander Hamilton’s wedding ceremony. You can see the drapery panels are in the “Italian strung” design where a cord runs between rings sewn to the back of each panel, allowing the drawing up of the drapery.
Below is a photo from the outside of the Nathaniel Hawthorne “House of Seven Gables” in Salem, MA which also demonstrates the cord design of Italian stringing.
Finally, here is a photo of a similar treatment at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, taken about 7 years ago. You can see that over the years I have dragged my daughter to lots of historic places, and now she takes me! (And for the record, that is not me next to my daughter, it’s the docent at Old Sturbridge Village in period costume).
I am indeed fortunate to live in an area with spectacular history and plenty of homes and historic buildings to explore all year round. I’m also looking forward to seeing the “Hamilton” musical myself when it comes to Boston in 2018. Now that we played the musical’s soundtrack in the car non-stop the whole vacation, I know all the songs (but wouldn’t dare actually sing…since I am not a great singer). I even cracked a history book upon our return to learn more of the story with that Aaron Burr guy…grrr…...
Anyway, this post shows that design inspiration comes from the most unlikely places! I hope that you found some inspiration, peace, and tranquility yourself this summer!
Last week I was invited to a special open house and production facility tour at one of my favorite vendors, Comfortex, at their main plant in Watervliet, NY. I am a big fan of Comfortex for their quality, innovation, customer service, and their “made in USA” production. Plus, with their plant so close to Sudbury, they are practically local, with fast shipping times and turnaround.
The tour of the production floor was terrific! As an engineer, I just love seeing how things are made, and the Comfortex plant was a technical marvel. The thing to remember about this plant is that every item (very shade and blind) is CUSTOM MADE, with its own specifications, material, dimensions, and destination. So, it was fascinating to see how a factory (where you typically think of mass production runs turning out identical units) produces unique custom pieces in a timely manner and gets everything right and shipped out the door.
Here are some photos that show the Comfortex plant’s production line in action.
In addition to the tour, the Comfortex management personnel and their teams gave us an incredible showcase of their new products and fabrics - and their latest innovations in motorization. Below you see Nobina Preston, Senior Product Manager at Comfortex, demonstrate their new “wand” operated roller shade. It has a bit of a “Harry Potter” touch in addition to a cordless, child-safe operation. Touch the telescoping wand to the headrail, and you can control up, down, and stop. Combined with Comfortex’s ability to put any photo you like on a roller shade, I can see lots of possibilities for custom window solutions for the younger crowd! I was very impressed with the Comfortex custom photo printing capability, one that we typically see used to display company logos at coffee shops and other retail vendors. But how about shades for your child’s room with photos of your favorite vacation beach?
Although I really enjoyed seeing their new products, I was most impressed with the Comfortex production facility, their whole management, sales, and production team, and their dedication to producing a top-quality product made in the USA. Thanks, Comfortex, for inviting me (and lots of other professionals in the interior design business) to see your operations in action.
“Are you on Houzz?” This is a common question I ask my interior design clients during our first meeting. And, sometimes, they ask me the exact same question. Well, if this seems like Greek to you (what is a “Houzz” anyway, it sounds like a Dr. Seuss character!?), then hopefully this blog post will introduce you to the fabulous and free Houzz application and website which has MILLIONS of inspirational and SEARCHABLE photos (actually 14,690,857 photos the last time I checked) from which you can draw design inspiration. (Sorry for the shouting…but I LOVE Houzz…….there I go again).
First, some background. Houzz is the largest, most popular website that’s specifically designed for home interior remodeling projects. It consists of photos of interiors and products which are contributed by industry professionals (interior designers, like me, architects, and other trade professionals) who have their own pages on Houzz and post high-quality photographs of their projects. So, yes, Center Stage Interior Designs is “on Houzz” in the “Window Treatment” Professional area at:
When you go to Houzz here is my CSID page that you will see:
So what do I mean when I ask my clients, “Are you on Houzz?” I’m asking if you have already found Houzz as an on-line resource since you can register on Houzz for free and browse all the inspirational photos - even though you’re not in the design industry. You can look at sites like mine, look at the “Stories and Advice” area, post your own questions, shop, and best of all, collect all your favorite photos into “Ideabooks”. I have done this same sort of “inspiration mining” on Houzz, and in addition to photos of my own work that I’ve collected into my “Project” folders, I have also categorized interesting photos found on Houzz into a set of “Ideabooks”. Anyone can assemble photos into Ideabooks (similar to the Pinterest model) and then you can invite others to share and collaborate on your Ideabooks. Because of the way it is setup it’s a perfect platform for a client and designer to share ideas!
So, where did Houzz come from anyway? According to Wikipedia, “Houzz co-founders Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen launched the site in February 2009 as a result of their own remodeling projects. In addition to finding it difficult to communicate their vision for their home, they found it difficult to find the right professionals for their projects. What started as a side project to help with their own home remodel soon spread by word-of-mouth, and they began to receive emails from homeowners and home professionals outside the San Francisco Bay Area asking them to open more categories on Houzz and to expand to other areas. Houzz became a company in the fall of 2010.”
I first heard about Houzz in early 2011, and having lived in Silicon Valley in California until 2001, I saw why these tech guys would turn to the power of computing and the internet to squeeze every bit of decorating utility out of every square inch of the expensive real estate in northern California. It is incredible how Houzz has expanded over the years. In 2014 they “only” had about 4 million photos. Now, they have over 14 million photos and you can even buy furniture and home décor products directly from them. But let’s discuss the best part about Houzz for you: a searchable database of inspirational photos.
How to Search on Houzz:
2. For a more targeted search, I put in the following search criteria on the top search bar within the Dining area:
“Buckland Blue” “wing chair” traditional grasscloth
I’ve found that using a very particular name for a Benjamin Moore or Sherwin-Williams color (like BM Buckland Blue) will really zero in on rooms with a general color scheme that you are searching for, like teal. If you just put in “blue,” well, that will help a bit, but Houzz will still return thousands of photos. And voila, using this set of search terms here is the result below, down to 177 photos.
Look at that gorgeous color…would you be surprised if I told you my own dining room is teal (Benjamin Moore 2123-20 Caribbean Teal)? Just so soothing in a dining room, and a bit unexpected, and goes nicely with wood tones. Anyways, I digress, back to navigating Houzz…
So, how do you sign up to start poking around on Houzz?
Go to: https://www.houzz.com/ - and here's the home page that you should initially see:
There are so many features, you will just have to explore the site a bit.
Personally, I think that the real strength of Houzz is in connecting you with designers (like me) and local home improvement contractors. See the “Find Professionals” button on the bar across the top, right under the search bar. You can see samples of past projects to learn about the company’s skills and capabilities, ask questions, and read reviews from clients to find a home professional that is right for you.
If you are experienced using Houzz, you might wonder why you seem to get “outliers” in your targeted searches, inexplicably different than the style you are searching for. Well, like facebook and most other “free” websites Houzz has to have a sound business model to remain economically viable while serving the design community, and the insertion of additional “hits” is akin to advertising and the “adword” concept on Google. These “outliers” are generally paid placement ads that are on-target geographically (meaning that they will present additional local designers and home professionals to you from your area).
My 5 Tips for Using Houzz
Here are my top 5 tips to make the most of using Houzz for your home remodeling project:
I really encourage you to check out Houzz and all that it has to offer. Let me know if you have any questions……… and I look forward to connecting with you on Houzz!
I am a fan of Caitlin Wilson, a West Coast interior designer, textile artist, and fellow blogger. Caitlin has a design shop in San Francisco, and her design aesthetic has been molded with extensive international travel and living abroad in London, Dubai, and Hong Kong. No wonder I love her and the international influences on her textile patterns!
I recall fondly a week-long trip to Hong Kong focused on textiles (silks! brocades!) and a terrific trip to London a few summers back where we enjoyed seeing the traditional architecture and the modern influences as well. Here is a photo of the Thames and Parliament taken from our “go-round” on the London Eye that shows the mixture of the traditional and the modern.
But on with this week’s post. Many of my clients ask me for help with pillow size and placement on a sectional sofa, which is indeed tricky. Especially that central zone which lots of time needs to have the most comfortable pillows for TV watching and lounging (by people of all ages). Caitlin Wilson gives some terrific advice for styling a sectional in two distinct ways in one of her blog posts: “Design 101: Lesson 3 - Sectional Styling”
I’ll focus on the style that I prefer here. It’s one I implemented recently with a client who requested a “summer refresh” on her sectional. As you can see from the diagram below, Caitlin recommends a large sectional be grounded on both ends with large 24” square pillows. Then, three 20” pillows, and a rectangular one to make things interesting and to perhaps showcase a terrific fabric.
For my client’s sectional, I fashioned the 20” geometric pillows out of the gorgeous embroidered fabric showcased on the relaxed roman shades on my site’s homepage. Looks totally different, doesn’t it, when pieced like that? And so Celtic-inspired. For the three 24” pillows, I made a banding from a small braid on top of a cream colored linen and then used that as an inset band. I felt that plain 24” solid pillows would look just too ho-hum against the chenille sofa, and an inset banding would give just the needed interest without stealing the show from the geometric pillows or the embroidered vine rectangular pillow.
So, who says pillows are not important in decorating?!!! Pick up any magazine and you’ll probably notice the pillows first. While you might actually finalize their details toward the end of the decorating timeline, it is essential to have a gameplan on fabrics, colors, and designs for pillows from the start.
Are you perhaps thinking that after the whole room is done (draperies, rug, seating, color), you’ll somehow come up with the perfect pillows at HomeGoods? Now that bit of snark might be a bit unfair, as I have seen lots of terrific pillows at HomeGoods, and some can form the inspiration of a scheme for a room, but I advise you to appreciate the impact of pillows up front in your redesign plans. After all, your guests and family will be sitting right next to the pillows, and quality craftsmanship with appropriate fabrics makes a big difference. With today’s sofas and sectionals done primarily in solid fabrics, pillows are essential to bringing color, pattern, and some life to all that sofa fabric. Bottom line, pillows do count! It’s also a nice idea to have a summer set of pillows and a winter set of pillows. For a modest price, sprucing up your pillows can have a large impact on your décor.
I must go now, as I have pillows to design and fabricate today for a client who has an L-shaped banquette (which I upholstered in a tufted design in a gray Sunbrella) along with new chairs (which I just reupholstered in a small chevron pattern). She needs some new pillows in kid-friendly fabrics to round out the seating area, and I’m up for a pillow challenge on this rainy summer day. Are you a pillow-lover too? If so, then I’m in good company!
Barbara Phillips, interior designer and owner of Center Stage Interior Designs, has delivered impeccable window treatments and design services to both residential and commercial clients in Massachusetts since 2001.