Donnachadh McCarthy: The Home Ecologist

Cheap wooden blinds are so last century – the future lies with designer drapes
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We are used to seeing Rolls-Royces outside antique auction houses, but I had not realised there was a similar clientele for reused and refurbished luxury curtains. Not until I popped into the Dulwich branch of The Curtain Exchange. I wanted to get some thick, second-hand interlined curtains to cover the door from my dining room into the garden. I had heard of The Curtain Exchange from a friend who bought the most dramatic wall-length silk curtains there for a song. It is now a national chain of shops dedicated to serving those who see top-quality curtains as the latest must-have in eco-furnishing.

Curtains? The latest eco-essential? Can this be true? Oh yes. For all the money being invested in solar panels, and all the effort going into the design of zero-carbon homes, one of the great energy-savers has been available all along. It's just that, when wooden blinds were all the rage, a lot of people chose to ignore the fact that thick, well-made, luxurious-looking curtains are the perfect way to keep out draughts.

As I arrived at The Curtain Exchange in south London on a wet Saturday afternoon, the friendly manager, Carlyn McGuire, was packing what seemed like a ton of beautiful curtains into enormous carrier bags. The father of the young family that was clearing the shop of its stock pulled up outside in a huge Rolls-Royce and into the back seat was piled the bounty gleaned from The Curtain Exchange's racks.

Looking through the remaining items I found some lovely full-length cream curtains. Sure, they were the wrong length, and no, the blue border was not going to enhance my design credentials, but then they can sort that out for you – a cut here, a stitch there and they were perfect. I could even have natural, unbleached cotton-wool inserted as interlining to make them even more thermally effective. The room-high pair of heavy curtains duly arrived and are now proudly hung, making my living-room – heated by a carbon-neutral wood-burner – even cosier. Including the alterations, interlining and external lining, they came to just over £300. Brand new, they would have cost about £1,000. And buying new is never as eco-friendly as using an exchange.

I confess, I had never thought through the cost of heavy curtains for the average "executive" home. According to McGuire, clients can spend anything between £20,000 to £50,000 on kitting out an entire house with luxury curtains. This would pay for all the eco-technologies that have made my Victorian house carbon-neutral. In fact, it would pay for them all twice over.

Such executives often move on within a few years of buying a house – and this is often where The Curtain Exchange comes in. It provides an outlet that saves them from being dumped and ensures some of the huge outlay can be recouped. It also means their customers get these luxury curtains for about a quarter of the cost of environmentally wasteful new curtains.

McGuire is an enthusiastic eco-champion and her parting words were, "People are always popping their heads in the door to say what a great idea it is. I feel what we do is really important in stopping beautiful curtains being landfilled, and they are such good quality they are brilliant at stopping draughts and so help the planet that way also."

Quite right, too. So if you are looking for the perfect drapes to match your latest expensive but very eco-friendly antiques, look them up at and see if they a have branch near you.

Donnachadh McCarthy is author of Saving the Planet Without Costing the Earth and works as a home and business eco-auditor.