(written for DREA DESIGNS)
Immensely popular and widely used on both sides of the hemisphere and weather divide, balloon shades provide a universally shared preference among those who reside in tropical cottages, Mediterranean homes, English manors, and urban high rises. Its date of origin is not known but the English lay claim to the balloon curtain design. The more formal Austrian shade (also called festoon blind) has several layers/scallops and is claimed by the Austrians and French.
In its earlier form, darker colors were the norm to dress the tall, wide windows of the large drawing rooms of the time. Two layers were used for Austrian ballrooms: a sheer light shade in shirred horizontal layers at inner-center and a balloon valance or swags on either side. In its original presentation, the use of balloon shades has now become limited to elegant themed hotels or wealthy mansions where its upkeep is closely followed. Yet, its evolution into a versatile and contemporary window dressing has assured its popularity, giving the Roman shades stiff competition.
Balloon shades in brown patterned material can be used in an average-sized men’s study to blend with the dark paneling and wood of an antique study table.
Warmer tones of mustard with bottom bullion fringes within an arched alcove window can be a backdrop for the corner of a large living room or the chambers of the lady of the house.
In hues of peach to salmon shade, it will go well with patterned tiles and uneven wall finishing in a Mediterranean style bathroom.
For the warm humidity of the tropics, light beige, or white cotton balloon valance can run fluidly along the sliding glass door that opens into a lanai.
The choice of patterns and multiple colors of the fabric is how the balloon shade has been incorporated into Indian homes. Alternatively, it can also be used in plain white to soften the sunlight and match the white muslin swags over a four-poster bed or the tent-like mosquito-net-inspired design over a king sized or circular bed.
In sheer white or light pink, it has become an increasingly familiar site in bedrooms in China and is usually matched with throw pillows in lacy covers.
Whichever the setting, regular maintenance is essential. As with any fabric window dressing, at least weekly vacuuming is necessary. Brocade, velvet, satin and non-washable fabric should be entrusted only to a professional cleaning service. Such careful maintenance is well worth the subtle yet defining ambiance that balloon shades bring to your home.