Blinds are not new. Even the ancient Egyptians used thin slats of reeds woven into blinds to screen the intense heat. In China, woven bamboo blinds were used in palaces and huts and in summer gazebo pavilions to create shade and filter light. Shutters, which originated in Europe, became two-inch wood slat blinds and were used extensively in America as early as the mid-1700s in the Late Georgian Era. Yet for the modern world, the advent of blinds as we know them is relatively new.
I remember as though it were yesterday the first World of Window
Coverings trade show and convention in New Orleans, LA, in April
1983. After attending the seminars and soaking up the information
being presented, I strolled the trade show floor. Perhaps you, too,
remember your first window coverings trade show experience. The
surprise for me was what I saw in booth after booth after booth—blinds!
Only a tiny smattering of fabric was on display, yet the component
manufacturers as well as the product manufacturers with brand name
and start-up products were everywhere. Back then I was taken aback
by the lack of design elements—blinds seemed to be mostly technology
and product driven. Coming from a background of interior design
education, I found this an interesting phenomenon.
To understand how blinds have come full circle, we can look back
to the days of the 1930s and 1940s when two-inch “Venetian
blinds” in a standard, “dirty” shade of off-white
with wide tapes were seen virtually all over America. That was the
depression and the World War II years. Where it could be afforded,
draperies were drawn closed over the blinds, although in offices
by the millions these blinds were used alone.
They were heavy and cumbersome, and when raised, one blind would
often be seen in an inconsistent placement to its neighbor. Most
of all, we burned out on blinds because they were so nasty to clean.
Early paints did not repel dust as they do today, nor did sonic
cleaning exist. Early modern blinds were labor-intensive to clean—it
had to be done by hand, one slat at a time with cleaning solution.
Needless-to-say, most people lost the love for blinds.
ENTER THE DRAPERY WORLD
After World War II, draperies reigned supreme. First were casement
draperies as seen in modern interiors; then by the 1970s the standard
window treatment was sheers, usually with privacy draperies and
tied-back drapery panels with top treatments, or sheers and draw
draperies. These were lovely in that they provided daytime and nighttime
privacy, insulation against heat and cold and noise absorption.
They often were elegant and formal.
Draperies of the earlier era had a few disadvantages. They required
upkeep: dusting or vacuuming and professional dry cleaning, which
was costly and always an imposition to the owner or occupant. They
were at risk of damage from pets and children. They required hand
moving or touching the fabric to pull aside the drapery to find
the cords. The rods often were reliable, but when they occasionally
did break, the repair was frustrating and sometimes an inexperienced
person could not make them work again. Draperies that could not
be opened and closed were cumbersome and ominous.
The fact that so much fabric was used in interiors gave them a sense
of coziness that often gave way to a sense of heaviness. The fact
that to-the-floor draperies were difficult to vacuum around made
the floor around and behind them an ideal places for dust or spiders
or other insects. If the draperies were not cleaned regularly, then
they were dust-catchers, or places where grime could build up if
the interior were subject to fried foods or cigarette smoke, and
keep in mind that much more smoking took place indoors in past decades
than today. If the draperies were not cleaned, then the dust they
collected could be a health hazard.
Another factor that poised blinds for a takeover was the lack of
creativity during the decades prior to the 1980s. Draperies were
almost exclusively American four- to five-finger pinch pleats. These
were almost invariably attached to a white traverse rod, so that
when opened, the lines were always vertical with a slender white
rod exposed. When top treatments were specified, the style was typically
swags and cascades with fringe. These two looks were so prevalent
that they became boring. We were poised for aesthetic change. And
if there is anything Americans thrive on it’s change in fashion.
Another factor that pushed the pendulum away from a draped society
was the change in general interior design fashion. Although the
International Modern style became widespread in America as early
as the 1950s, the “curtain wall” construction of steel
skeleton frames with large plate glass as picture windows was most
conducive to a light-filtering and softening treatment that was
discovered to be best found in casement draperies.
By the 1980s, these draperies had worn out, become “tender”
or thoroughly damaged by sunlight, sometimes as a second-generation
drapery. We also had worked our way through the first generation
of modern, gone back to a historic style and returned to a more
livable and less severely stark post-modern, clean style. We had
discovered that blinds had a lot to offer.
ALTERNATIVE WINDOW TREATMENTS —ALIAS HARD WINDOW TREATMENTS
The ensuing wave of blinds arose from the mini-blind revolution.
These aluminum, baked-enamel painted, one-inch blinds swept the
country because of all their advantages, which today apply to all
1. They offer a handsome horizontal line from both the inside and
outside of the house. This element of consistency is appealing and
appropriate for any exterior style of home.
2. The wider the slat, the closer the look is to shutters, which
are considered the epitome of good taste and design quality. Of
course, wood or faux wood horizontal blinds do this imitation act
best. Generally, wider blinds appear more costly and therefore appear
more upscale. As a general rule, wood blinds appear more upscale,
but from a distance, it is difficult to tell the thickness of slats.
3. Blinds replaced the dual layers of privacy draperies and sheers,
which provided nighttime and daytime privacy, respectively.
4. Privacy is completely assured in blinds only where rout holes
through which the control cords are threaded are placed at the back.
Rout holes in the center of the blinds allow a person to peer into
the interior. If you haven’t tried looking through a blind
at night, it’s a surprising and eye-opening experience to see
how vulnerable the occupants really are because of the clarity of
vision through rout holes.
5. Blinds screen glare and do it almost effortlessly, with just
a slight twist of the wand.
6. Blinds control light direction. Blinds angled so that the slats
all face downward cast light on a work surface or into the room
and shadow above. Blinds with slats angled upward provide a shadow
in the area immediately below, which is helpful for heat, light
and glare control for seating or work surfaces where indirect light
7. Blinds control light at every slat, giving an even distribution
of light, which also is a factor in controlling glare.
8. Today’s blinds are easy to keep up. The quality of the paint
is a factor, which varies between the major brands. Select a product
offering a built-in dust-repellent in the paint. This keeps the
dust from attaching to the paint, so it lays lightly on the surface
making it simple to dust off. Of course sonic cleaning, with the
takedown and reinstall options is a service that makes blinds even
more appealing. Generally, sonic cleaning will cause no harm to
blinds or their components.
CHAMPION OF VERSATILITY
The most compelling reason why blinds are here to stay is their
versatility. They fit any decor, with very few exceptions. Alone
they are always good design: simple, structural, frank, clean, handsome.
They need no help to perform their function.
Most often they sit inside the window frame, and even when installed
as an outside mount they are so non-intrusive as to allow virtually
any other treatment to be coupled with their function. From draw
draperies to valances and top treatments, from side panels to decorative
window fashion statements, from the height of elegance to fun and
funky, any theme can be served with a blind as its partner. Blinds
free up the creative pathways. We are not restricted in any window
treatment design configuration because the basics are all covered
with the blind operation.
Color choices are wide, although when the backside of the blind
is white or off-white the look is best from the exterior. Inside,
white and off-whites still are the most frequently used colors.
This makes a lot of sense, because the blind can outlive many color
schemes and many decorating theme changes. Blinds can work in any
room decor. To illustrate this, in the photos shown we see three
varying styles of rooms—a light, airy, bedroom with flowing
fabric; a very traditionally styled dining room; and a mood-evocative
blue-blind luxury master bath in a very modern style.
Placing your decorating “faith” in such a perpetually
popular product is not misplaced. Use blinds with confidence. They
will serve your clients well!
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.