LOOKING FOR some style and privacy—perhaps more than ever—without moving walls? Consider adding hanging fabric panels in a doorway, a favorite trick of interior designers. “Portieres are a clever and versatile tool,” said Birmingham, Ala., interior interior designer Stephanie Lyton. When the drapes are closed, family members know to stay away (”I’m working!”). Interior drapes also dampen noise and check the chill coming from real doors that open onto the blustery world at large. On the decorating front, they soften hard edges and invest plain old portals with a bit of mystery and drama. Here, a few details.
Portieres efficiently add color, pattern and texture to two rooms. “Plus, they bring a dash of romance,” said Stephanie Lynton, an interior designer in Birmingham, Ala., who added more pink to a large room’s rose-inflected décor by hanging blush linen portieres in the door frames. Ms. Lynton also notes that portieres bring the coziness and beauty of drapes to a room with few or no windows, or to a generously windowed room whose light or views you would rather not block with conventional curtains.
On the practical side, portieres provide privacy and the ability to separate, whenever life requires, spaces that connect without a solid door—say, a kitchen and a dining room doubling as a home office. The rosy drapes that Ms. Lynton deployed helped block drafts from nearby exterior exits. Atlanta interior designer Jackye Lanham found another pragmatic use for a fabric barrier: sealing off a hallway that leads to guest rooms. “When they are closed, I know my guests are still sleeping.”
When choosing the fabric, consider the portieres’ function. Should you want to block a draft or noise, dense velvet works well. Just make sure your rod is strong enough to support the fabric’s weight, cautioned Ms. Lynton. Lightweight materials will soften a room with a lot more Gatsby-esque billow, but Ms. Lanham recommends shunning stretchy fabrics “that will lose shape and sag over time.”
Ms. Lanham likes to use two complementary fabrics for either side of a portiere’s panels to orchestrate a different visual experience in each connecting space, and hews to the rule that fabrics should align with the overall interior décor. To transition from a marble-tiled foyer to a heart-of-pine living room in a stately Atlanta house, for example, Ms. Lanham used a de Gournay silk edged with hand-tied knots. “You want to consider the desired fullness as well,” she said, explaining that in a modern context, tailored panels look best, but for more romantic rooms, a flouncier treatment with tiebacks might stir hearts more effectively. And get creative with your materials, she said. Vintage textiles, embroideries, table linens and even quilts can be conscripted as portieres.
Portieres’ great selling-point—that they adorn two rooms at once—obliges you to pay more. Visible from both sides, they require twice as much fabric as window drapes, which is potentially pricey. Also, you can’t install them anywhere that might impede their function, “such as too close to an oven door or to drawers that pull out,” said Ms. Lynton. Still, said Ms. Lanham, “I think portieres work in most spaces, even in more-contemporary designs.”
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Appeared in the March 5, 2022, print edition as ‘When Is a Door Not a Door? When It’s a Portiere.’