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More than mere window dressing

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Don't spare the rod.

Mix metals, Lucite or wood; get it gilded, painted in colorful patterns, marbleized, sponged, granitized, French polished or verdigrised.

Don't stop there.

Punctuate the rod with decorative finials; they come in virtually .. every shape and include fruits, flowers, animals and Greek capitals.

Catch a curtain by wrapping it with a strand of shimmering gold stars, or pulling it back with brightly hued wood circles or antiqued brass acanthus leaves. Give your drapes the sun and the moon, adorning them with decorative clips in those shapes, just as you might don jewelry. Crown a Roman shade with a beautifully carved cornice.

Get the hang of it?

Drapery hardware has gone beyond mostly supporting roles. In today's window dressing, the supports may well be the standouts, drawing our eyes beyond fabric.

"For years people were either intimidated by window treatments or bored by them," says Karen Fischer, director of marketing for Window Fashions, a trade magazine. "Now, they're excited with the possibilities. Whether you like simply dressed windows or lavishly embellished ones, there's hardware that suits both trends."

Originally, decorating magazines fueled the interest in decorative drapery hardware. Mail-order catalogs were quick to pick up on it. But last Christmas, even department stores such as Bloomingdale's and Neiman-Marcus heeded the curtain call by featuring unusual poles and finials. Their home catalogs have continued to include them, obviously in response to consumer demand.

Wherever you buy window treatments, most have one thing in common -- a traditional orientation. Styles tend to have some design history. Some manufacturers study the fashions of yesteryear, combining 18th-century Italian and 19th-century French and English, as well as Victorian styles, for current inspirations. But it's the choice of materials and finishing, with some new twists, that freshens the current crop of hardware.

Twists and turns are what give Studio Soleil's all-in-one rods their panache. Some of the skinny rods wave and curl into squiggles that resemble pig tails. The metal Gothic Romance collection can take on a contemporary look with a casual linen swagged over the rod. It's the perfect window dressing for those who prefer a less constructed look.

The same company also shows how easy window designing is with a more traditional pole and attached finial. But this finial, part of Studio Soleil's Precious Gems collection, is crafted of hand-blown glass. The generously proportioned end piece, taken from a mold for a martini glass, has a mottled or striped appearance. Its iridescence imparts almost a glow as light changes. The cost for the finials is about $345 per pair.

Another simple design employs rings through which fabric is drawn. The latest wrinkle is adornment on the rings. One set of rings featured in the Spiegel catalog combines sun, moon and stars in metal. The celestial motif is crafted in burnished copper, measuring 7 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches. Each ring is $19.90, but if you buy two or more, they're $14.90 each.

A subtle wisp of a rod or a decorated ring certainly can add to a window's aesthetics. But the hardware for window dressing can do even more. By beefing up the width of a pole and the size of the finials, for example, the scale of the window can be enhanced.

Consider, for example, what a medallion and onlays (fancy brackets) can do for a half-circle Palladian window, a real design challenge. One solution proposed by Designer Supply, a manufacturer of elegant drapery hardware based in Georgia, is to combine gilded curl onlays with a central medallion to anchor yards and yards of fabric draped to echo the window frame.

Adding a heading such as a cornice also can give a boost to architecture. Unattractive molding or windows that are out of proportion can be camouflaged.

Cornices, popular as a finishing touch for draperies in the '40s (one job was to hide draw-drape mechanisms), often were made of wood covered with fabric to match. Now they, too, are being spotlighted in painted or gilded woods reflecting a variety of styles.

Crowns also are being used to accentuate a window, giving it an almost sculptural dimension. Most of these, such as the carved, gilded example from Designer Supply, are extremely ornate. They may be used to create a draped effect on a bed wall as well as at the window.

Another obvious role that hardware can play is to introduce color. Poles, finials and tiebacks can jolt a room with color, as can a pillow or piece of artwork. Choose natural wood, stained or paint finishes in solids or patterns to complement your decor.

One of the best collections of simple circle tiebacks comes from the London-based company Byron & Byron. Its circle tiebacks, available in natural woods or color, matte or polished, add enormous punch to a solid or printed fabric.

Fanciful patterns and hand painting bring an obvious artistic dimension to some of the new hardware. The Ground Floor brochure presents its Elegant Egg Series as works of art. The colorful collection of finials and curtain pulls, designed by John Ragsdale, rivals exquisite Faberge eggs. Some of the intricately patterned surfaces appear to be embroidered.

Mr. Ragsdale's finials, plus a companion line of tassels, curtain cord pulls, brackets, rings and poles, are crafted of wood fiber and resin. They are available unfinished or painted and stained; finials are $125 a pair, cord pulls $12 each. Custom painting is additional, with the most expensive treatment being gold leaf at $125 a pair ($15 for cord pulls).

Color is a bonus of the glazed porcelain finial collection from K Blair. Sculpture is the strongest element. Painted gilt oak leaves on a sage green acorn complement a green pole sponged with gold; a pale peachy pink Grecian shell is set off by gilt; and the flambeau shape combines black and several metallic hues in a shape that suggests a flame.

Besides color, the choice of hardware design may accentuate a room's style. Simple geometrics -- ovals, balls, squares, diamonds -- may underscore a shape that's prevalent in a room. Or the finial type may echo a collection.

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