The Return of the Portière?

We live in a house with a glass front door that looks straight into the bathroom. Add to this problem two cats who love to bang open the bathroom door and you’ve got a recipe for an embarrassing encounter with the UPS man. Could a portière be in our future?

A portière is a curtain that hangs in a doorway. It has a dual function: privacy and heat conservation. It stands in where a door would be clunky and inconvenient. Unfortunately, other than the beaded curtain fad of the 1960s, the portière seems to have disappeared. Was it because those beaded curtains messed up your big hair?

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 8.48.22 AM

Though, it should be noted, the beaded curtain predates Ann-Margaret:


But I digress.

Image: Amagase.

Image: Amagase.

The Japanese have a version of the the portière called Noren (暖簾) that can be found both inside and outside homes and businesses. According to Wikipedia,

Exterior noren are traditionally used by shops and restaurants as a means of protection from sun, wind, and dust, and for displaying a shop’s name or logo. Names are often Japanese characters, especially kanji, but may be mon emblems, Japanese rebus monograms, or abstract designs. Noren designs are generally traditional to complement their association with traditional establishments, but modern designs also exist. Interior noren are often used to separate dining areas from kitchens or other preparation areas, which also prevents smoke or smells from escaping.

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 8.40.47 AMThe August 1903 issue of Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman has a few pages devoted to portières. At over $200 each in today’s dollars, these were luxury items. [1]

IMG_3126The very same portal that allows our UPS driver a full view of our bathroom has the telltale evidence of a past portière. In the doorway you can see the holder for a curtain rod that once held a portière.

In the name of modesty, I’ve added the portière to my long house restoration bucket list.


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  1. I am planning a portiere to section off a hallway to keep my house warmer in our southern hemisphere Tasmanian winter. My house was renovated before I moved in to be fairly open plan, which is all well and good – but does not make for efficient heating. Often portieres were used in the past as airlocks in a front hallway to stop draughts when the front door was opened. To achieve this they need to be a snug fit at the ceiling and to ‘puddle’ a little on the floor to stop a draught circulating. I am currently hunting for a heavy, old-fashioned bed spread to function as my hallway portiere.

  2. My house was built in 1902. The owner of the first furniture store lived here. I was told there was a leather sofa in the living room. A bead curtain was between the living room and dining room. Now, there are French doors, which I much prefer now. I suppose the furniture store owner got his beaded curtains at cost. At some point, some owner must have decided the French doors were more practical for heat retention. There was a stove in the dining room and a fireplace in the living room. As a matter of fact, the living room fireplace is backed up to the fireplace in the sitting room.

    • I meant to say that we moved into a parsonage where the view from the front door was the commode in the bathroom. Lovely! I know how hard it was to keep things out of sight with two toddlers, 1 and 3.

  3. I was inspired years ago to put portieres on the doors of my small 1960’s cinderblock house. Due to the old building style (common enough here in the American South during that time), this place has no insulation and there is no way of retrofitting insulation into the exterior walls. I use simple English-style Portieres on the exterior doors (all of which have glass) to help maintain temperature in the house. And I have a noren on the doorway to my workroom just because I like the way it looks in the doorless entry.

  4. Portieres are definitely the way to go. We put up several of them in our last house, built in 1920. Some were for temperature control, some were for privacy, and some served as both. It can give a more closed off feel which is counter to a lot of current design standards, so I sadly took them all down when we staged and sold the house.

    In our current 1960’s house, I recently took down the house-flipper mirrored closet doors in my kids’ rooms and replaced them with portieres. It softened the feel of the room, reduced the light reflections from passing cars outside, reduced my need to constantly clean fingerprints off of them or hand vacuum out the tracks, gives better air transfer for the clothes so they don’t go musty, and much quieter in the mornings and at night not to here the doors rumbling open and closed. I’m guessing, also likely reduces emf loads in the room since they were all metal, save for the actual mirror part. The rooms definitely both feel more peaceful now, and it’s not just aesthetics – my dd is no longer having frequent nightmares since I did the swap.

    • I also have portieres on one closet door but I did it so that I could turn the closet into a mini-sewing room. Closet doors took up too much space, and the portieres bought me precious inches so that the sewing area really works.

    • A friend took down the mirrored sliding closet doors about a year after they moved into a home. Her daughter began to be afraid of the mirrors. Oh, I would hate to hear those rumblings on the tracks!

  5. I have one room on my street side that when the windows are open people walking past can look into that room and see across to the door that goes into the bathroom and everything that is going on in there. So in that doorway I hung a tension rod and long curtain. I can still close the door but it keep people from having a direct view into the bathroom. Also the cats prefer a curtain to a closed door!

  6. The Portiere need not be on your list for long.
    Put a tension rod in the doorway, toss a folded piece of fabric, a sheet or an old indian bedspread, over the top, and voila – privacy, warmth, and a feng-shui cure all in one!

    • I checked the comments first before mentioning a tension rod 🙂

      We did have an awkward closet that needed a portiere, but the molding was a bit slippery and the tension rod kept falling down. I solved that by purchasing a set of wood pole sockets which, painted to match the molding and screwed into place, managed to keep a wooden rod securely suspended. It’s easy to pop the rod out of the sockets to remove the portiere if necessary.

      You can probably find these at nearly any hardware store, but this is what they look like:

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