apartment progress: window dressing.

August 26, 2021

I realize I’m maybe pushing my luck on reader investment in my window treatments, but my editor is MIA again, so it’s just me over here calling the shots. I made another roller shade, this time for the kitchen, which makes a total of four me-made roller shades, and two me-made curtains, and no more blinds in this apartment at all (save the ones I stashed in the top of the closet for safe keeping).

The new shade is cut from three yards of exquisite madder-dyed kala cotton gingham which makes it exceedingly lightweight and just the kind of ethereal beauty I didn’t know I was hoping for in a kitchen window shade. Right now it’s a solution for the afternoon sun and when the leaves fall it will provide a bit of privacy needed for baking brownies in my undies on a Saturday after dark. More than anything, it offers a bit of color, a bit of good cheer, and an alternative to the PVC mini blind that was here before.

Conventional wisdom or just common sense would tell me that I probably shouldn’t have hung a botanically dyed textile in a sunny window without adding a fabric backing, just as I probably shouldn’t have hung a cloth shade in a kitchen window next to a stove that doesn’t have a hood or a fan to speak of. It will get dirty and it will fade and I don’t have a perfect plan for keeping it clean except, perhaps, to take it down from its hooks should I have the need to deep fry a batch of beignets. Good thing the objective here isn’t perfection and there’s a donut shop down the street.

For the better part of fifty years, my cousin Mildred and her husband Paul lived in a Manhattan apartment where the defining feature, to me anyway, was a tiny kitchen with metal kitchen cabinets that Mildred had covered in blue and orange floral contact paper. Despite knowing her for the entirety of my life, I didn’t visit Mildred at her home until my mid-twenties and when I first saw the cabinets they caught me delightfully off guard. The print was such a flashy bit exuberance to reconcile with her pearl necklaces and wool slacks and hair pinned in a tight coil on the back of her head. The dressed up cabinets suddenly had me picturing Mildred, who I’d only ever known as a revered elder, as a young woman. Did she climb on the counters to hang the paper, matching up the sticky sheets of vinyl, one cartoonish stamen to one oversized pistil? Did she smooth out the air bubbles from her perch on a fold out step ladder? Maybe Paul helped her. Maybe they laughed about their new blue and orange kitchen and clinked bottles of beer to celebrate their bit of domestic improvement. Maybe they walked back into the kitchen after dark and flipped on the lights to admire their handiwork and marvel at how they’d made a generic kitchen in an apartment complex with 11,000 nearly identical units, just a little bit closer to being theirs.

Will it last? Will we be able to clean it? Doesn’t matter, they might have decided.

By the time Mildred ended her lease and closed the apartment door for the last time, the contact paper cabinets had developed a two-tone finish. A five-inch circle around each cabinet handle had faded from use and cleaning and in those irregular orbs, the floral motif was all but totally obscured. Like everything else in that kitchen, the cabinets wouldn’t last to the next tenants. They were ripped out and and heaved into a dumpster along with the wall that made the room so tiny in the first place. Ad copy for the newly renovated apartments in Mildred and Paul’s old complex assures would-be tenants that the apartments feature “thoughtfully-designed layouts and the modern features that New Yorkers expect” including “stainless steel kitchen appliances, wine coolers, and white or speckled stone kitchen countertops.”

On my list of things that New Yorker’s expect from their apartments, are closets defined as rooms, neighbors who are too noisy, and neighbors who are too nosy, and neighbors who seem not to exist at all. New Yorkers might expect steam radiators that work overtime all winter and the rasping hum and drip drip of condensation from other people’s air conditioners all summer. They might expect walls that rattle from the roar of subterranean trains and views that get blocked up when a new building goes up, and a bodega on the corner that flashes its red lights and offer pints of ice cream and single rolls of toilet paper for times of great urgency.

New Yorkers, like people everywhere, might expect that they’ll manage, with varying degrees of success, to turn a place that’s been lived in by so many others into a place that looks lived in by them. None of the material progress we make in these spaces we call home are ours to keep forever. Some things last, some things don’t, but maybe fifty years will pass and this faded, greasy gingham kitchen window shade will still bring every bit of joy it’s brought in these bright and breezy early days. We don’t know. The only constant, as the cliché goes, is change.

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  • Reply Becca B August 26, 2021 at 10:48 am

    Gorgeous writing, Erin. I love that photo of sunlight filtering through your peachy shade.

    • Reply Clare Chippendale August 28, 2021 at 8:57 pm

      Definitely not risking reader interest! I went through the same process of review window treatment options only to find everything is plastic or expensive. You have inspired me to borrow a friend’s sewing machine. I’ve started with napkins and might work up to some simple kids clothes. I love the ambition of this project and some day I may feel up to trying blinds too.

  • Reply alex August 26, 2021 at 10:48 am

    this post about gingham blinds tugged at my heart as a i reminder of why i love new york so much

  • Reply Samantha August 26, 2021 at 10:57 am

    This is a beautiful piece of writing. I am not a New Yorker, but I love the way your words had me feeling like I could imagine it.

  • Reply Katharine August 26, 2021 at 11:32 am

    What a beautiful choice for a shade. And an even more beautiful story about Mildred! It’s lovely to remember how the little changes we make to our homes actually mean so much more than just shade or storage.

    And all window treatment content is very welcome, at least to me! We just moved into a home with roughly three times as many windows as we had in our last apartment. I am loving the light but also discovering how right you are — covering windows gets complicated! Thanks for sharing the solutions you’ve found.

  • Reply Heather M Briggs August 26, 2021 at 11:37 am

    This reader is fully invested in your window covering content.

  • Reply Judith August 26, 2021 at 11:42 am

    Love the window shade, but this post is about so much more.

  • Reply marion August 26, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    Beautiful Erin!

  • Reply Marlena August 26, 2021 at 12:55 pm

    Your braiding of narrative threads and stories of stewardship and ingenuity is beautiful!

  • Reply Cal August 26, 2021 at 1:07 pm

    Wonderful writing, I really loved everything about this.

  • Reply laura August 26, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    lovely, lovely and gosh i do love the name mildred

  • Reply Megan C. August 26, 2021 at 2:34 pm

    I’d love to read a book full of beautiful poetic stories like this. Any plans for a second book in the works?

  • Reply Stella Maria Baer August 26, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    More window treatments and Mildred writings! This is gold

  • Reply Cussot August 26, 2021 at 3:27 pm

    Oh, Erin …

  • Reply Renee Weitzner August 26, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    This piece was very moving. It reminded me of why my kitchen and dining room walls are yellow. Growing up, we had a family friend who had a yellow kitchen. The room was filled with such warmth and comfort not only because of the yellow walls but also because of the warmth from the friend…..So now I have yellow walls there and good memories. Thank you for this….

  • Reply haley August 26, 2021 at 3:40 pm

    I’m here for whatever you want to write about, Erin.

  • Reply Anna August 26, 2021 at 4:02 pm

    Here for all the musings on window treatments! I find this focus on the ordinary and achievable – that has such an impact on one’s day-to-day experience – incredibly grounding. The topic, and your writing on it, are a delicious moment of calm and reflection.

  • Reply Madeleine August 26, 2021 at 4:13 pm

    Fabulous writing, Erin! In a world of quick posts and easy scroll, what a delight to read something a little bit longer and a whole lot more meaningful. Made my day 🙂

  • Reply Doe August 26, 2021 at 4:32 pm

    Perfection here, my girlicue.

  • Reply laylage August 26, 2021 at 6:18 pm


  • Reply Lauren August 26, 2021 at 6:39 pm

    I will not tire of window covering musings and tutorials! Not ever!

  • Reply Kara August 26, 2021 at 7:53 pm

    Beautiful writing, thank you!

  • Reply Catarina Batista August 26, 2021 at 9:12 pm

    I would have made a dress! The colour is lovely

  • Reply Shannon August 26, 2021 at 9:29 pm

    ah, the best yet. both the shade and the prose. 🙂

  • Reply Elizabeth August 26, 2021 at 10:06 pm

    Very beautiful. I am thinking of Japanese houses and monasteries: the wood and cloth and that it is handmade; we can do it ourselves spirit.

  • Reply Nora August 27, 2021 at 9:42 am

    Hi Erin, long time reader, first time poster but what a lovely piece, the fabric and shade is beautiful and so are the memories and thoughts of Mildred and Paul. Wishing you and you family much happiness in your new apartment.

  • Reply Gretchen Chertov August 27, 2021 at 3:07 pm

    Such a beautiful post! The small things in our lives tie us to so much emotion and memory and peace if we see it. And I love your DIY roll-up. Lovely fabric and simple shade design. never too many window shade stories for me. Or memories brought into the present.

  • Reply Gretchen Chertov August 27, 2021 at 3:08 pm

    Such a beautiful post! The small things in our lives tie us to so much emotion and memory and peace if we see them. And I love your DIY roll-up. Lovely fabric and simple shade design. Never too many window shade stories for me. Or memories brought into the present.

  • Reply Nina August 27, 2021 at 8:12 pm

    My first thought was, “Oh no, that’s going to fade so fast!” but you know, so it’s OK! Gorgeous blind, and such a lovely image you’ve conjured of Mildred and Paul and their kitchen. Have you read ‘Greenery Street’ by Denis Mackail? It describes a young couple setting up their first home together – in a very different era, but with so many familiar moments, like the wife’s great pride in their new dustbin. It’s a sweet book.

  • Reply Em August 28, 2021 at 11:07 am

    This was wonderful. I just want to say my 12 yo received a box of beignet mix as a gift just last week and has been frying them in the kitchen! What a random coincidence … and a mess!

  • Reply Cj August 28, 2021 at 10:22 pm

    you are on a rolllllll! Love it

  • Reply Julia August 30, 2021 at 2:17 am

    Beautiful writing. Somehow I miss Mildred and Paul, never having known them.

  • Reply Mirva August 31, 2021 at 12:25 pm

    I absolutely loved this essay.

  • Reply Ann August 31, 2021 at 9:03 pm

    Lovely photo. The shade reminds me of a white linen shade my Mom made for my college dorm. It just filters the light beautifully.

  • Reply Jamie September 2, 2021 at 8:37 pm

    Hope you and your family are safe. This flooding is scary.

  • Reply Liz September 10, 2021 at 9:52 pm

    Love these blinds!

  • Reply Marie September 24, 2021 at 6:21 pm

    Erin! First, lovely writing as always, but also, as soon as I read that part in your story about “generic kitchen in an apartment complex with 11,000 nearly identical units,” I thought… StuyTown, obviously. I got in through the lottery (we definitely don’t have stainless steel or a wine fridge!) and though it is hard sometimes to live in a place that can feel so.. generic, it’s through blogs like yours that my girlfriend and I find ways to make it more homey.

    And I thought that was such a full circle moment. I mean, the odds are, we probably don’t live in Mildred’s old apartment… but it’s possible? And wouldn’t that be an interesting story of the stewardship of a home. That you were inspired by her, and we are inspired by you.

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