One of my more memorable experiences in presenting window treatment CEU (Continuing Education Unit) seminars for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) happened while in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Prior to my visit to that Isle of Enchantment, I had lectured in most major U.S. cities, in Canada and even at a convention in Mexico. But not until this visit did I fully realize how window coverings needs could be so dramatically different.
In many areas of the northern hemisphere the needs of window shadings
are somewhat similar—we add shades for privacy, to screen light,
to enhance aesthetics and to admit sunshine at will. However, where
the equatorial sun varies no more than 15 degrees and skin cancer
is a major concern for everyone, it’s all about shading!
This experience gave me a fresh and enlightened perspective as to
how truly important the role of window shades can be. I further
understood the need to screen ultraviolet (UV) light while working
with Vista Window Film, helping with videotapes and presenting seminars
to their installers. Not only is shading or screening harmful UV
light and its accomplice, heat, a concern for a home’s occupants,
but it’s also necessary for protecting against permanent damage
to interior furnishing elements.
Let me back up a step. When I completed my first interior design
degree, a Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design, and began to explore
professional options prior to my Master’s degree, I was shocked
to realize the discrepancy in attitudes between architects and many
professional interior designers and the approach of decorators and
interior design professionals who specialized in furnishing elements
rather than architectural systems. For the architects and many “undereducated”
designers, windows were to be kept bare—frank and handsome
statements that embraced and celebrated the architecture of the
structure. To this group of professionals, a window treatment was
not an “interior decoration” but an “inferior desecration”
that simply got in the way of the pure architecture.
I found this a hypocritical stance. After all, the oath for several
professional organizations contains a promise by members to protect
the health, safety and welfare of the building’s occupants.
How could a point of such great potential harm and vulnerability
be so blatantly disregarded?
Then an experience I had while working strictly as a window coverings
professional cemented in my mind the real importance of having the
right attitude about shading and covering glass openings. I sold
a drapery consisting of semi-sheer casements to a family with a
lovely new home. The fabric had arrived but had not been processed
when the woman owner came to the desk of the store where I worked.
She had a black eye, bruises on her face and her arm in a sling.
Astonished, I greeted her and asked, “What happened?”
thinking she had been in a car accident. I was surprised further
when she refused to answer my question, but instead stated, “I
am here to change my drapery order.”
Her instructions were to add sheers and to line the casement fabric.
After the order was changed, I asked her, much more meekly, “Do
you want to tell me what happened?” Her report has never been
far from my mind since that day. While her husband was on swing
shift, a man they knew broke into the home apparently with the intent
of rape. As a result, one teenaged daughter was in the hospital
and the other badly hurt, as was the mother. Although they were
successful in thwarting this aggressive act, the experience was
a great trauma; one the mother was determined would never be repeated
due to untreated windows.
Since then, I have viewed all window treatments differently. The
absolute protection of my clientele must be foremost in my mind,
and where screening is the highest priority, there still should
be some means to protect the occupants against unwanted intrusion
through the assurance of complete privacy day and night.
This, then, should become our first priority: to protect, as far
as we are able, the health, safety and welfare of those who trust
in our professional skill and knowledge. Second, but very close
behind, is the need to make the interior functional through the
proper selection of shading devices and through handsome and well-selected
What are the aesthetics of shading? They begin with a survey of
the requirements of the interior’s lighting needs. Take note
of the number and placement of the windows, and their orientation.
• East light is bright and clear, illuminating details, as
well as dust and fingerprints.
• North light is often cool but constant—ideal for painters,
but often unfriendly for occupants.
• South light is ideal for solar gain. This also means unrelenting
sun can be highly damaging, as indicated above.
• West sun is hot and hazy due to the impurities that become
airborne during the day. It is an aesthetically beautiful light
if properly screened.
Where light is desirable and the view is commendable, I do recommend
a quality window film that will greatly reduce UV rays and diminish
the accompanying damage of heat buildup. Quality window film makes
interiors far more livable, as it does much to eliminate hot spots
and cool down drafts. Another advantage of protecting the interior
with window film is that the view can become much clearer when the
shades are raised by eliminating glare and toning down brightness.
Window film, therefore, gives much greater latitude in selecting
shading devices used as overtreatments. They can be chosen for their
aesthetic appeal as well as their functionality and serviceability.
Today there are many new, engineered shades that are “not your
grandmother’s shades,” although even these are still available
and never seem to go completely out of favor. Many remember the
(take your pick) white or off-white roller shades that were the
extent of choice when many of us veterans were young. Today, decorators
offer custom shades using fabric or wall coverings from a room’s
interior to coordinate; solar shade cloth has made the move from
office/corporate settings into home interiors with a range of fashion-forward
color options; and, of course, the window shadings category was
created when manufacturing engineers developed the ability to fuse
opaque polyester vanes to sheer polyester fabric. This alone changed
the window landscape permanently.
Newer slatted shades offer a softer version of horizontal blinds,
which morph into cellular shades. And note the return of the millennia-old
woven wood shades or the Chinese favorite bamboo shades. Bamboo
is the newest darling of the sustainable design field, as it is
remarkably adept at replenishing itself. There also are shades of
manufactured bamboo-look-alikes that can be handsome in some settings.
The key to evaluating aesthetic for shades is to determine first
the need for privacy then, second, the result of filtering. Is the
natural light strong or weak? If strong, then darker colors and
the effect created using bamboo or woven wood shades will serve
to lessen the solar impact in a room. Or consider a product that
can darken the room such as a shading device with a slat that can
rotate to close.
Consider the “natural” versus the “perfect”
products. Natural shades are those that lack predictability; they
are uneven in their slats and wood tones. The beauty is somewhat
mystical, ethereal, and the resulting light is soft and filtered.
Bamboo shades also give the occupant the satisfaction of selecting
products that promote green design. Do keep in mind the potential
need to supplement a bamboo-type shade with opaque draperies or
an opaque shade or panel beneath it for nighttime privacy and protection.
“Perfect” manufactured shades offer several decided advantages
such as an orderly, precise and predictable look and clean appearance.
They often are very easy to keep clean. They softly filter light
and, increasingly, offer light control and privacy options adjustable
to the time of day or night. They can be controlled with devices
such as tassel cords, continuous cord clutch mechanisms or remote
controls, thereby giving the user a feeling of being in control.
Remote control is especially important for those soaring, hard-to-reach
windows and for those who need ease of operation provided through
universal design. It also stands to reason that remote control of
shading devices is something we should expect in this age of technology.
Soft, manufactured shading products possess long-term durability,
as durable fibers such as polyester-based engineered products last
indefinitely even in harsh sunlight. Sheer-by-day products soften
a room and provide daytime privacy. Softly filtered light is a mood
enhancer and a way of making an interior more pleasant for all activities
that take place there.
Manufactured shades have an additional advantage of color palette
selection that is in keeping with color trends as forecast by the
Color Marketing Group and other color trend analysts (see page 26)
making window dressing a participant in the latest fashion directions.
Now, the latest innovation in soft shades is making changeable pleated
shades that are inserted between two panes of glass in a door or
window. While the idea of between-the-glass window treatments isn’t
new—horizontal blinds have been available for several years—one
manufacturer has made it so the homeowner can open the inside pane,
pop out the pleated shade and pop in a new one to change the color
or style as a room is refurnished or given a decorating or color
THE PERFECT BACKGROUND
All privacy shades have one very wonderful advantage: they are the
perfect background window treatment. Once the issues of UV light,
heat and sunlight control or diffusion and privacy/safety factors
are addressed, the stage is set for more elaborate overtreatments.
Draperies, valances or top treatments can be purely aesthetic, complementing
the beauty of the decorative fabrics, the passementerie trimmings,
the hardware and the decoration of the wall treatments. They make
no demands of the eye and are servants of the master—the person
who controls the cord.
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.