In a time when sharing every iota of your life on social media is at an all-time high, so too, it seems, is letting it all hang out—particularly when it comes to your home.
Uncurtained windows, according to a recent article in The Atlantic, is one of the latest signifiers of wealth. This is, of course, true for gated mansions and estates—who needs to shut the curtains or blinds when you have plenty of acreage with no neighbors walking by? But in cities in particular, even the swishest townhouses are stacked cheek to jowl with their neighbors. Unlike the big plots of suburbia, space is, well, a bit tight.
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The New York Times compared homes with uncurtained windows in richer neighborhoods to “ethnological dioramas.” Walk down the clean, tree-lined streets of many upscale areas by day or night, like the West Village, Brooklyn Heights, or Park Slope, and you’ll see depictions of strangers’ lives before your eyes: flickering TV screens, families cooking dinner, or someone on a phone call. Even if you’re not intentionally prying on your neighbors, it’s those split-second moments you can’t help but notice if you happen to be walking the dog or walking home from the train after work.
This “trend” (if you can even call it that) is nothing new. A 2013 study from the U.S. the Department of Energy found that Americans who earn more than $150,000 are twice as likely to leave their windows uncovered compared to those making around $20,000 to $29,000. There could be a multitude of reasons for this. First, living in a city means less time connecting with nature. Keeping your windows open to the outside world can enhance your well-being and exposure to natural light is crucial for healthy living. Although windows channel heat, wealthier individuals might not be concerned with higher costs of cooling. Finally, those who dare to leave their windows open likely feel more safe in their neighborhoods. They also likely have sophisticated security systems protecting their properties—even if their Franz Kline painting is staring you in the face from the sidewalk.
The act of not drawing your curtains might seem risky and preposterous, but for wealthy homeowners, it signifies freedom, fearlessness, and a sign of financial stability. It’s not that wealthy people don’t have fancy window coverings; it turns out they just might not use them.
Windows Are Expensive—Why Cover Them?
Anderson Kenny of Anderson Kenny Architecture works on fabulous properties throughout New York City, Westchester, Fairfield, Connecticut, and beyond. He says his clients—especially the millennials—are eschewing heavy window treatments for a more minimalist, “less fussy” aesthetic. Don’t be fooled; less window treatments do not mean lower costs.
“We have clients that spend hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on window treatments, but they never really draw them or touch them, maybe unless they’re sleeping,” he tells Robb Report. “It’s counterintuitive, I think, to cover up these great windows unless the sun is blinding you. The way I approach it is by first focusing on the interior architecture. As much as I love textiles, we want the interior architecture to stand on its own, so much so you might not need window treatments at all.”
Kenny spends more time focusing on the windows themselves by creating custom mounts and sizes and glass treatments that distort the ability to see in but let in natural light. Today’s windows are also often more energy efficient, with special films or tints to block UV rays and filter out heat, so window coverings are not always required to safeguard art or maintain interior temperatures. More often than not, he also installs bulletproof windows.
A Power Play
Exhibitionism certainly might contribute to this “trend;” those of a certain status might be more inclined to show off their expensive custom furniture or museum-worthy art collection. Perhaps these successful individuals don’t care who sees them or what people think and feel they can do whatever they want.
“There’s a well-known gallerist with a townhouse on the Upper East Side and has every single one of his windows open that you can clearly view from the street,” Kenny says. “There is probably $100 million worth of art from blue-chip marquee artists on display. Maybe it’s a little bit, or a lot, of a power play. But most townhomes like that have ballistic windows and enhanced security.”
Then there are homes from renowned architects, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House or Pierre Koenig’s Stahl House, whose architecture is so profound that it’s hard to imagine curtains or window treatments on them.
“The absence of curtains and blinds is almost an evidence, a manifesto of freedom and independence,” says Isabelle Dubern-Mallevays, co-founder of Invisible Collection. This means that window treatments are changing in form and function, too. Alongside Studio MTX, one of Chanel’s Metiers d’Art, Invisible Collection helped install window panels in front of the glass walls of New York’s tallest penthouse at Steinway Tower. While there’s no need to hide 984 feet above Central Park, MTX’s artistic director Matthieu Bassée created blinds that played with transparency, color, and composition for blinds that look more like a work of art.
What’s Privacy Anyway?
The fact of the matter is that wealthy people typically have assistants and they see staff come and go from their homes all day long, whether it’s a private chef, a nanny, the driver, or a retinue of housekeepers.
“Many of these individuals are already in a non-private arena anyway,” Kenny says. “They don’t have a ton of privacy baked in their lifestyles in some respects, so why do they need to pull the shades down?”
You don’t have to be a wealth flaunter to want to live a curtain-free life. Open them up or take them off entirely to let in the sunshine and embrace the freedom that comes with it. No matter your status or wealth, what’s the point of living behind closed doors?
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