Step Back in Time: The Historic Hotel Curtain Comeback

Decorating historic hotels interior design in an authentically period-correct style provides a unique design challenge. The right curtains and window treatments are an essential part of creating an ambiance that transports guests back in time. From Renaissance castles to Victorian inns, the windows of historic lodgings have framed views for centuries. But the curtains themselves have evolved dramatically across the ages. 

The earliest window coverings in medieval castles served the simple yet crucial functions of providing privacy, insulation, and protection from the elements. As fashions and fabrics became more elaborate, curtains took on more decorative roles in wealthy homes. The Victorian era saw curtains develop into a high art form, with sumptuous folds of velvet and brocade framing windows. Modern historic hotels aim to evoke these earlier eras in the finest detail, including period-appropriate historic hotel curtains.

The quest for the perfect historical window treatments calls for thoughtful research and design. Curators and designers must balance historical accuracy with modern guest amenities. To meet building codes while maintaining period style, solutions like layered curtains or removable blackout linings are often devised. With exacting custom work, new curtains can be crafted to gracefully dress windows of all shapes and sizes. When done right, they become integral to preserving the ambiance of grandeur and comfort these historic lodgings are known for. As the crowning touch to the rooms, curtain design deserves special attention.

Curtain History and Design Through the Ages

The history of curtains spans centuries and cultures, evolving along with architectural styles and vintage decor trends. Curtains originated as a practical solution to bring privacy, insulation, and decoration to windows. 

In ancient history, curtains were simple fabrics like linen, wool, or silk that hung across openings. Early Egyptian murals depict basic curtains draped over doorways and windows. Ancient Greek and Roman houses often had two types of curtains: the velum was a heavier curtain that could be drawn across the window for privacy and shading, while the diaphanous silk drapes known as tetravela added a sheer layer for decoration.

In medieval Europe, curtains became more prominent as homes had larger windows. Fabric choices expanded beyond linen to include velvets, damasks, and other luxe materials. Tapestries also emerged as a curtain alternative that provided insulation. Renaissance and Baroque eras saw ornate, floor-length curtains with heavy fabrics, fringe, tassels, and elaborate trim. These opulent curtains broadcasted the owner's wealth and status. 

Victorian era curtains were equally lavish. This period favored full, billowing curtains in dark, rich hues like wine, emerald, and sapphire. Plush velvets and brocades were popular as were heavy trims, fringes, and elegant drapery. Colonial American styles preferred simpler, more utilitarian curtains. Plain, light-filtering fabrics in solids or small prints were common. 

Throughout the 20th century, curtain styles diversified along with home design. Periods like Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern had signature looks like geometric prints. Today, historic hotels can choose curtain styles that align with the architecture and era of their specific property. Curtains remain an impactful design detail for enhancing historical ambiance.


Popular Historic Color Palettes


Color trends and poplar palettes have dramatically shifted through various eras of history. Incorporating historically-accurate colors into curtains and other fabric treatments can transport guests back in time.

Medieval Era

During medieval times, clothing and textiles favored bright, vivid hues. Reds, blues, greens, and yellows were prevalent, as natural dyes tended to create bold colors. A deep crimson red was particularly popular. Curtains made with rich velvets and brocades in jewel tones evoke the opulent ambiance of medieval castles and palaces.


The Renaissance brought an explosion of color to Europe. Deep blues, emerald greens, brilliant yellows and lavish purples came into vogue, often with metallic accents. Curtains from the Renaissance might incorporate damasks, brocades and heavy textures in these saturated, regal colors.

Victorian Era

Soft, muted tones became popular during the Victorian era. Flowing draperies in cream, gray, mauve, dusty blue and pink imbue a room with Victorian delicacy. Lace, frills, tassels and other ornate embellishments were also widely used. 

Early 20th Century

At the turn of the century, vibrant hues returned to prominence. Deep hunter greens, rich burgundies, and sapphire blues evoke the striking interiors of the early 1900s. Geometric Art Deco patterns in bold contrasting colors also emerged during this era.

Modern designers can take inspiration from the color stories of bygone eras when creating period-appropriate curtains for historic hotels. Consult archives and records to determine the original color schemes. Creative touches like contrasting bands, trim and fringe can provide visual interest while staying true to history.


Balancing Authenticity and Modern Comfort 


One of the key challenges when designing historic hotel curtains is balancing a period-correct aesthetic with the modern conveniences and comforts today's travelers expect. Many older properties were simply not designed with things like soundproofing, light control, or insulation in mind. As a result, guests may experience noise disturbances, light intrusion, or comfort issues that hoteliers must address.

Curtains can play an important role in unobtrusively incorporating solutions to these problems. Blackout curtain linings or interlinings help block light for a better night's sleep. Adding insulation and soundproofing layers within curtain panels can aid with temperature regulation and noise reduction. Careful material choices can improve acoustics and increase privacy.

The key is implementing these modern enhancements in ways that do not detract from the historic aesthetics and ambiance. For example, a soundproof blackout curtain can still have an exterior layer featuring period-appropriate fabrics, colors, and designs consistent with the era. With custom-made curtains, accommodations for insulation or linings can be seamlessly integrated while maintaining a historically accurate look.

Working closely with designers and consultants familiar with both historic preservation and modern hotel amenities is recommended when balancing these competing needs. The goal should be enhancing comfort and functionality for today's patrons while still providing an authentic sense of the past. With careful planning, historic hotels can achieve both.

Custom-Made Curtains for Historic Windows

One of the biggest challenges with designing window treatments for historic hotels is that the window shapes and sizes often don't conform to modern standards. Historic buildings frequently have uniquely shaped windows - curved, arched, oval, pointed arch, and more. This makes it difficult to find ready-made curtains that will properly fit the windows. 

Measuring these uniquely shaped windows and determining the right dimensions and angles for curtains to hang properly can be tricky. Off-the-shelf curtains simply won't provide a tailored fit. Having curtains made specifically for each unique window is crucial for both aesthetic and functional reasons.

Custom-made curtains allow the fabric to be cut and shaped precisely to each window for a perfect fit. This provides a smooth, elegant look as the curtains gracefully follow the contours of the windows. Billowing or gaping curtains would detract from the historic appearance.

Custom curtains also allow optimal light control. With odd shaped windows, there are often uneven gaps around generic curtains, letting in unwanted light. Properly fitted custom curtains solve this issue. 

For installation, the customized headings, rod pockets, pleats and other details ensure the curtains hang perfectly within each window frame. Getting a polished, finished look would be impossible with ill-fitting ready-made curtains.

Working with a professional designer and curtain maker to provide measurements, photos, and window details is recommended to get the custom sizing and details right. Though more expensive than off-the-shelf, custom curtains are an important element in maintaining the authentic historic ambiance. The results are well worth the investment for a period-correct look.


Fabrics and Materials 


Choosing the right fabrics and materials is crucial for period-correct curtains in historic hotels. Some key considerations include:

Common historic fabrics like linen, cotton, wool and silk were commonly used for curtains in different eras. Linen and cotton provide a casual, breezy look perfect for coastal or summer homes. Wool is ideal for insulation and blocking drafts in colder climates. Silk adds sophistication for more formal spaces like ballrooms. Each material has distinct draping capabilities to consider.

Natural vs synthetic materials is another choice. 

Natural fabrics like cotton and linen breathe better, last longer and capture the historic aesthetic. But synthetic materials like polyester are typically more affordable, durable and easier to clean. A blend can balance the benefits of each.

Fabrics that drape well vs block light is another consideration. 

Lighter fabrics like silk and linen drape beautifully but may not adequately darken a room. Heavier opaque fabrics like damask, velvet or layered curtains can completely block out light for rooms that need total darkness. 

Durability and cleaning are also factors in public spaces.

Some natural fabrics like silk are delicate and require dry cleaning. Cotton, linen and synthetic blends tend to be machine washable and can withstand repeated cleaning. Moth-proofing may be needed for wool curtains.

Making the optimal fabric choice depends on the location, room use, budget and overall design vision. But consulting interior design experts familiar with historic aesthetics can ensure your curtains perfectly match the vintage style.


Historic Curtain Styles to Consider


When selecting curtains for a historic hotel, it's important to consider styles that are appropriate for the period and architecture. Some classic options to explore:

Swags, Jabots, and Cascades

Swags, jabots, and cascades are elegant gathered and draped fabrics that can elegantly frame windows. Swags feature a fabric that is gathered in the center and drapes in a curved shape, while jabots are fabric ruffles or tails. Cascades are a series of graduated swags that gracefullycascade" from the top of the window to the floor. These styles were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, and add a refined historic flourish.


Sheer curtains made from light, gauzy fabrics allow light to filter into a room while still providing privacy and softness at the windows. Historically, sheers would have been made from fabrics like lace, muslin, or silk. They create an elegant, delicate look well-suited to historic décor. 

Drapes, Curtains, Shades and Blinds

In addition to swags and sheers, consider other classic window treatments like drapes, curtains, shades and blinds. Drapes are full-length curtains that puddle on the floor, while curtains are valanced or unfashioned treatments stopping near the window sill. Roller shades and wood or faux-wood blinds are also period-appropriate options.

Valances and Decorative Touches 

Don't forget decorative accents like valances, tie backs, tassels and trim. Valances are a decorative fabric treatment across the top of a window. Tie backs secure curtains to the side, while tassels and trim add ornamental interest. These touches can elevate the look.


When decorating a historic hotel, look to time-honored styles that reflect the architecture and era for an authentically elegant look. Careful thought in choosing curtains that harmonize with the history of the hotel can transport guests back in time.


Working with Designers and Consultants


Choosing the right curtains for a historic hotel requires expertise in period design. Working with experienced preservation consultants and interior designers can ensure the window treatments properly balance historic accuracy and modern guest needs.

Preservation Consultants 

Preservation consultants specialize in maintaining the historic integrity of older structures. They can advise on which curtain styles, colors, and fabrics would have been used in the hotel's original era. Their guidance helps ensure the curtains align with the time period and do not damage the ambiance.

Interior Designers

While any interior designer can pick aesthetic fabrics and colors, those experienced in historic spaces understand the nuances of working within older architectural constraints. They know little details like brackets to hold back curtains without drilling into ornate molding. Their skills marrying period accuracy and livability are invaluable.

Finding the Right Experts

Not all designers have preservation credentials. When seeking consultants and designers, look for demonstrated experience with historic buildings, museum curation, or heritage site management. Review their project portfolios for sensitive restorations of other historic spaces. Their expertise should enhance historic character, not overwhelm it.


Case Studies


Historic hotels around the world have implemented period-accurate curtain designs to great success. Here are some prime examples showcasing the power of custom curtains to transform guest rooms into immersive historic experiences:

The Willard InterContinental, Washington D.C.

The Willard recently renovated its 335 rooms with exquisite Federal-era curtains befitting the hotel's storied past. Upon entering a newly designed room, guests are transported back to the early 19th century through the use of rich velvets in deep crimson, complemented by intricate gold brocade tiebacks and tassel embellishments. The thick curtains expertly block out light while adding an aura of luxury. 

![Willard Hotel Room](

Claridge's, London 

Claridge's partnered with renowned English textile house GP & J Baker to adorn its rooms in historically-inspired chintz. Bold Victorian-style floral patterns in deep greens and crimsons envelope the windows in rich fabric. Contrast trims and swag headers finish the dramatic look. The team painstakingly matched archival samples to recreate the heritage styles with a modern twist.

![Claridges Hotel Room](

The Hay-Adams, Washington D.C.

Subtle blue and gold embroidered taffeta curtains were installed in The Hay-Adams' elegant accommodations to reflect the 1920s heritage of the hotel. Metallic sheen in the fabric and simple gathered headers capture the glamour of the Jazz Age. The light blues pair serenely with the Federal-style decor.

![Hay Adams Hotel Room](

The right curtains can bring historic character to life. As demonstrated through these stunning case studies, period-accurate designs create unforgettable ambiance.




Curtain design and selection brings unique challenges and opportunities in historic hotels. As we've seen, the history of interior design and architecture leaves a rich legacy of styles to consider when selecting period-appropriate curtains. Beyond aesthetics, thoughtful choices in color, fabric, and style can help transport guests back in time. 

Yet balancing historic ambiance with modern guest comforts remains an artful endeavor. Well-designed historic hotel curtains curtains can filter light for restful sleep and buffer sound in older buildings, while still evoking past eras. By working closely with designers and consultants, hoteliers can strike that delicate balance between past and present. Custom-made curtains build on historic character while accommodating the distinct window shapes of these iconic structures.

Ultimately, curtain design plays a special role in preserving the ambiance and heritage of historic hotels. Thoughtful choices unite preservation with contemporary hospitality. When past and present harmonize through considerate design, guests enjoy an unforgettable peek into bygone eras while still relaxing in comfort. By honoring the past while meeting today's standards, historic hotels retain their allure, transporting patrons across the decades with each new stay.


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