after a year, curtains

thrifted cotton twill curtains

The other morning I leaned out the window and startled a construction worker next door on the air-shaft roof (or whatever it's called), asking if he could tell me when the building would be coming down, so I could close my windows for the day. I had been imagining some giant implosion, a slow-motion collapse amid large clouds of gray dust as seen in so many movies, my coming home after a long day to a view of a pile of brick rubble, my shell-shocked cat hiding in the closet. But the man in the orange hard hat who'd been climbing into and out of windows, taking flash photos aimed at my building, gently explained that they'd be starting demolition on the far southwest corner and working their way over, and that by the time they got to the section across from me, they'd have put up a large screen to protect us from debris and would also post informational flyers. He said the removal process would take about a month and a half. I thanked him and wished him a good day. It's not his fault they're tearing the old building down.

geranium shadows

So of course they're not going to explode the Jefferson West with dynamite. That happens only for stand-alone sites, as my movie memory now recalls. A high-density city-street-corner explosion would be too dangerous. Silly me. But at least that's peace of mind, knowing for sure the building will be coming down section-by-section, that there will be a screen and other protections in place, all that. I can only guess what my views will be. At least I like the color orange. But I still don't know whether to stay or move.

main room with thrifted curtains

For now, at least I've got curtains up. Since ubiquitous white aluminum blinds (like tan wall-to-wall carpet) are the scourge of American rental units—forever dusty, hard to clean, and simply ugly—I'd left them hoisted up at the top of the windows for the last year, except for the bedroom which needed glare protection at night. But now, thanks to my handy friend Jeff, who came over a couple of evenings last week with his drill and a borrowed stud finder (to avoid the old lath and plaster), the blinds have all been taken down and stored out of my apartment, down by the laundry room, and curtain rods have gone up in their place.

bedroom curtain panel: IKEA linen, thrifted
On a budget, I chose simple thin black IKEA rods, minus finials, to contrast with the white walls, and hung them almost to the ceiling to visually expand the height of the window, a useful decorator trick. The exception was the kitchen, whose exterior wall felt a bit spongy, so for that window I found a never-used thin, barely visible white tension rod in its original packaging at Goodwill for three dollars, meaning the rods and hardware for three windows only cost $22.92 in total. (I skipped the bathroom since the wrap-around shower curtains on the clawfoot tub basically function as window curtains.) The curtain rods would have been thrifted, too, only it's difficult to find thin black rods in the right lengths with hardware at the thrift store, and I'd looked for years. So in that sense, IKEA has its uses.

thrifted Pottery Barn linen curtain panel, knotted

The curtain panels themselves, both linen and cotton, I already had, found here and there at thrift stores and stored away after my last move or else picked up at garage sales for cheap last summer. All my curtains are secondhand. The bedroom panel is a 100% linen floor-length panel from IKEA found a few years ago at Goodwill, never used. The kitchen panel, knotted at the bottom, is a mid-length 100% linen panel with floppy ties from Pottery Barn, also found several years ago at Goodwill; it was used in my previous apartment and shows a couple of tiny moth holes, but I still love it. The main room panels are a thick white cotton twill, selected for privacy; I'd rather have floor-length curtains like these from Rough Linen, but until I thrift some longer linen ones, the cotton ones will do. By the time autumn comes and the Jefferson West is all torn down, people will be able to see in at night from the street, which motivated putting up all these curtains after a year of living without any.

I do still have a set of short white sheer linen-cotton Pottery Barn panels and a set of Pottery Barn tab-top cotton panels stored away that didn't happen to work in this apartment. Basically, it's good to have ready options for different living situations, based on privacy needs and window sizes. That way, after a move, you won't have to scramble to buy curtains and end up paying full retail price or settle for something you don't really like. Instead, it makes sense to plan and buy ahead at secondhand prices, seeking quality natural materials and avoiding flashy trends.

thrifted Pottery Barn linen panel, kitchen window

These days, most curtains at retail stores, and therefore at thrift stores, are either cotton or polyester—linen being rare as people don't use it anymore, disliking how easily it wrinkles—but most are in good condition without stains, holes, or sun damage. Sometimes I'll come across vintage or even custom drapes at Goodwill, but the majority will be cheap panels from Target. Goodwill Superstores are the best places to find a variety of secondhand curtains, but to find something you like can take months or even years of regular searching, which the average person doesn't care to spend time doing. The choice is yours. I like the thrill of the hunt—and the luxurious texture of linen.

IKEA linen curtain panel, thrifted

main room dining table vase

Jeff says I'm probably the only tenant in this four-story apartment building who even has curtains, it being an old building stocked mostly with PSU students. But it's amazing how much more cozy and put together the apartment feels now, just from this simple, inexpensive change: adding a few fabric panels and metal rods and subtracting the hated blinds with their tangled cords. It feels like someone actually lives here.

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