The Empire-style swag and ascot design featured in these photographs were created to emulate this 17th-century period. They were designed by Donna Gatto Webster, BSE, IDA, IDS, of Web Decors, Barrington, IL, for a knowledgeable client.
"There is nothing more exciting than to work with an enthusiastic client with a challenge," Webster says. Her client had done a lot of research. The project began when Webster was presented with several thematic photographs gathered from Judith Miller's book, Period-style Curtains and Soft Furnishings, which illustrated the overall ambiance of the era the client preferred to recreate in her home.
Working together, Webster and her client at first designed keyhole cutout cornices, but it was decided they were too cold for the room. Next, Webster suggested swags, tails and ascots, but that too was rejected. "The client hated the swags," Webster says. "She thought the type she had seen was all too common." Webster suggested, however, that with 25 to 32 one-inch folds from top to bottom these were not ordinary swags. Add to that a tight wrap around the side board with a crisp, stiff raw silk fabric and intricate tassel fringe to resemble the period of time the client was after and the design began to take shape. "The client was sold," she says.
To Dye For
The first step in making the design a reality was to find a natural, pure silk fabric and heavy, protective lining that would have been used in the mid-17th century. Webster chose Royal Silk from Fabricut Inc. with a heavy, thermo liner. What's more, the client had furnishings in the living room in a muted, taupe-sage color, plus an antique gold color in the dining room that would be hard to match. But because the rooms were separated, Webster reasoned that two different fabrics could work if they were used in similar designs and scaled to fit the measurements of each of the six windows. The final design for one of these windows, a large bay area covering more than 150 total inches across, was modified over and over.
At this point Webster was unaware her biggest challenge was still ahead of her. An intricate tassel and bullion fringe was selected and matched to a new fabric in antique gold color for the dining room window treatments. But there were no tassels or bullion fringe from any supplier that matched the muted colors Webster had to work with in the living room, especially the color she describes as artichoke. In order to create the same style of trim for this room, a custom dye was required. While Webster was able to find many of the right styles of fringe in Great Britain and Europe, the cost of dying it there was too exorbitant. The solution was to have two different types of fringe sewn together and spun to the same length as the dining room bullion and dyed in the United States.
Finally, selecting the right specialty treatment workroom with skilled European workers was the next hurdle. "Silk fabric is not easy to work with. It takes a crease and wrinkles very quickly," Webster points out. Eventually, two workrooms were selected: Judy's Workroom in Barrington, IL, and Window Fashions in Palatine, IL. "Besides workroom problems, you have to work very quickly during the installation-especially when puddling panels on the floor," she adds. Webster found an extremely flexible installer, Mike Leff of Custom Installation in Algonquin, IL, whose skill was particularly appreciated.
Webster's work also was appreciated by the client, who has presented her with two new projects: a Rococo period bedroom including a canopy and window treatments and a Winnie the Pooh nursery with a bear cornice.