Windows seem to be one of the most difficult areas for clients to deal with. So many factors should be considered when covering them that many clients just live with what they have for as long as possible. In this way, they avoid decisions on budgets, styles, fabrics, etc. However, for a room to truly have that complete look, the windows must have a treatment that solves the needs of the room and its occupants and still add to the style of the home or, at least, the room.
So what factors need to be considered?
• Privacy. Can someone look into the room while the clients are dressing? If so, the window treatment will have to provide some way of screening an outsider's view.
• Light. Is there too much light streaming through the windows? Then a treatment that filters all or part of the light is needed. Is there too little light? Then the treatment should clear the window to let as much light in as possible.
However, there are other thoughts to address concerning the sun because while it may give light, it also can damage fibers and fabrics. If the windows face north or east, sunlight damage should be minimal. But south- and west-facing windows may require special treatments or tinting to protect the customer's investment in fabrics, furnishings and carpet.
• Temperature. Window treatments can do a lot to control heat and cold. Layers of fabrics can insulate the room from cold winds or drafts as well as the sun's heat. Layers can be done with lined draperies or honeycombed fabric shades. These latter treatments actually have an insulation rating unlike most regular draperies or mini-blinds. They can be more expensive than mini-blinds, but frequently the cost is offset by the energy savings.
• Special Considerations. Do the clients have children? Dogs? Cats? Entertain frequently? Have a great view? Have no view? All of these considerations should be addressed before making the final decision on the proper window treatment.
Of course, budget is crucial in the final selection. One option is to plan the treatment and, if possible, do it in layers. For instance, if planning a honeycomb shade with side drapery panels and a valance, do the shade first to give immediate privacy and light control, then add the side panels and valance next month when the budget has been refreshed.
When coaching clients on a budget amount, consider two things: First, the size of the window. A general rule for custom treatments is that an installed basic drapery will cost $100 per foot retail in a low- to medium-grade fabric. Top treatments can add $50 to $100 per foot depending on their complexity. Alternative or hard treatments such as mini-blinds may be substantially less, but have a minimum impact on the decor.
Second, consider how long treatments will remain on the windows -- five years, 10 years, or more. If the investment is $2,000 for a full treatment in the living room and it is retained for 10 years, that's an investment of only $200 per year or about 55 cents per day. Not a lot to pay for something the clients will look at and use every day.
Most decorators and designers recognize two categories of treatments: hard and soft. Hard treatments include alternative window treatments (AWTs) such as mini-, micro-, vertical and wood blinds, pleated and roller shades. Each has its own, unique functions which should be matched to the window's challenges.
Mini-, micro- and wood blinds all are descended from the age old Venetian blinds, which actually originated in ancient Egypt. They can be pulled up to clear the window almost completely or left down and used to control light and privacy by tilting the louvers.
Blinds are relatively inexpensive if made of metal. However, the metal transmits cold and heat from the window, so there is no insulation value. Wood blinds are a better insulator and are a less expensive choice than custom shutters. They can be like fine wood furniture on the window, so the clients need to be prepared to pay more for them than metal blinds. Metal blinds seem to coordinate best with contemporary or eclectic room styles while wood blinds enhance traditional and period styles of decor.
Pleated shades are another option to the home owner. Accordion pleated fabrics pull up just as do blinds. Some can be specifically fit to drop down from the top or pull from the side over sliding glass doors. The fabrics can be in solid colors and prints. They can be transparent, semi-transparent or opaque.
Obviously, this last fact is a critical item to decide upon when considering privacy. Often the preferred pleated shade is the honeycomb style. These shades keeps their pleats longer, looks crisper and are sturdier while adding insulation value to the window treatment. They can be almost twice as expensive because of the two layers of fabrics. However, in many situations this investment could be well worth the savings in faded and deteriorated fabrics, rugs, carpeting and furniture. Honeycomb shades lend themselves to almost all decorating styles because of the softness added by the fabric.
Roller shades are making a comeback of late. Technology is now available to allow fabric lamination, color enhancements and many more design options, so designers are finding great ways to coordinate these shades with the room decor. Frequently roller shades are reasonably priced as well as easy to obtain and install. They are a wonderful tool to put back into your designer bag of tricks.
Vertical blinds work wonderfully in more contemporary settings, but frequently feel hard in traditional and period rooms. The louvers can pull to the side like a traverse drapery and can be rotated to control light. They require a larger investment than mini-blinds, provide more texture options for the slats and allow a lot of the same benefits as horizontal blinds while giving a totally different look. Be sure the clients like strong lines and definition before suggesting them.
Recently, a cross between mini-blinds and pleated shades has been developed. These window coverings have become very popular because they provide the light control of the mini-blind with the use of horizontal fabric slats, and yet have the softness of pleated shades because a sheer fabric attaches the slats together on both sides. Though more expensive than mini-blinds and pleated shades, the look, as judged by many clients, is well worth the investment. A variety of colors are offered and the selection continues to expand.
One of the newest products on the market is an alternative to Roman shades. Although Roman shades are attractive, they can be pricey, difficult to keep neat, hard to draw and bulky. The new style is made of man-made fabrics in a wide variety of colors. The "flaps" are permanently set by being attached to the lining fabric across the width of the treatment. There are no cords to untangle. The one drawstring that raises and lowers the shade is on a perpetual loop, eliminating the long dangling strings of the past. Because they are rolled rather than pleated, the space taken up in the window is generally reduced. This is a wonderful treatment to use with many styles of decorating and design.
Returning to the second category of window treatments, we now can review soft or fabric options.
Sheers have always been very popular. These versatile draperies can be used alone or with valances, overdraperies, side panels and other options. Traditionally, the fabrics were done in white. Over the years, technology has added many sun-fast colors and stable sizes. No longer is it necessary to stretch the sheers on racks after they are cleaned to return them to the proper size.
The look of sheers softens the view outside the window and softens the light as it enters the room. Sheers are a wonderful way to add richness to the decorating plan while enhancing light control. Sheers can be pinch pleated or shirred on the rod. The choice is based on the needs of the client.
As we get into formal draperies or overdraperies, we start working with heavier, more decorative and possibly more formal fabrics. Originally, these draperies were simply shirred on the rod. In this manner they were used only as side panels or hung closed most of the time. This gave the user very little, if any, light control and left the drapery looking sloppy if it was not dressed just right each time it was opened or closed.
With the creation of the French pleat new looks occurred in draperies. Now, rings were sewn onto the top of the pleats and slid over a rod. The draperies could be drawn by hand and opened and closed without making a mess of them. The invention of the traverse rod in the 1930s gave even more options to the pleated drapery and added to its neatness.
As you review your clients needs there are two options to discuss. If the clients want only side panels with no need for motion, shirred on the rod treatments could be perfect and keep down hardware costs. Of course, if privacy and light control will be provided by the overdraperies, then it would be best to go with a pleated style -- French, cartridge or other.
A closing technique also will need to be selected. Drawing by hand or with the use of a plain or decorative traverse rod are the usual methods. It is amazing how many options of rods and poles now are available for both styles of draperies.
Valances became popular centuries ago to enhance the window and hide the mechanics of the drapery installation. Valances come in both hard and soft. Hard valances are more easily recognized as upholstered cornice boards and lambrequins. The latter not only covers the top of the window treatment but the sides as well. Such upholstered pieces tend to look very formal.
Being creative with your design ideas can help to create more contemporary and informal looks, but typically cornices are in more traditional interiors.
Soft valances have come a long way over the past several years. By using the many new pole and rod options valances can be soft and flowing, stiff and formal, quirky and imaginative, and more. The limits are set only by the designer's imagination and sense of style.
Help the clients review the elements of the room in question and see if the valance can integrate these ideas and add uniqueness and style to the setting. Remember, though, both hard or soft valances can add a great deal of money to the window treatment. Be prepared for clients who may have to keep it simple or forego them completely to remain within their budget.
Soft swags have been popular for years. Typically, these draped, wrapped, tied, knotted, bowed and puddled lengths of fabric add absolutely no light or privacy control to the window. They tend to be purely decorative. And, with some of the special hardware and installation costs, they can be quite an expensive treatment at that!
Discuss with the clients how the treatment will look. Be prepared to sketch the final look or show pictures of a similar installation so the clients will not be surprised by the finished product. Also, take the time to make sure the needs for light control, privacy, insulation, etc. are handled first. It's often difficult to go back to a soft swag treatment to retro-fit something and still have it look good.
Roman and balloon shades are always an interesting and challenging option as a soft window treatment. Both give light and privacy control and offer some insulation by creating a layer of fabric over the window. Roman shades tend to create straight lines while balloon shades create soft flowing appearances.
Educate the client to the limitations of such treatments, how they will hang, how they may need to be fussed with to look neat, how heavy the fabric will be to raise and lower. Also, remind them that the fabrics used in the room can be used on the shades adding continuity to the design that an alternative, hard treatment cannot match.
The choice of lining the draperies is one that should be discussed. As a professional, you know how this small investment increases the life span of the draperies, protects the back of the fabric from sun damage, helps the fabric hang better and adds an overall richness in appearance even though it goes unseen. Clients typically are not educated in these finer points. It is necessary to cover these concepts and what they will mean to the clients' installation over its lifetime.
Editor's Note: This is the third of a multi-part series in which Dudics-Dean explains the most important concepts decorators need to know to make each interior project a success.
Susan Dudics-Dean is owner of Celestial Designs and an interior designer who has worked in the San Francisco Bay area of California for more than 11 years. She also is a newspaper columnist and seminar speaker.