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Ornamented and Ornamental Windows

The window treatment for the restored Central Parlor was an especially difficult challenge. The window is in a corner of the room, a most odd location. In the adjacent wall is a door with a cornice that over hangs the window frame. In the mid-19th century window treatments for the “best rooms” were a layered affair with a minimum of four layers. First you have a gilded plasterwork cornice of plaster decorations on wood which were usually made by the same companies that made mirror frames. These gilded cornices are very rare today. Hung on the inside of the cornice was the lambrequin, either flat or with swags. Behind the lambrequin, were the drapes, hung from a rod, descending to the floor. Behind the drapes were the lace sheers, or glass curtains as they were known in the mid-19th century. Sometimes there was even a fifth layer – a pulled window shade that would be decorated with a design. (Remember the Victorian motto, “no surface left undecorated.”)

Our challenge with the Central Parlor window was there was no way of getting the gilded cornice in place to start the procession because of the adjacent door frame. A period design had to be located that did not use a cornice. Research prevailed and a design was found in L’Ameublement au XIXe siècle by A. Sanguineti published in Paris around 1864. Belmont Mansion Association member Harriette McHenry volunteered to undertake the recreation of this elaborate design. After months of drawing, projecting the design onto tracing paper, adjusting for the different proportions of the window and making a muslin mockup she was ready to start cutting fabric, sewing, and attaching the yards of trims. The result is stunning.

This same source showed a very distinctive lace design for the glass curtain. In another amazing stroke of luck we learned of Christine and Trent Buhr. This couple in Chattanooga not only have the ability to sew but the design skills to interpret the engraving, the knowledge as to where to find the materials needed and a nineteenth century corning machine for making lace curtains. Tremendous. The results are absolutely beautiful and could not have been achieved with the skills and talents of these artisans.

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