Most people want privacy in their homes and desire some type of window treatment to provide for it. This is particularly true during evenings and nights; no one wants to give others an opportunity to disturb their quite moments. An advertisement that I received from Blinds.com showed a variety of window coverings. Though not in need of window coverings, I took time to check out this site. As I scanned, my mind drifted back in time to window coverings used in homes when I was growing up. So, what window treatments were in your home, back in the day?
Many reading this column did not experience childhood during the depression. According to my readings, 1929 through the late 1930s was an extremely difficult period. Anything that families got their hands on was put to use; newspapers not excluded. But this is not the 1930s so who would expect to find newspapers covering windows in 2021.
However, this does exist. I came across several internet postings that spoke of this practice today. While I have seen newspapers covering commercial establishments, usually to hide the view when a business was preparing to open or under renovation, I have never seen homes, even in poor neighborhoods, with newspaper serving as window treatments.
Several of these internet postings consisted of comments from individuals on their neighbor’s window coverings in their homes. One posting commented on a neighbor placing newspaper at their windows to conceal painting and other repairs that were being made. However, more than three years later, the newspaper covering the windows remained. Why was this the case? The person had no idea and it appeared that the homeowner had no issue with newspaper covering the windows.
Others that observed this phenomenon in their neighborhood assumed that something illegal was occurring in the residence. But no one really knew. While newspaper is tacky, a friend pointed out that using a sheet as a window treatment was just as bad. But, believe me, just check out the window covering in homes as you drive or walk by and you will come to realize that newspapers and sheets are still used. For the handful of you that still put newspapers or sheets over your windows, they do not qualify as window treatments; not today and not even, back in the day!
I grew up during the late 1940s, in a rented row home with my parents and siblings. Although I was noticeably young, I still have memories of our rented row home in the 4500 block of Fairmount Avenue in West Philadelphia. I recall that our window treatments were quite simple; so simple that there were only shades. Eventually my parents saved enough money to purchase a large, twin home in the 600 Block of North 43rd Street. There was extensive planning to move into our new home. For my mother, venetian blinds were at the top of her list to cover our windows. Perhaps, your mother referred to these blinds as venetian blinds, but technically they were simply blinds. Back then, you could not simply go into a store and purchase blinds; stores carried a limited supply of “ready-made blinds.” Our new home required “made to measure blinds.” This was a particularly difficult challenge with twelve-foot-long windows. Thus, there was the arduous task of ordering and waiting for our venetian blinds to arrive and to be professionally hung. Back then, there was a limited selection of blinds. There were no roller blinds, Roman shades, pleated blinds, Venetian blinds, Shoji Japanese blinds and vertical blinds.
Interestingly, our new home on 43rd Street also had shutters that I found so appealing until I chose shutters as a window treatment in my bathroom in the home that I have lived for the past fifty years. Some of you recall shutters as a window treatment, back in the day.
As I reflected on growing up during the sixties and seventies, I can still visualize much of what was in my family’s home. You probably have similar memories. What recollections do you have of wall to wall, ceiling to floor drapes? Do you recall the drapes often had a sheer drape behind them which gave a rich look? As I asked around to find out what memories others had of drapes, I heard all kinds of stories. One young lady asked if I was referring to the type of window coverings that are found in funeral homes. I had not thought of drapes in this manner, but she was absolutely correct.
Do you think that drapes present a morbid appearance? Yes, drapes had their day but eventually became too dressy, too elaborate, and ultimately disappeared. Still, they are found in many older homes today. You cannot reflect on drapes without remembering curtains that were on rods. You may recall that curtains were often homemade and were quite popular in the past, especially in kitchens.
Are you curious about the origin of window coverings? The first coverings were made of animal hides and hung at cave openings. Something had to be created to block light, retain the heat, keep cold out, and to provide privacy just as window covering do today. You may be surprised to learn that animal hides, membranes are the precursor to many window treatments of today. Interestingly, the Egyptians invented curtains back in 3100 B.C.
As you consider window coverings for a new home or changes as you renovate or redecorate your existing home, you may want to consider some of the ways in which windows were covered in the past. You may want to be innovative and create your own custom window coverings by painting various types of designs directly onto your windows. Or you may want to be bold and go without window coverings at all in certain rooms. Yes, many that lived in country or suburban communities did exactly this, back in the day.