Watts Style, Chapter Three: Velvet Resistance

Cacti by night

The biggest obstacle in doing the room was getting the draperies right. Part of it was the mechanics of securing them into a wall. It was a constant guessing game in this old building of whether I was dealing with steel or wood studs, drywall or concrete. There’s nothing like the sinking feeling of an anchor plopping out of the wall when you try to screw into it. This will hold 30 pounds of fabric?

The other component was placing existing draperies in a room they were not designed for. I wanted to reuse the eight foot long black pair from my bedroom in Mother’s Indiana condo. My ceilings are 12 feet high.


Coachella Cacti two years on. Thrive.

I’ve previously blogged about these velvet warriors but, to briefly recap, they are an art deco swirl fabric that had not been manufactured since the 1930’s. To prevent the Nazis from melting the huge production drums and using them for ammunition, the French Resistance buried the dies in the forest. It was an effective job. They went undiscovered for seven decades. Around the Millenium they were found and used again in production.

Cut velvet for the free world.

The original idea for the new installation was to create the illusion of longer panels with a two foot cornice hiding the space between the rod and the ceiling. That left a two foot gap at the bottom to be hidden by furniture. It was a messy solution.

There’s nothing to be gained by pointing fingers or trying to assess blame in a one-man project, but the quality of the execution was severely lacking. As the year progressed I watched the cornice warp, come off its supports, and sag. It looked like the trailer trash vicious rumors say frequent this room. And it was depressing to live with.

Then it occured to me that the fake-out should all be at the bottom not the top. So I raised the draperies to the ceiling and constructed a shelf that runs the length of the room. The hem of the cut velvet now stops at a faux window sill as god intended.

To hide the rod (a favorite bedroom past-time) I used a single row of Aalvar Aalto black dots. Below the new sill is additional shelving for the unending stash of books. And for the daily ephemera generated by the busy life of an unemployed, social security recipient.

When peafowl cry.

My budget constraints were alleviated by the discovery of an architectual salvage yard in Hunters Point. They seem to make the prices up every day depending on which clerk you ask. I bought three planks of wood, a half dozen four foot glass shelves and 16 brackets all for $18. (For emphasis I reiterate: I live in San Francisco.)

Emboldened as an urban survivalist, I now forage the bowels of the city jonesing for an interior decorating fix. With some success, as will be seen in an upcoming post on the wood slat blinds I spotted on the curb. They are being transformed into crown moulding for the kitchen.

I’m satisfied with the overall effect of the art deco velvet in my bedroom window. However, although I don’t mind accepting limited praise for my gumption, any attempts to closely examine the workmanship will be met with an armed response.



Popsicle Sheers

Jean Louis wept
Jean Louis wept

Grand couturiers moan that the art of draping is dying. My efforts last week probably flat lined it.

Daryl warned me the worst enemy here is the sandy dust created by daily windstorms. It cloys to everything and especially likes fabric. It’s why the desert style is to shy away from carpet and drapes. I said pshaw and forged ahead with my plans to use drapes for color and drama.

I’ve always been a fabric whore and get excited when I find a vibrant hue or unusual texture. One of my favorite places is a discount textile outlet on the southwest side of Chicago. It’s in a neighborhood of unknown Eastern European ethnicity around 21st and Damien. It occupies three floors of an old factory. You expect to see a rat at any moment.

There must be a theater connection, there are so many dramatic choices. Bolts are piled floor to ceiling and a lot of them are not priced.

Like a wonderful red fish net I found a year ago (more to follow on this in a future post.) I drug the 40 yards down to the first floor to ask the price. The owner said $1.95 a yard. Then he put his index finger to his cheekbone and started hemming and mulling. Finally he said, “I’m losing money on this but I’ll let you have it for $1.75.” Wow, an $8 savings.

I’ve never enjoyed haggling and get nothing out of it. Bowing to local custom I once went at it with a vendor over a papier-mache ornament in India. I finally got him down a couple hundred rupees and as I walked away I thought, “I wasted 20 minutes  of my life for $2?” Another tactic in the terrorists’ war to steal our freedom.

It was the electric saffron polyester sheers from Chicago I worked with last week. They’re a unique color found only in nature: on the Good Humor Man’s truck. I strung them on the rod thinking they would immediately take the geometric shape I envisioned. Instead they flounced and flowed like something in Grandma’s front parlor. Or a bad Eva Gabor peignoir set.

After two days of trial and error I got them to an acceptable state. I’ll just have to live with them for a while. Or until they become so filthy I have to throw them out.

Both sides now. The petrified wood/turd lamps next to the invisibly draped tables.
Both sides now. The petrified wood/turd lamps next to the invisibly draped tables.

Going through the storage items and dealing with the dust they’ve collected over six months has been nasty. There were some unexpected surprises though in the things I packed away two years ago. Things I’d forgotten about but can now use.

Like the small faux draped lucite illusion tables, no dust magnet there. Or the petrified wood lamps I picked up for a song at a North Manchester, Indiana garage sale. The glue-gunned sea shells indicate they were someone’s craft project. If the lamps are turned backwards  they resemble giant turds.

I also found the black velvet drapes from my bedroom in Fort Wayne. When we had them made I told my Mother’s decorator I was looking for something dark and unusual. He said he’d recently come across a wonderful art deco cut velvet swirl.

The drums had been buried by the French resistance before World War II so they wouldn’t be melted into ammunition by the Germans. They were recently uncovered and this was the first production of the pattern in over 70 years.

Unable to resist a good Nazi story, I felt like a member of the Academy voting for the Oscars. I declared the swirl the winner sight unseen.

The black drapes are a nice backdrop for the sleeping quadrant in the apartment. They will create a different feel from the living area. Plus they will muffle the sounds of any overnight guests I might have. When they snore.

Unexpected gain: the gap created by the drapes around the mattress allows for storage of framed art waiting for the antique mall. And my step ladder.
Unexpected gain: the gap created by the drapes around the mattress allows for storage of framed art waiting for the antique mall. And my step ladder.


The Last Temptation of Me