A few years ago I had an eye-opening experience. I was to present a daylong window treatments continuing education (CEU) seminar to a group of American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Because I am from the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere (Intermountain West), I felt a need to understand the lighting requirements and restrictions of residents in this tropical isle. So I invited participation by a representative for Vista Window Film, whose wife ran a clinic for skin cancer victims. The statistics and reality of damage to body and furnishings was eye opening for everyone. In a place where the sun is always within 15 degrees either north or south of straight overhead, the sun is something most people try to escape, especially indoors.
The United States has seen a population shift in the past 30 years toward the Sun Belt states, so principles of sunlight control via window coverings now apply not only to the isles of the tropics but to all Northern Hemisphere residents. Larger windows and an increase in quantity and value of furnishings and electronics are becoming the norm. They also increase the number and kinds of light control required for where people live and work.
The principles of sunlight control fall into these categories:
• Accommodating the view
• Filtering light
• Shading the interior
• Diminishing heat and glare
• Preserving furnishings and protecting people
• Complete light control
Accommodating the View
View is a highly sought-after amenity in both homes and office spaces. To have a view without restriction is the most important priority of some customers.
Several products will accomplish this task. Window film will clarify the view.
Sunscreens with a range of opacities will allow a softer view up to a full view. Blinds that are opened completely, as well as soft sheer shadings, will preserve a view.
The purpose of windows in architecture, of course, is to admit light to the interior. Natural light is economical, allowing us to function in spaces without having to turn on electric lights. It also is important to our wellbeing.
Yet, unfiltered natural light tends to be bright or harsh. When it is filtered through blinds, translucent shades or sheer fabric, natural light is transformed into pleasant light. Softened light is easy on the eyes, so tasks are easier and fatigue is lessened.
Shading the Interior
Providing shade from direct sunlight is one the key benefits of horizontal blinds. During my college years a landscape designer friend ordered mini-blinds from me. When the blinds were installed, he called in a panic, stating that the directed light downward was wreaking havoc with the mylar landscape plans on his drafting table.
Never have I felt so smug as when I rolled the wand in my fingers, tilting the slats upward toward the ceiling, providing instant shade below. I was the hero of the hour!
The ability to direct light so that an interior can be shaded above or below is a boon to many spaces; and a simple yet effective engineering miracle, appreciated by all who know its secret! Perhaps this accounts for the fact that horizontal blinds still are the best-selling window treatment product. Likewise, shadings and vertical blinds also offer shade in specific directions. Vane products manufactured using fabric do the same, but also offer another advantage: softness. This element is missing in wood and metal blinds and shutters.
Diminishing Heat and Glare
Bright sunlight is intensified when light waves enter a space through glass. As the waves hit and bounce off hard objects, they become shorter and weaker and therefore are unable to exit back through the glass, causing heat-build-up known as the greenhouse effect.
Augmented heat is problematic for a number of reasons: bright light combined with heat is fatiguing both physically and mentally. It is uncomfortable and irritating. Heat from bright light also is usually accompanied by glare, which is excessive bright light in the field of vision. Glare also causes irritation and exhaustion, making all kinds of work more difficult, and making interaction with others a strained experience.
Blinds and shades that diminish both heat and glare result in interiors that are more comfortable and where occupants can function at a more optimal level—work better and more cheerfully.
Ultraviolet rays are invisible to the human eye, so seldom is there any thought as to the damage sunlight is capable of causing. Harm to furnishings includes drying out wood, causing cracking and splitting; and the irreversible fading of color in textiles, wood floors, furniture and artwork.
Harm to people from exposure to UV rays is now well understood. It is less likely that skin damage takes place indoors only because staying in bright sunlight indoors creates discomfort, so people often move somewhere away from the direct sunlight. Nevertheless, the danger of harm to the skin is as real indoors as out if the glass is untreated. Window film, sunscreens and all kinds of blinds and shades that are conscientiously controlled against direct sunlight will be effective in protecting furnishings and people.
Complete Light Control
Complete light control is the ability to darken a room. The two common scenarios for blackout control are daytime sleeping and media rooms. These situations often require room darkening at times and light filtering at other times.
Double treatments may be the solution in these cases. For example, many woven wood blinds now offer a blackout roller shade behind the woven shade to offer complete light control. Some cellular shades and other shading products also offer blackout fabrics. Also, a blind or shade with a draw drapery overtreatment with a blackout lining will provide this kind of flexibility.
Although privacy is listed last here, it is often top priority for many clients. In fact, if we could feel safe and secure from intrusion without window treatments, this industry would not be the vibrant, profitable one that it is. The peace of mind and security that is a result of knowing that no one can see into your private space has no price tag.
To be able to control the level of privacy at day and at night is of critical importance. Where remote control is desirable, that is an additional boon; that is, to obtain privacy from across a room with the touch of a button. Privacy is, perhaps, more valuable than any other reason for purchasing window treatments.
How wonderful it is to work in a profession that can assure that privacy, controlling light, protecting furnishings and people, diminishing heat and glare, shading the interior, filtering light and accommodating a view are requirements all filled with the right selection of blinds and shades!
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.