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by Shannon Browning-Mullis, Curator of History and Decorative Arts

To quote my good friend Wes Craven, “All I’m doing is rearranging the curtains in the insane asylum.” Okay, I’m a bit more fortunate than that. I get to arrange, and rearrange, the drapery in a beautiful historic house.

So, just what did Frances and Richard Richardson choose to grace the windows in their newly designed Regency style mansion? To answer that question specifically would require time travel. Instead, we investigate the historical record. Lucky for us, Rudolph Ackermann published his Repository for arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, and politics for over twenty years. In it, he and other contributors described the fashion of the times in great detail. They also included beautiful illustrations like this one from 1819.

Choosing the right draperies was critical to creating a stylish home. By the time the Owens-Thomas House was complete, window dressings that connected multiple windows were in fashion. After reviewing numerous historical drawings, we chose this modified design for the formal dining room of the Owens-Thomas House:

Drapes at the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters

Design in hand, we needed a seamstress that would not be intimidated. After a lengthy search, Jeanne Dunn at Savannah Window Fashions came through for us. We worked together to use historical evidence to choose the most appropriate materials.

Silk was the obvious choice for the main fabric, but the other pieces required a bit more specificity. As you all know, the Owens-Thomas House had an indoor plumbing system when it was completed in 1819, which included a series of cisterns to store water. What you may not know is that once the system became obsolete, the large cisterns in the attic became a dumping ground for unwanted household goods. Among the many objects found there were the remains of early draperies. These tassels adorned the windows of the Owens-Thomas House in the 19th century!

Fortunately, we secured a modern equivalent of this lovely design. Surprisingly, historically accurate sheer curtains proved tricky. After a considerable search, we eventually found the right match of French voile. The hardware was a bit easier thanks to our benefactor. We were lucky enough to have these in our collection.

Drapes at the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters

These drapery tiebacks are original to the Owens-Thomas House, left by Margaret Gray Thomas in her bequest of the house and its furnishings. They’re solid brass, and still beautiful.

Finally, we made it to the big install.

The finished product is every bit as grand as one might expect in a home like the Owens-Thomas House. And I couldn’t have done it without an entire support team! Thanks to Rebecca Moore, Amanda Everard, Katie Middleton, Chuck Chewning, Cyndi Sommers, Jeanne Dunn, and Jason Cobb. It took a village, but we made it happen.

Drapes at the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters

On to the next project!

See this room and more. Visit the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters today.

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