Design Definitions: Portiere

In her excellent book Novel Interiors, Living in Enchanted Rooms Inspired by Literature, Lisa Borgnes Giramonti  explains that a portiere is a heavy curtain or drape hung over a doorway to keep warmth in and chills out.  Like curtains on a stage, using textiles in this way also creates a sense of anticipation and interest.  As she explains, “draping a passageway adds drama and mystery–when you hide something from view, you arouse curiosity that begs to be satisfied.”

Our curiosity was piqued, so we decided to take a closer look at rooms that make use of this stagecraft.

The staid collection of china on the outside of this doorway belies the riotous patterns and colors on the inside.  We’re eager to push that velvet curtain aside and go exploring.

This room is one of the first that we added to our Pinterest board, and it is easily the most re-pinned image we’ve collected.  There’s something comfortably old-world about it, but the colors and large scale patterns in the portiere and upholstered chair give it an eclectic note.

We could spend eternity and a day passing through these portieres to peruse a favorite book by the warmth of the fire.

This is a more contemporary take on a portiere.  The heavy velvet works nicely with the line-drawn wallpaper.

We love this bohemian interpretation of a portiere from Justina Blakeney’s book, The New Bohemians.  The kantha quilt, draped loosely from cafe clips, is equal parts chic and relaxed.  If ever there was a space made to store a collection of antique silk kimono robes, this is it.

from The New Bohemians, by Justina Blakeney

No RHW post is complete without an ode to mustard and pink, so here it is in portiere form:

For a bath off of a communal space like the living room or kitchen, a draped textile might give the feeling of a welcome additional layer of separation.  We’re enchanted with this sophisticated little powder room.

What do you think? Are portieres for you? Have a great day!

13 responses on “Design Definitions: Portiere

  1. pippin

    These are lovely portieres. Far more aesthetically pleasing than a curtain (white bed sheet) I used as a door to my bathroom in my tiny studio years ago. I would trade my sad white plain sheet for any of the portieres pictured above.

    1. Mera

      There is definitely something about the heavy drape of these that elevates them above bed sheets or standard curtains. That said, living as I do with pets and other assorted humans constantly busting in on me in the bathroom, the idea of living in a studio where a thin curtain is enough to ensure privacy sounds pretty appealing!

  2. Laura (Pict Ink)

    Yes!!!!! So portieres have made a comeback! This makes me fist pump. We have an exterior door in our family room that rarely ever gets used. (You can see it in this post I want to cover it with a portiere. I think it will be more decorative that way as well as being practical – helping keep draughts at bay and covering the window which currently just has a flimsy net curtain type thing over it. My husband, however, thinks that portieres are only for stately homes or historic properties. He does not think one will work in a contemporary home. I will need to show him this post and see if it gets him to rethink.

    1. Mera

      Boom! Portiere fist bump comin’ atcha! I don’t think portieres are just for stately homes, they’re for cozy homes. If you’re able to convince him, send us a picture!

  3. Nina

    This idea I love, and it’s one I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while. Of all the rooms in my house not to have a door, unfortunately my husband’s office is one. It’s the only room in the house where I really try to let him have free reign, but I wish I didn’t have to see it every time I walk down the hall. 🙂

    You’ve picked some great examples here. I especially love the one from The New Bohemians.

    Would old-school beatnik hanging beads qualify as a portiere?

    1. Mera

      Good question! I think that in its loosest definition any curtain across a doorway, whether fabric or beads, is a portiere. But function seems to be a part of the definition too, and as far as I know beaded curtains don’t serve any actual functional purpose! As for your husband’s office, I’ve read that often there is a portiere on the outside and the inside of a doorway. Sounds like the outside of the doorway is your province–whether he chooses to hang an additional portiere on the inside of the door is entirely up to him! 🙂

  4. Carol Bryner

    Like Nina, I was wondering about those hanging beads. My college roommate had some separating her tiny kitchen from her tiny living room when she got married and lived in Montreal. I thought they were super cool.
    The heavy fabrics are fabulous, though, and I love the velvet and the bright pink. Actually, I love all of them, and if it wasn’t 95 degrees here in Portland today I might think about having one in our flat.

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