Bunch Pleats? Flannel Interlining?

Reflections on draperies, adulthood, and artistic collaboration.

I knew I was in trouble when I saw the words on the fabric swatch: "KravetCouture. 100% Silk." I didn't know much, but I knew it sounded expensive. And it was. A whopping $130 a yard.

"It's really not unreasonable for silk," sniffed the decorator who had selected this gem for the living room draperies in my new home.

It's not that I'm cheap. I agree with a friend of mine who equates fine furniture with fine art. If you're going to spend some cash, spend it on something that will last, not on drapery fabric that may quickly go out of vogue or fade in the sun, or that you'll be happy to leave behind when the house is sold.

So I did the math. I needed twenty-five yards, which came to more than $3,000. By the time I factored in labor, lining, hardware, and installation, I was in the ballpark of $5,000. This was for one room with three windows. Only twenty-seven windows to go! Was it worth it?

This wasn't just any house. It was still being built and I was determined to get it right. I was thirty-seven, and I'd always lived in funky old apartments and once-stately homes in various stages of disrepair. This was brand new. A clean slate. A 2,800-square-foot chance at perfection.

The word "new" complicated things. Yes, "new" offered the possibility of perfection, but it also raised the specter of sterility. I didn't want some generic slice of upscale suburbia. So I armed myself with decorating magazines, by the dozen. The dog-eared pages of Architectural Digest, Elle Décor, and Veranda were my ticket to originality and character. Having cast off all of the relics of college and graduate school--the futon, the papasan chair, the fried stereo complete with cassette, CD, and turntable--I was determined to decorate a space that would serve as my coming out party into adulthood.

I was confronted by a confusing new language, that bewildering jargon spoken only by decorators, contractors, plumbers, and electricians. How large would the "stack" for the draperies be? Did I want them to puddle, have a break, or be even with floor? Lined? Unlined? Flannel interlining? Pinch pleats? Reverse pleats? Bunch pleats? No pleats? Endless choices for rods, finials, and rings.

And the draperies were only the start. Bathroom faucets came with a six-inch spread or a four-inch spread. Did I need a beadboard on the kitchen island? End panels on the cabinets? Open treads on the stairs? I almost signed off on a convection oven before I realized I didn't even know how it differed from a regular oven.

Clearly, I needed a pro in order to navigate the choices. And that's how I ended up with a decorator. But the guy I chose was recommending fabric for the draperies that would cost more than a baby Benz.

What I really needed, I realize now, was someone like interior designer Malcolm James Kutner '94, whose work graces the cover of this issue of the Bulletin. Kutner brings artistry and understanding to domestic space, whether he's working with priceless antiques or lamp shapes from Pottery Barn. He knows how to work with clients to create interiors that fit their budgets as well as their tastes.

His clients adore him and cherish his spirit of collaboration. In the words of George Cooper, the husband of author Judy Blume: "We couldn't live without Malcolm."

I couldn't live with my decorator. Between the start of construction and a year after I moved in, I cycled through four designers before I found someone I could trust. We worked out a harmonious relationship: I might pick the fabrics for the drapes, but she would be the one to suggest a clever treatment. Perfection.

Speaking of draperies, I settled on a cream-colored moire fabric to complement my tone-on-tone color palette. The window treatments drape just a couple of inches on the floor, and I sprang for the flannel interlining. Oversized wooden rods and finials were spray-painted gold for a dramatic effect. Not only did I pick out the fabric, but I directed the seamstress--without the decorator's help.

The drapes are one of my favorite things in the house. And I savored an ultimate triumph at a dinner party with friends. "I love the drapes," said one of my guests. "Are they silk?"

"No," I replied, "they're a synthetic blend I bought at Jo-Ann Fabrics for $5.99 a yard. I love them, too."

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