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How to Choose the Right Window Treatments for Your Home

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For many homeowners, window treatments are almost an afterthought. After designing a room, picking paint, adding furniture, and hanging up your family photos and artwork, you realize you need to do something with your windows. But interior designers warn that windows should be part of your plan from the very start, as they can impact the feel of a room. However you choose to decorate your windows, you’ll need to consider both function and style, as well as the unique needs of your family and the particular space. There is no one perfect window treatment any more than there is one perfect outfit or haircut. The trick to choosing the right window treatments is making a decision that serves your needs, expresses your style, and fits your space.

A Review of Window Treatment Terms

If you’re just starting out on your window treatment journey, you may be confused about all the terminology. In everyday conversation, we often swap out terms like drapes, curtains, blinds, and shades. But if you’re purchasing window treatments, you need to know the precise meaning of each term so you can understand your options and express what you want.

Drapes

The most dramatic window treatments are drapes. These are floor-length fabric panels, usually with a backing. They hang on a rod in one of a few styles. The most common way drapes hang is by passing the rod through a built-in pocket at the top of the drapes. Another option is to use hoops that hang on the rod and clip to the drapes, similar to how a shower curtain hangs. Some drapes have holes in the top that are meant to be pleated as a rod runs through them. Another dramatic style that shows off the rod is drapes with tabs at the top built as pockets for the rod to pass through.

Curtains

Curtains are the down-to-earth, easy-going cousins of drapes. They are typically made of thinner material than drapes and hang to just below the window sill. Some curtains are made of heavier material or incorporate a backing for better light blocking. They hand on a rod similar to drapes, and many have any of the same hanging mechanisms as draped.

Shades

Shades are not the same thing as curtains and drapes. The confusion often comes from the fact that shades, like curtains and drapes, are typically made of fabric. But the major difference is the way they open. Both curtains and drapes open by pulling to the side, but shades open upward with a mechanism, often a cord, that lifts the fabric out of the way. Some shades roll up around a rod, while others bunch together in neat pleats as they rise. Curtains that wrap around a rod or roller sometimes have no lifting mechanism, but instead, work by springing upward and rolling automatically when tugged down quickly. This is especially common with vinyl blackout shades.

Blinds

What makes blinds unique is that they are not made of a sheet of fabric but instead made of individual slats of hard material, unusually plastic, metal, or wood. The slats are held together with a cord and, like shades, have a mechanism to lift them.

How to Choose the Right Window Treatments for Your Home [infographic]

Choosing Drapes and Curtains

When you choose drapes or curtains, the main difference is the length. Many designers prefer drapes because they provide a more dramatic look and accentuate the height of a room. However, there are some reasons you might want to opt for curtains instead of drapes.

In some rooms, full-length drapes would get in the way. For example, a playroom is much better suited to curtains than drapes. Drapes get in the way of active play space and run the risk of children pulling and damaging the drapes. Kitchens are another space that shouldn’t get drapes. Dress up kitchen windows with curtains for a casual, fun look without the mess of drapes touching the floor.

On that note, there are a few possible lengths for drapes. Some drapes barely reach the floor. For a more dramatic look, some drapes pool slightly on the floor, while others go big and have a deep pool of fabric on the floor. While a large pool of material at the base of the drapes can create a glamorous, luxurious look, know that you will have to wash those drapes somewhat regularly. So before you opt for those luxurious extra long velvet drapes, consider whether you are ready to take them down and haul them to the dry cleaner two to four times a year.

One common technique to add more interest and more options to drapes is laying two sets of drapes. Using a double rod, one outer drape hangs closer to the room, while an inner drape hangs closer to the window. The most common approach is to add a sheer drape behind a thicker, more decorative one. Adding the sheer drape allows for some privacy while still letting in plenty of light. It also creates depth and texture.

Choosing Shades and Blinds

Shades and blinds are both excellent choices for any area where you want to block out the window completely. That’s why they are so common in bedrooms. But they can also work well for any area you would like to be able to darken, like a living room where you watch movies. Typically, blinds look best on smaller windows, while shades can cover larger areas. One exception is vertical blinds, which are often useful for very large windows or sliding glass doors.

Types of Shades

Shades come in two general styles. The first style is roller shades. Roller shades have a large roller at the top of the window, and as the shade lifts, it is wrapped around the roller. The other style, or broad category of styles, is shades that bunch up as they lift. This category includes roman shades, pleated shades, cellular shades, and others.

Roller Shades

Roller shades can be made of fabric or vinyl. Fabric roller shades are a great option to areas with large windows where you really want to make an impression. When roller shades are pulled down, the fabric hangs flat against the window. Traditionally, roller shades come in neutral colors. But more designers are giving these simple window treatments a facelift with brightly patterned fabrics that add a burst of color to a room.

Vinyl roller shades are usually reserved for blackout shades. A well-fitted vinyl shade can blacken a room in the middle of a sunny day. While some vinyl roller shades come in standard sizes, many windows require custom-made sizes, which can drive up the cost.

Non-Rolling Shades

Roman shades are made of fabric that folds into large pleats as it is raised. These shades are great for showing off fun patterns or pop of color. They are also a useful middle ground between drapes and shades because they combine the softness of gently folding fabric with the convenience and functionality of shades.

Pleated shades are often made of fabric or even thick paper. As they are lifted, the fabric folds into tight pleats, piling up and essentially disappearing. A newer style of pleated shade is build so that there is no mechanism for lifting them, like a string or rod. Instead, as the shade is raised or lowered, it simply stays in place. If you can purchase them in a standard size, these shades are often quite cost-effective, and they can be installed with simple adhesive. If you have to order custom sizes, the price will increase significantly. However, pleated shades without a lifting mechanism remain an excellent option for parents of young children, since handing strings can be a strangulation hazard for young children.

Cellular shades look very similar to pleated shades but are built in a honeycomb pattern to trap a layer of air inside them. This layer can help insulate a window from the heat or cold outdoors.

Where to Find the Best Window Treatments

A simple rod and curtain may be easy enough for a DIY project. But blinds and other more complicated window treatments are best left to the professionals. Many big box home improvement stores offer to install the window treatments they sell. However, most stores don’t actually employ the people who install their window treatments. Instead, they contract out to installers who may or may not do a good job. And if something goes wrong, dealing with a big box store can be tough, since there’s really no one in charge who you can get in touch with, as we’ve seen in some previous TrustDALE investigations. So before you get involved with a random subcontractor or blindly pick an installer online or out of the yellow pages, take a look at these TrustDALE certified window treatment specialists. You’ll be glad you did.