Hanging's too good for them

Leading designer curtain poles and finials cost more than most curtains - but what price perfection, asks Rosalind Russell

Life, you might think, is too short to decoupage a curtain pole. But hundreds do. Not only that, they sand, lime, distress, wax and antique something which might only be noticed by whoever does the dusting, or the cat as it runs up the curtains.

"A lot of people do like to tackle their own designer finishes," says interior designer Philip Simmons, "possibly because there are now so many books about paint techniques."

Philip's company is currently refurbishing Brocket Hall - whose previous owner was keener on Ferraris than finials - in Hertfordshire. Be-swagged, tailed and pelmetted, the Grade I listed building is now owned by a Hong Kong firm.

Antique rugs have been laid, niches have been gilded; the fabrics include gold silk and damask which can't be hung from any old pole. The disgraced Lord Brocket, still a guest of Her Majesty's Prisons, may yet be thankful he isn't footing the bill.

"Poles and finials can cost an arm and leg," says Philip. "It depends on the home-owner and how much they are used to spending. Some will say the price is over the top, so our job is to find something at a more reasonable price with the same grand look."

More modest private owners like the wrought-iron effect, made by firms like Artisan, The Bradley Collection and the Iron Design Company. Prices are usually around pounds 7.50 a foot, plus p&p. It suits period and contemporary homes, but even then a couple of poles, with arrow-head finials and curtain rings, can easily cost pounds 600 or more. It's no wonder vendors often take the poles with them when they move.

One of the designers' favourite manufacturers is Byron and Byron, based in Islington, north London. As well as selling directly to the public, its designs are sold through Liberty and Harrods. The Duke of York has its poles and specially commissioned finials in his Sunningdale home.

It makes everything from antiqued and verdigris poles, through polished aluminium, to ivory-coloured scratched wood which looks as though it's been weathered on a beach. Resin-cast seashells, artichokes or even something from its Beidermeier collection can stop your curtains dropping off the end of the pole. B&B also, should your craft skills be limited and your patience short, uses a decoupage technique, laminating your own choice of paper or fabric on to a pole. The newest range, with rope wound around modern or classical finials, has been selling as fast as designers can buy it.

"The rope detail has been a sell-out," says Orazio Gualtieri, Byron and Byron's founder and main designer. "The trend is for neutral and weathered chic." Or, as Liberty buyer Sarah Bryant suggests, "like the front of an old Tuscan building. Rams' heads and sea urchins are coming to an end. They are novelties which date quite quickly. Gilt is definitely passe. People are buying plain wood poles to decorate themselves. I did it myself for my bedroom, using ivory stressed paint. Coloured or clear resin finials are also very contemporary."

The Pier chain of stores can do you a pair of lime green frosted cone finials for pounds 19.95, or, for the same price, a pair of spear heads from its Kenya range.

At the end of August, Liberty introduces an even more exotic curtain accessory: huge beaded tassel tie-backs to go with heavy Tudor-type dark tapestry or velvet curtains. They'll cost around pounds 59 each. Byron and Byron's prices begin at around pounds 85 plus VAT for a 7ft pole, including the cost of finials and rings.

"People do sometimes say it is expensive," says Gualtieri. "But you have to think about what you paid for the fabric. Would you put the Mona Lisa in a pounds 50 frame?"

Simmons Design 0181-974 5974; Byron & Byron 0171-700 0404; Artisan 0171- 498 6974 (for stockists) or leave message on 0171-498 3979 for a brochure; The Bradley Collection 01473 652651; The Iron Design Company 01609 778143

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