Until recently, I didn’t pay much attention to window treatments. My dad, who builds houses, doesn’t care for them, so we always had bare windows growing up. When I set out on my own, moving from apartment to apartment, I adopted whatever shades or blinds came with the place. It felt silly to invest in a rental. It wasn’t until I found my current apartment that I was finally forced to pause. Plastic vertical blinds? Seriously?
They were hideous, dated and out of place. They jangled with every breeze, offered next to no privacy and made my home feel like a seedy motel. Even worse, they were cut to four inches below the windowsill, leaving drag marks on the wall. They haunted me.
After two months, my boyfriend and I caved and hired a local company to replace them with neutral roller shades that silently disappeared into discreet valances and cast a golden glow on our plants when the sun set. The total investment, $600 for three large windows, was well worth it. A few weeks later, our neighbors hired a handyman on TaskRabbit to switch out their blinds, too. We wondered why changing them hadn’t occurred to us earlier.
“It’s sad to say, but window treatments are an afterthought,” says Kim Kiner, vice president of textiles and material design for Hunter Douglas. “They’re the last thing people think about because they’re not considered a necessity. Appliances are necessities. Window treatments are seen as dressing.” The story changes when people are faced with a pressing need, such as nosy neighbors or irritating sunbeams, she said. “You don’t think about them until you have to think about them.”
Amy Smith, a designer with Decorview, a national company that specializes in window treatments, understands why these projects can be stressful. There are many options, measurements are tricky, and costs run the gamut. “But ignoring them is a missed opportunity,” she said. “They can make a world of difference.”
There are two paths to revamping your windows: ordering custom treatments or shopping retail. Designers recommend the former because it cuts down on the risk of error, but you can go the DIY route if you’re on a budget. Retailers such as Lowe’s, Home Depot and J.C. Penney offer free in-home consultations and measurement assistance, and companies that specialize in window coverings, such as Next Day Blinds, 3 Day Blinds and Decorview, offer design guidance and repairs, too. Tim Hamilton, director of merchandising for Lowe’s, said 75 percent of windows are dressed in stock treatments. “I think you’d be pleasantly surprised at what you can get at value-driven retailers.”
No matter what your budget is, it helps to go in with a plan.
First, decide whether you want blinds, shades, shutters or curtains. “The better question is: What do you want to achieve?” Smith says. “Do you want privacy, light control or aesthetics?” Ian Gibbs, co-founder of the Shade Store, says it’s equally important to consider the room’s core function (if you’re designing a nursery, try blackout shades to ease daytime naps, for example) and the surrounding area. If you belong to a homeowners association, white shutters or blinds might be required.
Once you’ve answered the preliminary questions, get familiar with your options. Note that you can expect to tack on between $25 to $100 per window for professional installation of most window coverings, depending on the company.
Blinds are generally the cheapest choice and are considered “hard” treatments because they’re made of metal or wood and arranged in slats. Stock vinyl and aluminum mini-blinds cost as little as $5 for a 2-by-4-foot window, making them a popular choice for rental apartments. But they don’t offer much in the way of style. “These are pure function,” said Jared Kelley, the blinds merchant for Home Depot in Atlanta. “They open, close and provide privacy.” He suggests upgrading to woven or faux wood blinds for a more architectural look.
Shades, or “soft” treatments, are a notch more expensive and made of fabric. Although they don’t allow for light-filtering adjustments like blinds, they come in varying levels of opacity. There are three main types of shades: roller, which pull down from a valance tube like wrapping paper; Roman, which cascade in elegant folds like drapery panels; and cellular or “honeycomb” shades, which are made of pleated chambers that trap air and provide insulation. The more layers, the more energy efficiency, Hamilton said, and solar cellular shades can save you up to 20 percent on your energy bill.
Vinyl roller shades can cost as little as $8 per window but typically range from $30 to $90, not including installation. Blackout options tend to be more expensive. Cellular and Roman shades cost about $50 to $100 per window.
Shutters are the priciest option and lend the appearance of custom woodwork. Smith had them installed in her Ashburn, Va., home three years ago and said they’re great for curb appeal. Kiner agrees, noting that buyers often get the benefit of the manufacturer’s lifetime limited warranty. It’s best to have shutters fitted to your windows, but there are affordable stock options available for about $100 for a 3-by-3-foot square window. Allen + Roth shutters at Lowe’s range from about $40 to more than $200.
Let’s face it: Curtain decisions can take guts. Fabric and pattern options can feel endless, and custom drapery panels often cost thousands of dollars. Ready-made curtains offer more warmth (and a lower price point) than hard window treatments, and measurements are relatively easy because you aren’t confined to the inside of the frame. Headings indicate how the top of the curtain is attached to the rod; pencil pleat and eyelet suit almost any style. Note that sunlight fades fabrics over time, so it’s smart to avoid rich-colored curtains in a bright room. And generally speaking, it’s best to have your curtains hover one inch above the floor. You may need to hem them to get the length just right. If you don’t have a sewing machine, try using fabric tape (there are plenty of tutorials online) or have them altered for about $15 per panel.
For a true budget option, check out Ikea, which sells curtains in pairs and often long lengths. For instance, a pair of cotton velvet Sanela curtains will run you $50 for 98-inch panels or $70 for 118-inch panels.
Before you make any decisions, spend some time browsing sites such as Pinterest and Houzz to familiarize yourself with each look, and take preliminary measurements. Hamilton says there’s no such thing as standard window sizes: “That’s an industry myth.”
And Kiner said the majority of windows aren’t even perfectly square. “Just yesterday I spoke with someone from our customer service department who said she’d just ordered new shades and got the measurements wrong,” she said. “This is someone who fields questions about that every day. When in doubt, call a professional. Better safe than sorry.”