The intense desire for privacy is a trend with justifications in three areas:
• protection against the invasion of privacy;
• protection against burglary;
• protection against personal assault.
Invasion of Privacy
Invasion of privacy is the feeling that one cannot escape demands, pressures or inconveniences caused by someone else. This feeling arises not only from people coming to the door uninvited and disrupting work or leisure, but also from unwanted soliciting telephone calls, faxes and e-mail. While these last three have nothing to do with window treatments, there is an interesting psychological correlation. The relatively recent trend toward cocooning and burrowing -- even fortressing -- discussed in Faith Popcorn's best-selling consumer trends book, "Clicking," means people are digging in deeper to protect themselves against the onslaught of life's undesirable demands. (See D&WC January 1997, pages 46-49.)
More of us feel an almost vigilante desire to keep the world at bay, at least sometimes. If window treatments can offer the ability to look out yet assure our privacy (knowing no one can look in, that no one knows we are there, that we can hide from it all) they emotionally would fit the bill. This need has become real for many people today -- not only those with high-pressure jobs, but anyone who is simply sick and tired of being interrupted, solicited, harassed or inconvenienced. This need is not as tangible as energy conservation, for example, but it can be a genuine form of sanity preservation.
Everyone needs time to work without interruption, to rest and recluse, to feel a measure of peace in order to regroup and fortify against the demands of daily life. Window treatments that provide privacy at any desired time -- day or night -- can provide the means for realizing these desires.
Protection Against Burglary
Protection against theft is another key factor in assuring privacy through window treatments. It has been said, "If it can be seen, it can be stolen." Many people today have invested seriously in their possessions. As a nation, we own a lot of stuff, and sometimes we can be paranoid about protecting it. This is not a criticism, we should worry about keeping possessions safe.
But there's more to it than that. Ask any person whose home or office has been burglarized and his or her response is not just of mourning the loss, which is bad enough, but often a horrifying feeling of having been personally violated -- the space isn't safe and sacred anymore. The resulting insecurity or worry about it happening again is far more costly than having invested the necessary means to keep it secure in the first place. Peace of mind is worth a lot of money, time, planning and effort. Add to it the cost of replacing lost items, or recovering them through the involvement of authorities, and the trauma becomes consuming and sometimes emotionally draining.
Becoming more common today is the wise practice of inventorying possessions via photographs, videotape and written record including an estimated replacement cost. In fact, some insurance companies not only recommend it, but may require it.
Other techniques for discouraging theft include entry alarm systems (an industry that is growing steadily) and lighting exterior window and door areas where unlawful entry may take place. I once heard a police chief in my area speak on personal safety and tell us that exterior lighting is the best and most economical form of burglar protection. Homes and businesses also are more likely to be hit if fences and shrubbery can conceal a thief's actions.
Protection of Self
Finally, and most importantly, is the need for privacy to protect personal safety. No price is too great to pay for this protection, yet how often do we see glamorous interiors in shelter and decorating magazines in which there are no window treatments at all to assure at least nighttime protection?
One of my university students recently completed the required evaluation of her family home as it relates to interior design and how the family lives, functions and has its needs met in the home. This particular home sits on an acre of tropical landscaping atop a hill in San Diego, CA, with a commanding view of the ocean, Mexico and the beautiful city itself. However, she says at night she never goes into the rooms with the views because there are no window treatments and it is frightening to think that someone could be watching from the landscaping or through a telescope from an adjoining hill. For this very reason every room should have means to assure nighttime privacy, even if there is no need for daytime privacy. It not only is frightening, but it is potentially a burglary or personal safety threat.
One of my first and most riveting experiences that taught me the absolute necessity for professionals to sell privacy took place early in my career. I had sold casement draperies to a family with a beautiful new sprawling, upscale home. About two weeks after the order was placed, the woman came to me and requested a change in the order. I was shocked to see her with cuts, bruises and an arm in a sling.
Without thinking, and perhaps without tact, I exclaimed, "What happened to you?" She did not reply, but rather repeated that she was there to change the order.
Gathering my senses, I replied, "Of course. The fabric has arrived and is at the workroom, but it has not been cut. What would you like to have changed?"
She instructed me to line the casement draperies with an opaque fabric and to add sheers for daytime privacy to the order. When we had completed the change order, I gently asked, "Do you want to tell me what happened?"
She replied that one night when her husband was on swing shift and she and her two teenage daughters were alone, a man had broken into the home and attacked them. The three of them fought off the intruder, but one daughter ended up in the hospital and the other was hurt as badly as the mother but with a broken nose. This woman had come to realize that their vulnerability was at least partly due to the lack of privacy at the window and was determined to never let it happen again.
In tragic cases such as these, and those that are potentially worse, it is not too radical to think that someday someone might bring litigation against a window treatment professional for not insisting the customer have complete privacy for personal safety.
Privacy is a physical and emotional issue, and one that is often easily satisfied. There are three types of privacy: daytime, nighttime and emotional privacy.
• Daytime privacy can be assured with a light, thin, sheer or semi-sheer layer at the window. Treatments such as sheer, casement or lace draperies will assure daytime privacy as will translucent pleated and cellular shades, sheer shading products and blinds that are rotated.
It is gratifying to see fashion return, at least partly, to operable pleated sheer draperies after having been absent since the late 1960s when naked windows became the rage and hard or alternate treatments completely took over the market -- particularly mini- and vertical blinds. Suggest some softness to your customers. Keep the blind or shade next to the glass if the customer or you prefer, but offer the opportunity for daytime privacy and take time to educate the customer on its advantages (privacy, glare and heat control, increased protection against sunlight deterioration and sound absorption). Give them the option of drawing them open, or stacking the fabric on the wall for an unencumbered view.
• Nighttime privacy is a much more serious matter. The treatment here must be opaque or heavily translucent. One simple test is to lift a sample up to a bright lamp and move a hand behind the treatment between the light source and the sample. If you can see the shadow of the hand, you will be able to see shadows moving about in the interior at night. Of course, if you can see the hand, the product does not assure privacy. The best treatments are opaque -- which technically means light blocking, but also can mean so that no shadows can be seen from outside.
Plan for one layer to assure nighttime privacy: line the draperies and make them operable, use a vertical blind or a horizontal blind with holes routed at the back of each slat. Visible routing holes for blind ladders are large enough for someone to look through. That police chief said, "A pinhole is enough for a potential intruder to see all he needs to know." Once you have sold the customer on a product that blocks nighttime views, encourage -- even insist -- the customer use it! No treatment is effective if unused.
• Emotional privacy encompasses the other two, but adds the element of feeling safe, private and secure. To enhance emotional privacy consider lining the draperies, perhaps interlining them with blanket batting for temperature and sound insulation. (This is an amazingly wonderful idea!) Add valances that are closed at the top -- mounted on a board to prevent temperature exchange and drafts and to give a more solid, secure look to the treatment itself. This style of treatment is the opposite of the slinky lingerie look at the window currently popular, but it is a more classic, time-proven approach.
Where a contemporary textured sheer is sought, the old-fashioned technique of privacy draperies is an excellent solution. There is something upscale and handsome about privacy draperies that is not found in a hard metal blind. In fact, a soft-on-soft treatment is the ultimate luxury in providing emotional privacy.
Whether it be for the protection of emotional well-being, the protection of valuable furnishings, or physical safety, privacy is an issue that is too important to ignore, day or night.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.