Beaded curtain comeback? They’ve been here for years
Bead curtains give a gentle sense of separation. They filter light but allow plenty through. They give a sense of privacy while providing a view. They are the ultimate noncurtain, whether used in a window or doorway, or as a room divider.
– From: The Allure of Beaded Curtains
The New York Times, June 2005
In the US, however, the beaded curtain concept didn’t really take off until the 1960s (though it did enjoy a brief period of popularity in the parlor doorways of Edwardians).
Vintage beaded curtains were everywhere
And it was a trend that burned so brightly (and, rather sadly, burned out so quickly) that to this day, we still largely associate it with that period. In fact, beaded curtains practically qualify as a trope for hippies and the counterculture era, even though their decorative use was actually far more versatile.
Whether formal or casual, this decor statement was more a utilitarian part of a room’s decoration than a functional window covering in the usual sense of curtains. (Though from the collection we’ve gathered here, there were clearly plenty of exceptions — those mid-century designers were creative!)
Beads for beaded curtains are made of everything from colorful glass or plastic to fabric, wood, or bamboo and then strung in such a way that creates some movement when they clink together. That gentle movement and the tinkling sounds are also congruent with a relaxing, peaceful vibe many sought for their homes.
Beaded curtains were an affordable, accessible, and lovely way to not only decorate a room, but also — more pragmatically — divide it or create semi-private alcoves without the need to build costly walls or install doors.
Beaded curtains aren’t just a remnant of the past
You can still find them in stores today (tons of beaded curtain options on Amazon!) — in fact, they’re fundamental to a casual, bohemian aesthetic (which may ebb and flow in popularity, but never truly dies). Though, as you can see below, beaded curtains can be designed to work with various design styles, even more formal and elegant spaces.
Enjoy this 1960s and 70s vintage beaded curtains retrospective — you may find there is more inspiration to be found here than you’d expect!
Beaded curtains make a bed alcove (1965)
Colorblocked beaded curtains from the 70s
Vintage beaded curtain styles from 1973 – Interior doorway
Tips on beaded curtains from Ellen McCluskey (1966)
By Vivian Brown – The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware) March 25, 1966
Interior decorator Ellen McCluskey says she is “mad for beaded curtains, but –“
She does like the imaginative look, the vivid color effects one can achieve, and the sheer openness of the beaded idea.
But, when using beads, “If one must part the curtains to enter a room, the effect is wrong,” she suggests.
Beaded curtains should never hang clear across an opening, but rather on each side of it, for say, two or three feet.
Ellen McCluskey uses many other types of room dividers and puts beads at bathroom and kitchen windows for unusual effects. People who want beads somewhere in the house still enjoy the beads-at-the-windows idea.
MORE: See 100+ short retro window curtains & cafe curtains that were essential ’70s home decor
A see-through bead curtain between bathroom and private garden (1964)
Vintage beaded curtains: Beadazzled! (1970)
From The Miami Herald (Miami, Florida) April 12, 1970
In these love bead times, the beaded curtain has made a comeback.
Now we find the shimmering strings hanging around the best places — acting as dividers, or even adding a jewel-box touch to the bedroom.
Beads and baubles can be used for other things besides wearing around your neck.
ALSO SEE: Woodstock: What people said the famous music festival was REALLY like (1969)
Because they come in such a wide variety of sizes and colors, they can serve as interesting combinations to either blend or contrast with interior schemes. Their versatility can open a whole new world of decorating ideas.
For starters, frame the view from your kitchen window with strands of baubles that sparkle in the sunlight, or string them from the shower rod in your bath to form an overlay of color on a plain white shower curtain.
You can skirt the dressing table in your bedroom with a cascade of beads, and complement the design by faking a four-poster with strands of baubles hung from ceiling hooks above your bed.
If you’re really handy, build a five-panel screen and fill the openings with drifts of beads to create a decorative room divider. Or stretch lengths of them between the floor and ceiling to achieve the same effect.
In the early 1900s, beads were hung in interior doorways to separate parlors from family living areas.
In your grandmother’s day, these beaded curtains were called “portieres,” a word derived from the French portier, which means doorkeeper. Both types of doorkeepers are still common in some areas of southern France.
MORE: See how vintage accordion folding doors divided rooms & filled doorways
There is considerable stress on see-through materials today because they serve as visual ‘extenders’ when living space is limited, as it so often is in the average home or apartment.
The beaded curtain or any variation of it using beads or baubles serves nicely as a visual extender and adds a colorful touch of uniqueness to any dwelling.
If you find yourself running short of ideas on how to use them, consult an inventive interior designer or stop by department store showrooms where design ideas are displayed.
Beaded curtain works wonders in many ways (1971)
From The News Journal (Hamilton, Ohio) February 18th, 1971
Beaded curtains have definitely arrived as instant transformers in almost every room in the house.
A drab wall loses its drabness when it’s disguised with amber and gold strings of beads. A simple ceiling frame over a bed becomes gorgeous with the addition of four blue and green beaded ‘posts’ — and the posts are cleaned with a whisk of a feather duster.
ALSO SEE: A ’70s designer dream house: The American Home of 1974
Another smart touch: A beaded shower curtain (over a liner) with a matching beaded front for the vanity. Suggested color: Cranberry, with towels to match.
Retro 70s beaded hanging in a pass-through
A bead hanging is used in the pass-through between a dining area and the food preparation center.
Gleaming beads pick up all of the color accents in both areas, as well as gilt yellows and coppery tones of serving pieces, and blend into the overall theme as a unifying style and color agent.
Practical, too, this playful hanging permits easy reaching from one area to the other, and the plastic beads wipe free of grease and stains with a damp cloth.
Wooden beaded window curtain (1969)
Beads are the answer when you want to screen but not shut out a window view.
These wooden baubles were hung from a bead track, mounted at ceiling height to visually enlarge this conventional double-hung window, and also conceal the awkward area between window frame and ceiling. [See a version you can buy today here!]
Available in walnut or natural (you can paint to taste), these beads are strung on wire filament in 8-foot lengths, which you can also cut to shorter dimensions.
If you prefer an iridescent quality, substitute crystalline plastic beads permanently bonded to a nylon cord and offered in a rainbow of shades. [See something similar here.]
Vintage beaded window curtain styles from 1973
Marilyn Monroe behind a beaded curtain for “Bus Stop”
This photo of the actress was seen in LIFE – Aug 27, 1956
MORE: Marilyn Monroe’s first husband, who she married at age 16, fondly remembers their four years of marriage (1976)
Vintage Beadangles DIY beaded curtain kits
5 beautiful ways to fill a void, and a couple of things to sit on and admire what you’ve done.
ALSO SEE: 25 retro curtains & drapes: Home inspo from the 60s & 70s
Vintage Disc-O-Tex beaded curtain kits (1970)
Newest addition to our famed Beadangles repertoire, “Disc-O-Tex,” really have decorators going wild.
They use these big, bold, beautiful multi-hued “floating” discs to add excitement and elegance to doorways, and to make screens, room dividers and partitions the likes of which you’ve never seen before.
ALSO SEE: See 70 beautiful vintage canopy beds from the 1970s