Following the influence of the grand Italian Renaissance, Georgian mansions in 18th-century America routinely featured raised panel shutters and two-inch wooden blinds. These were strung together and operated with strong cords to raise and lower the blinds, much as we know them today. Mechanisms were simpler in those days, and cords were hidden by wide tape or braid. This basic technique for horizontal blinds was so efficient that up until this past decade horizontal blinds still featured sturdy twill tapes to hide the cords that raised and lowered the slats.
Two-inch wide metal blinds, known for most of the 20th century as Venetian blinds, were used in most offices and countless American homes from the 1930s to the 1960s.
During the 1970s the alternative window treatment industry began competitive development of products that were destined to become the newer classics: mini-blinds and vertical louvers. When the first World of Window Coverings Expo opened in New Orleans, LA, in 1983, nearly 90 percent of the trade show featured retailers or industry component suppliers of mini-blinds and vertical louvers. There were many advantages to these two products, and although soft window coverings were still viable and widely accepted, the real dawn of the age of alternative treatments—blinds, shutters and shades—had arrived.
Today mini-blinds are still the No. 1 seller among horizontal blinds, with two-inch metal and wood blinds next. Shutters are considered the Cadillac of window treatments and are sold as window "furniture" because of their cost, durability and long-lived appeal.
Vertical louvers are a solid choice for nonresidential interiors and many residential settings, as well. In terms of pure practicality, vertical louvers are No. 1, but their vertical lines are less universally appealing than are horizontal lines. Still, verticals do not catch as much dust, require less cleaning and do better at darkening rooms than horizontal blinds as the louvers can close tighter (assuming they are solid vinyl or vinyl with inserts).
CLASSIC LINES, DURABLE PRODUCTS
There are several reasons why shutters, horizontal and vertical blinds have become classics. One is the pleasing quality of the lines, both inside and outside the home. (We'll discuss the psychology of line a bit further on.) Here are some selling points these products have to offer the user:
• Excellent light control, often including room-darkening capability.
• Quality mechanisms with long life and low maintenance.
• Ease of use, ease of care and ease of cleaning.
• Handsome appearance, both inside and outside the home.
• Flexibility in design solutions—they work well with many styles of interiors and can stand the test of time. Well-chosen alternative treatments with classic horizontal or vertical lines can stay as the basic window treatment while the valances or side panels can be replaced according to the current interior design theme. This capability lends continuity of look to the outside of a home and practicality to the interior.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LINE
Because they are compatible with traditional building systems, horizontal and vertical lines have been favored to cover window openings. They are considered the classics for alternative window treatment styling and are the groundwork for other lines in an interior.
But in order to be fair, let's take a look at all types of lines—vertical, horizontal, diagonal and curved—and see how each is important in interior design.
• Horizontal Lines: Weighty, secure, restful, stabilizing.
Horizontal lines suggest a solid, harmonious relationship with the Earth; the Earth's gravity has no further pull. This gives a stabilizing, peaceful harmonious effect to window treatments. When found in a connecting architectural detail such as molding, horizontal lines provide a smooth transition between rooms or areas. If they lead to a focal point, they help to emphasize it. When horizontal lines lead to a window, the eye stops at the outside view or the beauty of the decorative window treatment.
Too many horizontal lines in an interior may become boring and lack visual interest. Horizontal lines make a room appear wider or longer.
• Vertical Lines: Lofty, solid, formal, imposing, restrained.
Vertical lines lift the eye upward and make windows, and sometimes, entire interiors, appear taller or higher. They have the ability to lift the mind and the spirit as well. As such, vertical lines are purposeful tools for architects and designers of churches and public buildings because they inspire awe and tend to diminish the significance of human scale.
Vertical lines are stable because they represent a perpendicular resistance to Earth's gravity. They convey a feeling of strength and dignity and are quite appropriate in formal dining rooms, entryways and formal living areas, as well as offices and public meeting and performing spaces.
However, this formality can bring stiffness or a commanding feeling to the interior. Too many vertical lines can cause a feeling of uneasiness, of too much confinement and predictability. People will feel they must pay more attention and sit up straighter, which can become tiresome.
• Diagonal Lines: Action, movement, interest, angular stability.
Diagonal lines are flexible because their exact direction may vary from shallow to steep angles. Diagonal lines generally suggest movement, action or dynamism, perhaps because diagonal lines are associated with going places—up or down a staircase or escalator, the taking off or landing of an airplane, for example.
Interest in usually sustained longer with diagonal lines than with horizontal or vertical lines, possibly because the angles seem to defy gravity and the eye and mind are stimulated. Yet diagonal lines also can be secure, such as the reinforcing diagonals of a roof truss system.
Too many diagonal lines, particularly on a wall or at the window, can be over stimulating, compete with horizontal or vertical lines and perhaps become tiresome.
• Zigzag Lines: Exciting, lively, rhythmic movement.
Zigzag lines are short diagonal lines that reverse upon themselves and form a regular or irregular pattern. A zigzag line can be one single line or several in a set. A set of regular zigzag lines is called a chevron or herringbone pattern, and irregular zigzag lines are typically called a flamestitch pattern.
Angular zigzag lines can add energy and life to an interior. If too many zigzag lines are incorporated, however, the effect can be frenzied and agitating.
• Curved or Circular Lines: Soft, humanizing, repetitive tempo, gracefulness.
Curved or circular lines provide relief and softness to straight and angular lines and balance the harshness of too many straight lines. Curved lines give a human quality to interiors; they can be easy on the eyes and pleasing to view, which explains the perennial appeal of swags as top treatments and tied back drapery panels.
A series of curved lines, such as an arcade (a procession of arches), gives a rhythmic cadence to an interior, suggesting graceful movement. In architectural components, round or elliptical segments (sections of circles or ovals), such as archways and arched transoms or fanlights, provide graceful dignity to interiors. Generously curved lines are viewed as feminine.
An excess of curved lines may become too decorative and consequently, visually demanding.
• Flowing Lines: Gentle movement, growth, linear development.
Flowing lines are irregularly curved lines that move gently in a random or spiraling manner. Flowing lines may be seen in large interior trees or climbing vines, in spiral or curved staircases, or in the lines of fine Oriental rugs, for example.
Inspiration may be taken from the graceful and curved forms of growing and changing live plant forms. Because we are never certain where the line will end, flowing lines can provide a great deal of interest.
• Tightly Curved or Busy Lines: Playful activity, zest, lively visual stimulation.
Tightly curved or busy lines are most often seen in textiles and in wall and floor coverings as complicated patterns that are lively, busy or active. Tightly curved lines can add frivolity and fun to interiors, can make up a pattern that conceals some flaws and visually close in space.
Complicated tightly curved compositions, such as those in vivid floral fabric, in area rugs or wall coverings, add life and may be visually stimulating and aesthetically satisfying.
As such, busy lines may save interiors from becoming dull or boring, yet control over the quality of the design is imperative. Colors and contrasts that are bold or feature too much obvious pattern might prove displeasing and detract from the harmony of the interior.
COMBINING AND BALANCING LINES
Every interior uses lines in combination, yet often one line will be planned to dominate in order to accomplish a desired effect. Vertical and horizontal lines form the structural or architectural foundation for a building, which is why they look so right inside a window frame; they match the lines of the building system and support rather than counterpoint it.
Angular and curved lines are used for interest, movement, relief and to humanize the interior space.
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.