Historical Facts and Tid-bits about Window Dressings.
As one sits in front of an elegantly dressed window sipping coffee, reading a book or just plain gazing off into the distance, one has had the thought come unbidden to mind, ‘how did it come to pass that such terrific shading has come into existence?’ From plain cloth suspended on a rod to be moved to the side if needed, thick material hung on covered rods and can be raised to make way for a view outside, shutters that provide immense protection, to blinds with movable louvers to adjust the quality of light and provide the privacy we all crave!
It all seems to have origins in ancient Greece, during the Golden Age, which appears to have laid the foundation of the western world as we know it! After their defeat of the Persians, the Greeks moved into the Golden Age (500-300 BC) that depicts an era that gave us Euripides, Socrates, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle; exemplary drama and government; innovation in housing that saw the construction of homes for the masses that had rectangular openings in the walls to let in light and air. This led to the invention of shuttered window coverings in marble, to soften the heat and brightness of the Mediterranean Sun. Later, for ease of use and construction, wood replaced marble in their production, which also paved the way to the more practical, movable louvers that gave a measure of control over light, heat, ventilation and privacy. These window coverings proved to be a durable and sustainable method of keeping the elements out. Shutters with louvers pointing downward would shed rain water, and when closed, would provide insulation, privacy, and keep bothersome insects out.
By medieval times, they were prevalently used all over Europe, until the Tudor era, when they were slowly replaced by glass (but only by those who could afford it), and shutters were mounted outside of windows. By the 16th century, with the advent of exquisitely crafted fabrics, both by the French and Italians, curtains or drapery prolifically replaced shutters. Legend would have us believe the tale of ‘peeping Tom’, which tells of Lady Godiva riding starkers on a white horse in protest against her husband’s imposition of taxes in the county of Coventry; while the people stayed inside their homes in respect, Tom decided to peep through the shutters of his house to catch a glimpse of the naked lady – he was struck blind for his trouble!
A more inflammatory tale tells of Louis XIV in 17th century France, whose favorite pastime when in the palace of the Versailles countryside, was to admire the beautiful women of his court while they bathed in the many ponds of his gardens. But hark! The guards on duty were also distracted by this spectacle – so he had movable louvered shutters installed along the garden walls so that only he could open them and peep through, not the guards, no thank you!
When the Spanish started colonizing the Americas or the ‘new world’, they brought shutters along, where they graced windows of the decadent plantation homes that were built in the southern American states – hence the term ‘plantation shutters’, albeit with broader louver vanes than their British counterpart.
It is said that Venetian window blinds were in existence well before the founding of the city of Venice in 452 AD – the ancient Romans, Egyptians and Chinese were said to have used blinds made of sticks, reeds and bamboo respectively as screens from the sun, for privacy and to ventilate their living spaces. It was not until 1757 that a Frenchman advertised blinds with ‘adjustable’ slats – a new invention, the origins of which remains obscure even today. So, that effectively debunks the myth that Marco Polo brought them back from his travels in China, as there’s a vast difference in the time span that he made his travels in the late 1200’s, and the 1700’s when blinds made its appearance in Europe.
By the end of the 1700’s, they were spotted in wealthier homes, shops, churches, and commercial buildings in England and the English colonies. The then Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson was said to have ordered a package of ‘Venetian Window Blinds’ when he moved from Williamsburg to Richmond.
But the origins of fabric shades definitely has roots in ancient Rome in a far back as he first century AD, when the Colosseum or the Flavian amphitheatre was built to host spectacular public entertainment events such as gladiator fights, wild animal hunts and public executions. During this time, as lots of dust spewed into air due to building materials being hauled to the Colosseum construction site, home dwellers hung wet cloth over door and window openings to protect against the dust that threatened to choke them. This in effect led to cooler interiors as well, which gave rise to the trend of using colorfully decorative fabrics suspended from rods to keep out the dust and protect against the harsh heat of the sun! Later, when the Colosseum began to function, and the hot sun detracted the spectators from using the upper unshaded stands, a thick canvas-like shading was projected over the stands using pulleys and ropes to provide the much-needed cover from the sun. This pulley system had people try out the same for the window coverings of their homes so that they could open the shades when the sun went down for better ventilation and view. Voila! You now had the immensely popular Roman Shades!
Necessity is the mother of all invention, so that being the nature of the beast, the roller shades soon followed suit, quickly mechanized to appeal to the ever expanding needs of society. Today we have numerous types of window shades to fulfill needs of view, privacy, sun blocking, insulation, and interior decor. And automation in window covering operations rule the roost, a necessity today, in keeping with sustainability and security. From humble beginnings, the wooden window shutters have traveled the centuries to provide insular delight to users. Today we have shutters from Norman, with vanes that can be operated automatically with timers, for seamless functioning in accordance with sustainability norms!