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Stenciled portieres harmonize with Arts & Crafts woodwork. Photo by Mark Lazzarini.

Portieres, or Door Curtains, for Houses 1900–1940

by Brian D. Coleman on October 18, 2010

in Textiles

ABOVE: Stenciled portieres harmonize with Arts & Crafts woodwork. photo by Mark Lazzarini

Practically, this drapery hung in doorways stops drafts (and dampens sound) between rooms—but portieres also offer a romantic, inviting transition by softening doorways. Most were made of fabric, but portieres might also be made of strung beads, tassels and decorative cording, even seashells (for your beach bungalow). They remain an appropriate accent for the Arts & Crafts home today.

I’ve always been partial to portieres. Derived from the French word porte (door), portieres were popular not only during the Victorian era, but also in the early 20th century. Practically, this drapery hung in doorways stops drafts (and dampens sound) between rooms—but portieres also offer a romantic, inviting transition by softening doorways. Most were made of fabric, but portieres might also be made of strung beads, tassels and decorative cording, even seashells (for your beach bungalow). They remain an appropriate accent for the Arts & Crafts home today.

Chenille and damask portieres in a Tacoma (Wash.) home divide dining room from entry. Photo by William Wright.

Chenille and damask portieres in a Tacoma (Wash.) home divide dining room from entry. Photo by William Wright.

Arts & Crafts Fabrics Homeowners (that is, the housewives) of this period were encouraged to make their own portieres, with instructions given in books and periodicals. Recommended materials were simpler than those favored by the Victorians, ranging from straightforward velvets (usually in “earthen” colors such as grey blue, old rose, or “dead-leaf” brown) to heavy linens, often ornamented with hand-applied stencils or embroidery of natural motifs— ginkgo leaves, poppies, perhaps nasturtiums—in bands along the edges or across the top. Embellishments were elementary: simple bullion fringe, a self-welt or cord. The elaborate fringes and tassels of the Victorian period were already in a trunk up in the attic.

Wrought-iron hardware for portieres includes rods, rings, finials, and brackets. onadrapery.com Photo by William Wright.

Hardware Arts & Crafts drapery hardware was simple and functional; period-appropriate fittings can still be found. Dianne Ayres offers plain brass rods in 3/8-inch or ¾-inch diameters, which can be mounted either inside or outside of the door opening, along with brass rings and brackets: For straight or fluted wooden rods, try Antique Drapery Rod: antiquedraperyrod.com Gaby’s Shoppe has an extensive selection of brackets and tiebacks: gabys.com

Wood rings at 8-in. intervals allow a portiere to slide freely in a pocket-door opening. Photo by Mark Lazzarini.

Wood rings at 8-in. intervals allow a portiere to slide freely in a pocket-door opening. Photo by Mark Lazzarini.

Custom Portieres

  • Dianne Ayres of Arts & Crafts Period Textiles sells appropriate fabric by the yard, does design consultation, and offers embroidery, appliqué, hand-stenciling, and printed motifs as kits or completed goods; famed rose, poppy, and ginkgo designs: textilestudio.com
  • Ann Wallace & Friends will customize portieres as part of their line of curtains sold as kits or finished. Hundreds of stencils, appliqués, and embroidery designs in the spirit of Stickley, Morris, Mackintosh, and Prairie School designers: annwallace.com
  • Gorgeous historic fabrics for portieres (chenille, brocade, matelasse) available from Archive Edition Textiles in designs A&C, Celtic, Nouveau, Deco, and the occasional Anglo–Egyptian, plus custom drapery fabrication: archiveedition.com
  • Barbara Pierce and CJ Hurley have one-of-a-kind, handmade portieres—like fine paintings in fabric—and do site-specific custom work: cjhurley.com
  • Susan Schurz owns Tavern Hill, a to-the-trade custom drapery workroom in Virginia. She’s an instructor for the Custom Home Furnishings Academy in Charlotte, N.C., providing hands-on training. Visit tavernhill.net and chfschool.com
  • Anna Davis Porter owns Anna’s Custom Design near Nashville, Tenn., specializing in custom window treatments and fine bedding: annascustomdesign.com

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