For transplanted Moscow native Lena Kroupnik of Lena Kroupnik Interiors, crossing the great and cold divide in 1991 entailed more than simply swapping nations.
Accompanying her husband for his job on a joint U.S./Soviet venture under the auspices of Russia’s Ministry of Energy, and wholly enamored of art and design for most of her life, the former engineer and electrophysicist joyfully jettisoned the rigors of a career in steely science. Soon after landing in Maryland and taking some time to acclimate her young children to America, Kroupnik began a formal interior design education and "…walked around with a dictionary in (her) pocket" for years.
“We had architectural schools, but didn’t have interior design schools in Russia when I was young,” said the warm and ebullient Kroupnik, eager to paint a brand new canvas in her newly-adopted country.
For former engineer Kroupnik, interior design is as much—or sometimes admittedly more—about function than aesthetics. With a passion for defining residences by the creative use of window treatments, sometimes even repurposed as dividers—sans windows— to separate, balance and distinguish rooms, Kroupnik’s strategic use of fabrics, textures, draping and layering becomes art and science in itself. Used to widen or in other ways alter windows, or to enhance a vertical line, Kroupnik believes window treatments are tantamount to fine art when adding definition and character to a room.
Let them use silk
In a North Potomac, Md. residence, the homeowner desired an opulent but family-friendly look and function for the home’s first floor. A massive floor-to-16-foot-ceiling living room fenestration replete with glass patio doors and imposing clerestory windows presented a design challenge, but also an opportunity. With a directive to incorporate the small outdoor patio into the vista, the designer said she needed both a connection to and separation from the outdoor space.
“When I looked for the right fabric for the window treatments, I decided on silk because it drapes very well. And when you employ the technique of layering, the fabric has body,” Kroupnik said.
Using silk swags at the top and soft, folded drapes at the sides, Kroupnik framed the outdoors and patio and mitigated some of the light, which she said could be overpowering in the evening.
“When you design window treatments, each component is important,” Kroupnik said, adding trim is key because it adds layering and dimension. Color—in this case cream, mauve and burgundy— can also connect the indoors with organic hues found on the outside.
Because the home is so large, Kroupnik wanted to knit rooms together which was achieved by using the same silk stripe fabric from Carleton House Fabrics and Houles trim throughout. Though window treatment design varies from room to room, from sumptuous to semi-formal to really simple—such as panels of pinch-pleated fabric on a metal rod in the library—there is a feeling of unity and connection throughout.
Divide and delight
In a traditional home in NW D.C., a rather small foyer emptied into a living room, dining room and office. Desiring privacy for guests when entering the residence, Kroupnik used double-faced silk draperies to separate the foyer from the living room.
“You’d like to peek into the living room, and one side is held open with a tie-back hold so you kind of can,” she said. “It provides a luxurious look. It’s elegant and welcomes guests into the house.”
Softening the stone
In a Cathedral area condo, a variety of window treatments including operable Hunter Douglas shades in a semi-sheer fabric were employed to define the home. With the homeowner a jewelry designer who traveled extensively to Africa and throughout the world, the twofold goal was to achieve a warm, cozy space and also a showcase for art and some ponderous wood, metal and stone artifacts.
Achieved by the use of rich and varied textures, the look of the space and art was softened by fabrics and window treatments that included nubby, heavier silk in lighter colors. Because a bulk soffit above the living room window diminished its height, Kroupnik sought to open and raise it aesthetically by using a clean, simple black wrought iron rod at the top. Redolent of the touches of black already in the room, the hardware did not overwhelm the space.
Crests and crystal
In Severna Park, Md., a home with a wooded, river setting called for replicating the flow and cycle of water and nature just outside. Generally dark due to its siting, the homeowners wanted to capture and also create as much light as possible, which Kroupnik did using lots of light-reflecting crystal and in some cases lighter, filmy fabrics for window treatments.
“My engineering background came in handy here because the rooms were not the same width, but we wanted them to appear balanced,” Kroupnik said. Using sophisticated silk swags, jabots, pelmets, panels and Stroheim and Romann embroidered sheers, along with hardware that included a crest and leaves, the designer was able to elegantly frame and preserve the view and court the light while maintaining privacy.
“In the current economy, window treatments can save on heating bills as well as beautifying a space,” Kroupnik said, speaking to the more budget-conscious homeowner. “They are sometimes a neglected aspect of design, but they are clearly very important.”