The profession of interior design is divided into two major categories: residential (homes) design and contract (or commercial) design. Contract design is invariably also divided into specialties. A specialty is an emphasis or category of contract design where all projects are related to one type of design work. Specialties have become imperative in light of all the codes, rules, regulations and details that pertain to one area of work—it’s so much information that any one designer or design firm must, of necessity, become expert in that area and may have difficulty in crossing the boundaries.
In the field of window treatments, however, crossover not only may be possible, but very lucrative and satisfying. This is because parameters of contract window treatments within the specialties have much in common. For those considering entering or increasing work in the contract marketplace, here are some key things to understand. Contract specialties include the following:
• Office design deals with corporate spaces on a large scale, medium-sized businesses offices (and sometimes manufacturing or warehousing facilities) and owner or tenant occupied spaces on a small scale.
Offices are places of business where people interact and also where people work solo in rooms or cubicles. Often, businesses deal with various management tasks and much of this is done on computers, as more businesses seek paperless offices. The ergonomics, or relationships of people to furnishings, is a high priority in office design. Helping office workers become as productive as possible means minimizing distractions. Distractions include too much visual stimulus (too many things and people in the line of sight), too much noise, too much light and glare, and variations in temperature, for example.
Although some offices are open office planning where all workers can interact or participate on projects together, or where managers can supervise many employees at once by surveillance and/or interaction, other offices are planned as stations where some walled separation of workers increases productivity by keeping them on task. Window treatments should address these needs.
The overall need of daylighting is a factor in making office work more desirable. This means that natural light and perhaps a view give employees a better attitude. However, windows without either window film, blinds, shades or casement draperies often produce unwanted glare and may actually decrease efficiency and diminish a positive outlook at work. This will be discussed below.
In addition to office workstations, there are other office areas that have similar needs to those in hospitality design—that is, the reception area where clients and customers are welcomed to the office and where a certain image that reflects the mission or goals of the company is evident.
• Hospitality design is a very large sector of contract design that includes hotels, restaurants, entertainment facilities, and even cruise ships! Each of these areas will have specifications that may differ a bit from one another.
For example, hotel rooms typically have sheer under-draperies and hand-drawn flame resistant over-draperies lined with blackout lining. Restaurants often require durable shading products and, often, creative top treatments that enhance the theme or décor. Cruise ships need anchored (literally), practical treatments. All window coverings must meet flammability codes and be durable for multiple users.
• Health care design includes hospitals, clinics, hospice and extended care facilities. Window treatments for these facilities may be layered such as using a blind or shade that can be easily cleaned to keep them free of dust and microorganisms.
Fabric also is often used in health care design to cheer, soften and humanize the environment. Single-pleat, hand-drawn draperies that match or coordinate with the cubicle curtains usually found in the room are often preferred. These fabric panels may be a soft, cheery color and pattern to encourage a happier outlook that in turn improves the healing process. Textiles and products that are impervious to microorganism growth is a must, as well as contract fabric that is flame resistant.
• Retail design is another broad category of contract design. It entails all retail establishments from chain store design to independent stores and boutiques. Where windows are used for display, window film is a first consideration so products will not fade in the sun or sustain damage while still allowing full view of these items.
The window view inside may have very different requirements. Some boutiques are enhanced by window treatments that soften and encourage a particular theme. This can be a creative endeavor.
• Institutional design includes correctional facilities and educational facilities. These will largely require hard or alternative treatments that can withstand use and abuse from users of many ages and states of temperament. The treatments will need to be durable and not easily damaged. Flammability control is a key issue, as well.
All contract design window projects have a few items in common. These include:
• Budget—always a first parameter in contract settings. It is common for the lowest bid to win an open-award situation. This means that for multiple windows, a factory sales rep will need to set up contract pricing for larger orders. Where the bid is open to any product, some price shopping on the part of the professional is very wise. Where the product is specified by the architect, then a particular brand will be the only choice, which means working with the rep or the factory is even more important.
It also is possible that the product will not be paid for in a timely manner, meaning that the window treatment professional may be out the funding for more than a month. Some professionals arrange for a line of credit with their financial institutions to accommodate the uncertainty of installation timing and consequent billing and collection of funds. Whatever interest is charged becomes a part of this transaction and needs to be factored into the profit margin so that there is a profit at the end. The profit margins in contract design are usually much smaller, although the quantity of the products usually makes up for the difference.
Be certain to look at all the variables that might eat up profit. The last thing anyone wants is to not make money off a large job—or worse yet, lose money because of errors or miscommunication. Be very thorough in coming to an understanding of the budgetary parameters.
• Glare Control at the windows is integral to contract settings, all projects deal with the need for glare control. There are three types of glare:
1. Direct glare is excessive illumination directly in the field of vision. This is corrected through screening window treatments such as shades, blinds, casement draperies and solar screens and solar window film.
2. Reflecting glare is where excessive light bounces off a shiny or reflective surface. Fatigue accompanies relentless reflecting glare. Repositioning the reflective object and screening the source of light are the two measures to be considered here.
3. Veiling glare occurs when light hits a shiny surface or object, then the reflection of that object veils the task at hand. A common problem is the window or light fixture reflecting into the computer screen and we see that object rather than what is on the screen. Repositioning and screening the window glare both assist the elimination of veiling glare.
• Safety is a multifaceted subject. Personal safety entails privacy against unwanted intrusion. This is also psychological and is further discussed below. Safety against disaster from storms and wind also can be controlled. In high-rise buildings, the windows may be especially made to resist impact, or be treated with a performance film made of polyester and metallized coatings. In the latter case, if the glass shatters most of the fragments stay in place, drastically reducing damage and injury from broken glass.
• Durability and Multiple Users are important where window treatments are operable. Blinds, shades, solar screens and draperies used by multiple users must be user friendly and not easily damaged or broken. Features such as wand-draw for opening and closing draperies and cordless hand-operated cellular shades and blinds are examples of products that are less likely to be damaged by people who are less likely to know how to properly operate cords and draw systems.
• View and Clarity Preservation are criteria for nearly all contract design projects. A most effective treatment is first window film and, second, the selection of a privacy or a decorative treatment that will be easily operable. Another plus of window film is that where view and clarity of vision is critical, interior furnishings will be largely undamaged by heat and UV light, thus allowing the glass to be uncovered by other treatments when desired.
SOME UNCOMMON GROUND
There are two conditions where not all contract design will have the same or similar requirements. These are:
• Light Control is evident wherever there are tasks that will be impeded by excessive light. Glare may or may not be a part of controlling the light. For example, light control is a must for those in hospitality interiors who plan to sleep during daylight hours. In offices, there may be a need to lower the quantity of light so visual comfort in working at a computer screen is accomplished. As a boon to controlling light, glare is also controlled.
• Privacy is a concern for hospitality/ hotels, health care facilities, and some office settings where the person needs to feel safe and secure against intrusion. Privacy is likely not an issue in retail.
Privacy is a psychological issue—a person feels violated and vulnerable when he or she believes that some voyeur can see them at will. This situation also allows unscrupulous individuals the opportunity to plan break-ins for theft or personal injury. Keep in mind that if such a situation arises, the window treatment professional who fails to provide a privacy treatment may face a civil tort where harm was done because of negligence. It is wise to take this counsel seriously, as we do live in a highly litigious society.
A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Contract window coverings can be a satisfying and rewarding career. Education in matters such as those mentioned here is a prerequisite to entering the field.
Ask questions of and be willing to learn from the experiences of the sales reps and specialists within the contract departments of your suppliers. Become involved in your own community to learn which projects are up for bids and consider joining local organizations that will help to keep you abreast of new developments and potential remodeling projects.
In this way, you can become a vital part of your own community and potentially reach out beyond the community to work on projects in other areas.
Karla 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.