The most beautiful movie ever made? If you ask me (or Martin Scorsese, actually), one of the contenders is surely Luchino Visconti’s Il Gattopardo ("The Leopard"), which stars Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon and revolves around the lives of an aristocratic Sicilian family in the mid 19th century. The story is epic—it takes place in the midst of civil war and revolution, and, boy, was Claudia Cardinale ever gorgeous back then in 1963. But you know what else was great about it? The curtains. That’s right, the curtains, specifically the net ones in the palazzo at the beginning.
Check out the way they flutter in the breeze against the scallop-edged awning, the way they're the perfect fresh counterpart to the crumbling ornate palazzo and the parched Sicilian landscape, the way they filter the harsh midday light and make rippling shadows over the exquisitely fading carpets. An ode to the net curtain. Sorry, it needs to be written.
Above: Patchwork N Curtains, designed by Marlies Spaan; €119 per meter from Frozen Fountain in Amsterdam.
But not the commonplace net curtain, that metaphor for British suburbia (alongside the garden gnome), which is constantly being twitched in order to see what the neighbors are doing. Nor indeed the office net curtains, those greasy fixtures of institutional "interior design" that smell of dead flies and always hang an inch or so above the window sill. No. I’m talking the type you see in a white-washed, blue shuttered house somewhere off a cobblestone street in the Aegean—the lovingly laundered, handmade lace ones that slightly sag at the top. Ditto the sort I recently spotted in the dimpled glass windows of a fisherman’s cottage in Clovelly, the privately owned village where no cars are allowed and donkeys are used to transport groceries, in North Devon.
Ditto again the traditional-seeming yet super modern ones you see hanging in so many of the elegant canal-side townhouses in Amsterdam. Suddenly normal curtains feel so…claustrophobic, so somber. Besides. If you live in a place like London where the sun so seldom appears, don’t you need all the light you can get? Voile, toile, lawn, even gazar—these are the fabrics of the future, so my friends in the fashion industry tell me. Sheer, sheer all the way. “Glass Curtains” as they were cleverly called by the Dutch in the early 19th century. But then, if you've ever visited Amsterdam you’ll see that looking in windows isn’t something you're not supposed to do. In fact, it is positively encouraged.
I may be biased here, it’s true. My grandmother was from Holland, I LOVE Holland: the language, the tulips, you name it. Surely, though, most people would agree that the Dutch, they intuitively get that whole modern/traditional thing , do they not? Case in point is Toord Boontje, the king of the modern net curtain with his whimsical lace and sometimes even paper designs, a very modern, very clever take on the kitschy doily of yore.
A modern take on an old trend, it always puts others pleasantly off guard. I’m thinking here of the net curtains by Glaswegian duo Timorous Beasties, whose offerings include a lace curtain to match the ironic flocked wallpaper called Devil Damask. Actually, we have it in the upstairs loo of our cottage in Wiltshire. My children's nanny, I know, secretly disapproves, but most guests are rather beguiled by it, and enjoy trying to spot the devil’s face in the design. And it all leads me back to the dusty Sicilian landscape and the cypress trees and the insistent cicadas and that hot hot midday sun. Those delicate “glass” curtains fluttering in the febrile breeze.
Above: A net curtain installation by Dutch textile artist Claudy Jongstra.
Above L: Tord Boontje's Nectar Fabric. Above R: The easiest way to get lace into your life: the Until Dawn Curtain by TordBoontje for Artecnica is $155 from Amazon (it measures 96 by 42 inches). Photo of Annie Coggan's bedrom via Design Sponge.
Above: Timorous Beasties Devil Damask Lace is €72 per yard.
See more classics-on-acid designs here: Grand Thistle Wallpaper from Timorous Beasties.
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on February 13, 2013 as part of our L'Amour issue.