When for the sake of a becoming light one wants a color like pink at the window, the color of the cotton or chintz should be chosen with reference to the predominating color of some flower on the wall. Or again, when a darker effect is desired, the color of a stem or a leaf might be chosen for that of the curtain.
The effect of any plain curtain can be relieved by a band running its length, on which is repeated the design of the wall-paper; or the curtain can be trimmed with a white ball fringe. Simplicity is the aim, and the suggestion of absolute freshness and daintiness; for which reason a ribbon should never appear on a curtain unless a fresh ribbon can be supplied whenever the old one is rumpled. White cotton cords and tassels, which are very cheap, come for the purpose, and are always in order.
When the other windows of the house are under consideration, a wider range of choice is possible, although there can never be any escape from a question of the walls when a curtain is chosen.
Parlors in a country house may have almost any material in them, from chintz to a satin brocade, depending upon the locality, the requirements of the householder, her place in life, and the purposes for which her home is used, - whether for the giving of large entertainments or as a place of refuge after a winter in town. But whatever the circumstance, woollen hangings are to be shunned.
Something like an epidemic of chenille curtains of coarse texture, with an upper and a lower border and a fringe, swept over this country once, and like the brown stone fronts and high stoops, might have been with us yet had the material been as enduring. Now women are succumbing to a very pestilence of cheap and gaudy imitation brocades, flowered and figured stuffs, which the shopman tells them is "about as elegant as anything he knows," but which can never be found in houses of refinement. A plain denim, costing but sixteen cents a yard, is always to be urged upon those who find themselves tempted with any of these flashy materials which, like imitation jewelry, marks them as beyond the pale.
Velveteens are charming for curtains because of the delightful way in which they take up the light, and the still more delightful way in which they fade into tones. Corduroy is desirable for the same reason, and has the advantage of showing no spots. Water does not injure it. The dyes of corduroys are apt to be excellent. Silk taffeta is always interesting, and when trimmed with a gimp braid, or a flowered border which comes for the purpose, it adds immensely to the distinction of most rooms. Velvet and satin brocades, figured satins and tapestries, are only possible to those who can pay high prices, and only proper to those who have an environment suited to rich stuffs. They would never do with matting, for instance, or with the hideous varnished yellow oak of commerce. At the same time, whether one chooses a rich stuff or a cheap one, one cannot escape from the same problem. The walls, the floors, and the hangings must be harmonized, whether one pays forty dollars a yard for a brocade or sixteen cents for a denim.
The costly material only represents greater privileges in the way of buying. The fundamentals of harmony, appropriateness, repose, and color, cannot be violated and the results remain good. The same rule prevails everywhere throughout a house - throughout life, I might say.
The thick curtains are generally suspended from wood or brass rods of various sizes; the old-fashioned heavy brass cornice on which curtains were tacked when some of us were children are never seen in these days. Now and then a lambrequin is made, but it must be plain and show no loopings. Loop-ings for the most part are dangerous. Only the hand of an artist should be employed. When soft silks and old stuffs are used as hangings they are sometimes simply but effectively looped over rods shaped like arrows.
It is only within a comparatively few number of years that awnings have become a common feature in town and country houses, and a still fewer number since their colors have been carefully studied. It was with the greatest difficulty that a rich woman of taste, who knew what she wanted, persuaded a manufacturer to make her awnings all green. Red and white or blue and white used to be the prevailing tones, but as awnings must be seen from the inside as well as from the outside, the color which they throw into a room is of paramount importance. Blue and white will absolutely destroy certain apartments, tempting the mistress to any number of experiments and extra curtains to get rid of its disastrous effect. One should experiment with a material from both the inside and the outside of the house before committing one's self to a purchase. Green is so suggestive of cool and refreshment in summer that it would always tempt me. Besides, the flowers in the window-boxes are to be considered, and whatever the blossom, green is its natural accompaniment. Red, though well enough from the outside, suggests no coolness within.
The charm of a window-box can only be understood by a genuine lover of flowers. The desire to bring growing flowers into a house is instinctive in almost all races, and one has only to read old poems and study old pictures to see for how long the instinct has ruled. One gets into a very close and intimate relationship with flowers on one's sills. They are nearer to one in feeling even than the flowers of a garden. They are so companionable, asking nothing but a little water and a little sunshine, bringing only loveliness into our lives in return. When New York streets are insufferable, and the glare from the pavement is blinding, and a scorching, dust-laden heat blows in at the window, a row of geraniums in blossom, set out in a box on your sills, the thick green of its foliage between you and the street, and the cool green of the awning between you and the sky! Even the horrors of ninety-eight in the shade grow less. In eternal defiance of ugliness these flowers bloom on, and you are consoled for your own discomfort as you look at them, catching the delicate lights and shadows on the leaves, and finding a comfort and solace in their beauty which some mortals miss even in the woods.
Evergreens in winter are almost as much of a delight, and it is not the least interesting sign of a growing public taste to see these evergreens increasing in numbers about the doorways and windows of town; and to see too the skill with which they are arranged from year to year, so placed, for instance, that the highest plants are on the sides, where they make no obstruction for the view.