Bringing down the curtains

Most people don’t realize that George Washington, “Father of Our Country,” was a devoté of architecture and interior design. We tend to think of him crossing the Delaware, not dressing windows. “How extremely important this was to him, the extent of his esthetic sense, few people ever realized,” historian David McCullough has noted. “Only a year before the [Revolutionary War], he began an ambitious expansion of [his] house, doubling its size…. He cared about every detail—wall paper, paint color, hardware, ceiling ornaments—and hated to be away from the project even for a day.”

I do not share Washington’s devotion to decor, but fortunately, my Aunt Mary Beth does. She has a background in interior design, and so over Thanksgiving break, she gave me some pointers as I continue to transform my living space.

Although my grandmother has been out of the house for a couple months now, recent professional obligations have consumed most of my free time, so I’ve not had much opportunity to put my own stamp on the place. Boxes remain unpacked. Closets remain unsorted. Furniture still needs shuffled from room to room. I have pecked away at it, but the house still feels more like a 95-year-old grandmother’s house than a 43-year-old bachelor’s.

Enter: Aunt Mary Beth, my father’s sister (the house I live in comes from my mother’s side of the family). She gave me some tips on some of the wallpaper/paint options I’d been considering, and then it was curtains. Literally. We went shopping for new curtains for my breakfast room and kitchen.

“You need something that looks less frilly,” she told me.

To be honest, I’d not paid attention to my curtains at all, frilliness or not. They’d become such a part of the background that I hardly saw them. I knew there was something with some blue in it—the predominant color of the room—that was keeping the neighbors from peering into the house, but hey, maybe I had Venetian blinds or something. (Turns out I had both.)

Mary Beth picked out some long, metallic gray curtains and had me choose some curtain roads, and then she picked out some mysterious things called sheers that go under the curtains and can be used to let in light while still offering privacy.

On Saturday evening, we installed a set to see how everything would look—and then she and her husband returned to Indiana in the morning, leaving me to install the rest.

After an hour and a half of climbing onto and off of chairs, dropping screws on the floor before I could drive them into the window molding, and smoothing out frills and folds, I got the curtains up yesterday afternoon.

“Hey, Jackson!” I called to my son, who was in the TV room on his computer. “Come take a look.” He trudged out, took one look at the room and, in feigned surprise, collapsed onto the kitchen floor.

Funny how something a simple as curtains can change the look of a room, though.

It’s only one room—and a room I don’t particularly spend a lot of time in, at that—but it looks entirely different. It looks contemporary. It looks sophisticated. It looks no-frill.

The old theater guy in me couldn’t help but think of the symbolism: bringing down the curtains on one era and raising the curtains on another. My grandmother spent sixty years in that house and made a good life for her family there—including me for a couple years during high school. Curtains or not, one doesn’t change that kind of ambience in one fell swoop. I’m glad.

The wall paper will eventually need some attention, I think, but it’ll do for now in a pinch. It’s more important that I turn my attention to some of those unpacked boxes and those unmoved pieces of furniture that need swapped around.

Now if I can just figure out how to work my son’s prostrate body into the kitchen’s decor somehow. Maybe I can prop a foot on him like Washington’s dramatic pose across the Delaware.