Not Your Grandma’s Curtains
Rolling out the new vision of our original homemaker
Here, a barn door separates the kitchen and dining room. Country Curtains holiday wreath and Nordic throw create a warm and inviting look. Below on the left, Jennifer Bianco, husband Sergio Jurado, and daughter Olivia in their Alford home.
Photos by John Gruen
Jennifer Bianco grew up in a Country Curtains house. Her mother and Aunt Barbara were always decorating, redecorating, making it more than just a house, custom-fitting it to the seasons. There were muslin window hangings with stenciled borders. Plaid décor was ever-present. A Country Curtains catalog was never out of reach in the Rhode Island home. Bianco recalls the magic they created and mirrored that as a young girl playing house in the basement, her baby dolls sitting quietly as she draped sheets on the unfinished walls to create rooms.
“When I was on my own, I didn’t want to do what my mom did,” says Bianco. That included the country home décor. But when she was searching for a shower curtain with simple ticking, her mom’s touch steered her back home—to Country Curtains.
Bianco no longer just plays house. She worked closely with Martha Stewart before venturing on her own and is now in her second year as creative director of Country Curtains, designing sets in the company’s Lee warehouse. Her husband, Sergio Jurado, photographs the creations that are sold through the company’s mail-order and online catalogs—Country Curtain’s mainstays.
Country Curtains all began in 1956. Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick started the business from their dining-room table, selling unbleached narrow muslin curtains through the mail. The Stockbridge-based company marked its 60th year with a new updated country look, reflective of Bianco’s design sentiment.
Bianco considers Jane Fitzpatrick as the original homemaker and wished that she could have met her before her death in 2013. “Martha Stewart was coined ‘the doyenne of domesticity,’ but Jane Fitzpatrick was the original woman in that role,” says Bianco.
In fact, Bianco’s on-the-job experience and sensibility came from being mentored by Stewart. At 22, fresh out of college, she was the 28th person hired for Stewart’s new company. When Bianco left seven years later, the company had gone public with 720 employees.
“Martha was an amazing mentor, a strong woman who knows what she’s after,” says Bianco. The first few months were spent sitting in a library reading books, researching articles, and going through stacks of mail. Bianco tested a copper cookie cutter as an insert in a magazine and showed that there was a real interest in a mail-order catalog, which she helped develop. She identified furniture, trays, and bedding and worked to find manufacturers to reproduce them. Then Bianco started working on photoshoots.
Moving to south Florida, Bianco continued to work for Stewart for another year as senior merchandiser before going freelance for the next 15 years. She has created and designed sets for companies like Pottery Barn, Talbots, Eddie Bauer, Neiman Marcus, and AT&T. It was on one of these jobs that Bianco met Jurado, an assistant photographer on the set of Eddie Bauer. They have been collaborating ever since—and will be married 13 years in January.
“I truly understand how people live and what people want,” says Bianco, who was attracted to the idea of being more grounded and surrounded by nature. She was also drawn to the prospect of working for a family-owned company. “I am helping to keep a community working and thriving, and the product is made right down the road,” she says.
Country Curtains has 133 employees in its two factories (in Housatonic, Massachusetts, and West Hartford, Connecticut), where 44 percent of its product is sewn. Another 420 Country Curtains employees make up the home office and retail stores. The company processes over a half-million customer orders on average annually, and it goes through 1.6 million yards of fabric in its factories every year.
In August 2016, Country Curtains launched a new look, growing its selection of bedding and décor while maintaining and expanding its choices of curtain and window treatments. “We’re ready to talk with our customers about our broader take on country,” says Celia Clancy, CEO and director of Country Curtains, who adds that in January, its catalog will have a new look as well.
Bianco’s fondness for Country Curtains is evident in her home in Alford, whose interior design also has a sense of modernism. Just looking at Bianco and her husband, Jurado, one would think they were city-chic weekenders with a second home in the Berkshires. Instead, their second homes are in Rhode Island, Miami, and Ecuador. (Jurado, born in Ecuador, is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. His great-grandfather, Victor Emilio Estrada, was president of Ecuador.)
When Bianco started working with Country Curtains, she and Jurado would drive throughout the Berkshires, looking for a historic home. Realtor Jen Harvey showed her the home in Alford, and Bianco knew right away it was the one—an 1800s Greek Revival set on 17 acres with a long driveway. The house had a large fieldstone fireplace, wide-plank floors, and barn board on the walls.
Bianco still considers it a work in progress—and a great space to try out new Country Curtain merchandise. She points to the faux-Roman shade in her bathroom that can cost more than $500 but goes for under $100 at Country Curtains. And the Batik curtains in her office “really make me happy.”
The home has five bedrooms, one converted into a playroom for the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, Olivia, who is “obsessed with horses” and has created a horse-club business making organic horse treats that she sells at horse shows. (Mother and daughter board their horses at Harmony Hill Farm in Great Barrington in the warmer months and Blythewood Stables in Pittsfield over winter.)
One of Bianco’s favorite spots is the master bedroom, whose custom-treated windows give an expansive view of the backyard. “It’s like a cinema. I’ve seen bears, blue heron, a giant owl,” she says. “I always have binoculars by the window, and I’m always looking.”
It is in these moments of observing, walking in the woods, sitting by a stream, gardening, riding her horse, looking for seashells along the shoreline, when Bianco is inspired by patterns and shapes that she carries with her back to Country Curtains.