Friday, July 26, 2013

Up, Up and Away

So, what do we think of balloon shades?

I ask myself this question whenever I ride in a taxi down Park Avenue, because as you might have noticed, there are quite a few apartments that have windows festooned with balloon shades.  In fact, there was a time when balloon shades made appearances quite often in both homes and in shelter magazines. But today, they are rarities, perhaps owing to the fact that they require expensive fabric yardage and labor.  Then again, their scarcity might be explained by the gradual paring down in decor that has occurred over the past few decades.  Whatever the reason, I do think that there are some balloon shades that still have appeal today.  (Take a look at those by John Stefanidis, seen both above and below.  He did an excellent job designing balloon shades.)

So, what do you think? Blast from the past? Or classic window treatment?

The three photos above show rooms decorated by John Stefanidis.

In the home of Manuel Canovas

Room by Mark Hampton

David Mlinaric decorated the three rooms above.

A room by Keith Irvine. Appropriate that the chapter title reads, "Park Avenue Perfection".

Photos: #1-3, Rooms by John Stefanidis; #4 from The French Touch by daphne de Saint Sauveur; #5 from Mark Hampton by Duane Hampton; #6-8 from Mlinaric on Decorating by Mirabel Cecil and David Mlinaric; #9 from Keith Irivne: A Life in Decoration by Keith and Chippy Irvine.


  1. The problem I have with Balloon shades is that they take up too much of the window. I like to look thru a window. If the ceilings are high enough that the shade rests above eye level - then they are fine. Too often the designer or client specifies the shades without this consideration.

  2. I think they're beautiful if a bit feminine. I 'inherited' some from a client in a gorgeous blue/gray silk a year ago which fit my bedroom windows PERFECTLY. However I put them up and it just felt wrong....too feminine. So off to charity they went!

  3. I still love them, as long as they aren't too fussy.

  4. When the room is tall enough and the dead space above windows ample,
    festoon shades can be very effective. There is a pleasing example at
    Clandon Park in the Hunting Room, designed by John Fowler, made of a very understated chintz pattern with frills edged in bitter chocolate brown,
    that I have always admired. And I was once nearly thrown out of Hampton
    Court Palace for sketching a festoon curtain and its matching valance.
    The guards thought I was "casing the joint", as one of them suggested.

  5. All very good points! As with most things, there is a time and a place for balloon shades.

  6. I particularly love the first treatment by John Stefanidis; the subtle stripe and scaled-down red trim keep the yards and yards of fabric from looking fussy. I would use many of the examples you've featured in my home, although I realized looking at these photos that what I like about balloon shades is how they look when pulled mostly all the way down, when they appear to be more of a panel with a gathered bottom. I still have nightmares of stuffing tissue paper into my hand-fashioned balloon shades in the 80's!

  7. I definitely think that they are a classic, but I like to see them used in very small doses. Too many used in a room (or house) and it gets to feeling tent-like to me.

  8. Thomas11:51 AM

    To me , they smack of the 1980's- balloon shades and curtains with an extra yard of fabric to puddle on the floor(which at my parent's house turned into moire' cat nests) remind me of the long gone Lacroix bubble skirts and the extravagant taffeta ball dresses of Oscar de la Renta- too much and too big- now, a roman shade even in a luxurious fabric seem right somehow- Don't forget how one had to dust those shades and puddles!

  9. as Thomas says I have never been a fan of balloon shades + puddled curtains. Too many balloon shades in a room looks like overkill.

  10. I didn't think about the dusting issue, but that would be an issue indeed!

  11. I'm with Peggy on this one, especially puddling drapes (dogs & cats & babies, anyone?), but the designers above listed are all of my favorites....As for dusting? I'm assuming these owners have very large staffs.
    Great post!!

  12. I could never had puddled curtains because of dust and dog hair. In fact, my curtains barely touch the ground. That might be a big design no-no, but it's far more sanitary.

  13. For my house they'd be too much but I enjoy seeing them when used sparingly. I like them used as sheers under drapes. A balloon shade made in a black sheer fabric can look lovely and not overly feminine when used on tall windows.

  14. Generally, I find them too fussy, but that may be because the style lends itself to fussiness; one can easily get carried away and one little addition of trim can send it right over the edge. I will say that relatively plain ones, fitted within the confines of a window frame, can give a room character, as seen in the last two photos of your post, and can even lend a touch of architecture to a dead plain modern room and look, dare one say it, almost modern... See the look as used by George Constant in his 1987 Kip's Bay Showhouse room.

    I have seen just this idea done in unlined vanilla-coloured moire (bengaline, real silk would have fallen to pieces within months) in a wood-paneled library in a NYC townhouse and it was very effective; a sun block which still let light into the otherwise masculine and somber, book-filled room. The moire patterning was also very handsome by artificial light at night, adding light by shimmering quietly against the deep tones of the wood and books. The ballooning was flattened out a bit by using fewer and wider scallops and forgoing the ruched gathering of fabric one often sees in fussier versions. The wide windows helped too.

    I have also seen a few rooms that take well to the fussier, more feminine balloon shades, such as those done by John Stefanidis, but those rooms (invariably English) were voluminous in size with delicate Adamesque moldings or chinoiserie decoration and thus, could carry off the look of the shades, especially when fitted outside the window frame, in lieu of curtains. I think when the window treatment takes over the look of a room, without any corresponding balance in the rest of the room's fittings, it looks wrong, no matter what style is used.

    I too, asked about cleaning, in reference to the library noted above. The owner said the shade was let down fully once a week for a light dusting with an electrostatic duster. Multiple pairs were made and carefully stored in acid-free tissue for use as later replacements. Without lining and interlining, and with the use of a material in a man-made fiber, they were surprisingly inexpensive to make, thus the multiple sets so replacement, when needed, would be painless and seamless to the look of the room.

  15. Wow! Quatorze wins the prize for most eloquent comment! :) OK, here's the deal- I have always loved, and always will love, festoon shades, London shades, balloon shades, and Austrian see, I am what is known as a latent maximalist...and my nick name in design school was "Putti Baroque" I know, I know! LOL! But, in the context of English pine or butternut panelling, or old boiserie, with a beautiful tall ceiling, at least 10 feet or higher, we are currently proposing a very full, lush festoon shade for a large palladian style window in a new kitchen, which will soften the look of all the wood cabinets. Yes, they are classic, and in my humble opin, CLASSICS ARE FOREVER !
    Dean Farris

    1. :) "Putti Baroque", I love it. Friends once said of me, as I pulled out all the stops in my search for a gilded bronze chandelier for a friend, "He's going for Baroque..."

      There is a line in the movie, "A New Leaf" with Elaine May and Walter Matthau, where Walter Matthau's manservant, played by George Rose, says, "...You have managed, in your own lifetime Mr. Graham, to keep alive traditions that were dead before you were born."

      Yes, handled properly and in the right context, These shades/curtains are classic and, as you rightly point out, classics are forever

  16. I must be stuck in time (OK, I know I am!). In my office I upholstered the walls and made matching balloon shades and there are additional curtains at the sides. The whole point was to block the view. Even though this room over looks the garden, the houses behind me are taller and it felt like no privacy. This way the curtains functions like black out drapery to block view and the sun on my computer screen. I call my little folly, "Edward the Seventh Goes to Africa." When the cable guy came into put cable in this room, he said, "Wow, this looks like one of them sets on PBS." As for cleaning, I just use the upholstery brush and when it strikes me wipe things down with Febreeze allergy reducer stuff. Well so what. I love upholstered walls. I love fabric on windows. I may live on a PBS set, but I'm 64 I get to do what I want!

  17. Love them - always have-!
    I think they're Classic - Sophisticated - and Romantic-!
    And I have made them - they seem comlicated - but it's mostly a matter of accurate measurements and Lot of Straight Sewing.
    The fun of course - after the instalation - is pulling them up by those very long strings - creating light - airy clouds of Perfection-!!

  18. Anonymous4:58 AM

    Oh! How lucky can one get!!??!!

    The coattails of Dean Farris!

    (I swear, I do not know him; have not known of him......just plain lucked out.......and I happen to completely (THAT NEVER HAPPENS) agree with every single thing he says!!!

    High ceilings.......and (keep them off the windows! any room.......and I am not exaggerating......needs all the light it can get!!!)

    Toby is the smartest at the party! (I say, always!!!)

    I have also been "thrown out" (actually, I talked myself back in .....) when suspected of "casing the joint"!

    I am sure that he doesn't look any more like a thief than I do!

    I went to "Beauport" (in Massachusetts) the best "house museum" I have ever seen!

    The "docent " kept coming back to get me.....! so I just kept going back and buying another ticket! I bought 8! then I arrived the next day and bought 8 again. (one at a time!) They did think I was "casing it"!!

    I guess I was........"casing it" as in learning genius! It is completely breathtaking. Nothing better!
    Will be going back in September for the 6th time! (fortunately, the volunteers change!!

    It is completely astonishing!!!

  19. Totally classic in my opnion when handled correctly.

  20. I like balloon shades in the right situation, but truly adore their more simple version as soft pull-up shades. Some people don't make the distinction between the two, just more or less "poofy", but both balloon shades. A very successful version of translucent, soft pull-up shades was done by Albert Hadley for the famous transformation of Brooke Astor's Park Avenue library. (For reference, see http://tdclasscist.blogspot/2011/04/albert-hadley-before-and-after-for.html).

    1. Classicist, you have nailed it. Albert Hadley's festoon shades for the Brooke Astor library, of course!
      The fabric was changed out from his original plain linen in recent years, to a kind of underwear pink, but still--the design
      was perfection.

  21. InfoDiva2:30 PM

    Gone with the glazed chintz they were usually made of. Too fussy in most interiors, and not appropriate for period interiors.

  22. They're very useful in a room that has no room for curtains on either side of the window. I also like them in sheer silk under chintz when one wants light but also wants to block a view. I live in a house with 8" ceilings and have used them many times - just mount at the ceiling (as I do curtains, as well). I'm struck how the English homes look so timeless - just warm and welcoming. How nice when one did a room for decades instead of as a fashion item!