Of the components that contribute to a room’s character, window treatments can play a starring role. Not only do they filter light and control views, they can also create a sense of mystique and drama. Among the most effective for setting atmosphere are blinds and shutters. Think film noir, where black-and-white movies exploit the contrast between light and shadow. Venetian blinds were common props on sets, often in the foreground of a seductive silhouette.
Blinds have come a long way since those 40s films. They look, operate, and function differently, and have many more options to choose from. With so many, it’s important to begin the selection process by evaluating your needs. Jeff Rohrer, owner of Prairie Shades & Shutters, likes to survey clients to determine what products will work best. What are their sleep preferences? What privacy concerns should be considered for each room? What’s the thermal comfort of each room? Are there any requirements specific to each family member?
A dealer for Hunter Douglas since 2008, Jeff thoroughly enjoys the process of evaluating the best blinds for his clients’ needs. “My focus is on quality, value, and service,” says Jeff. That starts with finding the right shutters or blinds for clients. Getting his start in the window treatment industry as a contract installer, he learned which products not only install better, but also have a better result. He favors Hunter Douglas for quality, warranty, and because they’re American made. Once Jeff learns about his clients, he reviews product lines and what they each have to offer.
• Roman shades fold when they are open, which offers a sculptural component.
• Roller shades lay flat and have a clean look.
• Cellular shades are ideal for energy efficiency.
• Sheer blinds are effective for controlling light while maintaining view.
• Woven shades, which provide a warm beauty, can be made from natural material.
• Shutters are made of wood or composite wood and come in many finishes that offer a classic plantation look. In addition, they are very durable, easy to clean, and long lasting.
• Vertical blinds are ideal for long expanses of glass, including patio doors, and they come in varying panel widths and materials.
• Horizontal blinds also come in varying widths, colors, and materials.
There are transparency levels to consider when selecting blind styles and materials. A horizontal blind may allow light while providing privacy if the window is above an outside viewpoint, but in an urban setting where someone’s viewpoint can be higher than yours, you may need to completely close a horizontal blind for complete privacy.
Material is also important. Some offer a high level of privacy during daylight while filtering light to the inside, but when interior lights are on in the evening, that level of privacy may disappear. Check material samples against a light source to fully evaluate their transparency qualities.
Privacy and light control go hand-in-hand because, typically, with more transparent blinds, more light is admitted. There are several light-filtering fabrics available in today’s blinds. It’s also good to remember that UV light can fade fabrics and even some wood. Some products offer up to 88 percent UV protection while still maintaining transparency. Sheer fabric has a unique quality in that it refracts and disperses light into a room. There are also blinds designed for complete room darkening.
Some blind styles are more limited in their operation than others. Greater adjustability allows you to fine tune both light and transparency. Blinds that open both at the top and bottom are good examples. They are excellent for when you are seated and only need the bottom portion of a window blocked. They allow light in and views out while maintaining privacy. Many cellular blinds and Roman shades have this operation option.
Most new blinds now use mechanisms that allow them to stay in place in any position without cords. They can be adjusted easily, are cleaner looking, and are much safer than corded blinds.
There have been significant advances in motorized blinds, which were originally developed for very tall or gable windows where access is difficult. Now automated blinds can be controlled by our phones, and opened or closed from anywhere with a touch. This feature not only gives the home a sense of occupancy while the owner is away, but also can be programmed to optimize energy efficiency. One might set the blinds to lower at a certain time of day when the sun is brightest or synchronize the blinds with a thermostat, like Nest, to respond to temperature changes in the home.
Energy.gov notes that when completely closed on a sunny window, highly reflective blinds can reduce heat gain by approximately 45 percent. Closed blinds also serve as a barrier between warm air and cool glass in the winter, and provide insulation for an air-conditioned room during the summer. Although they do not remedy the infiltration caused by a leaky window, they do help to neutralize pressure, improving thermal comfort.
Cellular type blinds are even more effective as energy savers, and Jeff notes that some that he sells have an R-value (insulation value) of up to 4.87. Because shutters are fitted to within a 1/16 of an inch of your window jamb, they are also considered a good choice for energy conservation.
There are a stunning array of materials available for blinds and shutters. Each has its own unique quality with regard to light and privacy. While wood and composite wood are more natural options, you can opt for eco-friendly materials, including plastic made from recycled water bottles as well as grasses and bamboo, which are rapidly renewable.
Blinds and shades can fit over the window casing, cover more than one window, and fit within the jamb of a single window. But keep in mind that not all windows are perfectly square. When you order from a dealer, they take the responsibility for getting the measurements right. Oftentimes trapezoidal, half-circle, and round windows don’t get covered because the solution is more complex. Many specialized dealers, like Prairie Shades & Shutters, can accommodate windows that have a unique shape and even skylights.
Whether it’s a DIY project or you work with a dealer like Jeff, adding blinds to a room can make a difference for both energy efficiency and aesthetics. The fact that they come in many styles and options also provides the flexibility necessary to complement any room. What’s not to love?
Andrew Wanek, AIA, is a licensed architect and principal of Ginkgo House Architecture.