If you live in a city in the United States, you probably live in an older building. And if you live in an older building, you probably have windows that are tall and narrow, about six to eight feet high and three across. Most people, finding these windows more than revealing, use a plain shade(tacky), or a blanket (popular among the freebasing set...ugly) or cheap nylon curtains with a knot in them (OUCH!). Some even do nothing!


By using a shade (or a blanket) you're cutting off all light and much of the ventilation that this type of window is supposed to provide. (And if you don't have anything on the window, you're probably making the neighbors nervous.) These are Dutch windows, which are a masterpiece of Baroque Low Countries tech, invented in the seventeenth century and popular well into the early 20th century, which were designed to provide coolness (by opening both top and bottom...isn't convection wonderful?), light and privacy all at once. If, of course you know how to use them.

The trick is to treat each window as two windows on top of each other, with a rod in between. A lower curtain (sometimes erroneously called 'cafe curtains') is the key. Think of it: on a naked person, about all you want to veil is the torso from the collarbone to about four inches below the genitals (lower on the top if you're a man). This means that you're pretty safe with a curtain that starts about four feet off the ground, unless your sex life involves nude pas de deux (and if so, can I watch?) or your indulgences, obsessive watching for the cops/dealer while toking up every ninety seconds. (Though if it comes to that, the only remedy for coke jitters is laying down the damn pipe, switching to pot, and taking a megadose of L-tryptophan. Works every time, unless you're allergic. Though, then, you'd probably be dead, which is a remedy of sorts.)


Athem. On the top, you can put a normal shade, if you wish, or some nice curtains, with a valance. Really secure/plush Victorians used three layers of curtains, why not you?

But what if you don't like curtains?

Well,there are a few ways to get the effect without using textiles. You can place an ornamental screen below, or paint on the windows with acrylic glass paint (which peels off when you're ready to move out.)  Clings and/or tissue paper ornaments aren't just for kindergartens -- seasonal leaves/snowflakes/flowers make days and nights of the Dark Months brighter for both you and passers-by, while Matt Howarth and Aubrey Beardsley designs are complemented by sophisticated grisaille adaptations (in translucent white, black and yellow paint). Of course, you can always put in wooden shutters on the outside, if you're allowed under your lease, at which point, for extra credit, install "busybody" mirrors outside the window to point down to the sidewalk and door. (Point out to your landlord that this is not only a safety issue but a substantial improvement...show him pictures of colonial Philadelphia....)

Be proud of your Dutch windows....an enduring classic.

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