by Cheryl Allen
Take a step back. Look at your windows and ask yourself: What do you see? It's a question that many consumers overlook when decorating, according to interior designers. And that's a shame, because window coverings are more important than ever, says Bruce Knott, director of communications for Grace McNamara Inc. in St. Paul, Minn., which produces the annual trade show, International Window Coverings Expo.
"Besides adding to the overall decor of the room, people are realizing that window coverings are 'green,' in that they help reduce heating costs or air-conditioning costs because of their insulating value," Knott says. It's important to consider design as well as function, says Cecelia Hardee, owner of Arranged by Design in Greenville, S.C. "Homes today have, on average, 40 windows-plus, whereas it used to be 15 or 20," Hardee says.
And in some cases, windows are entire walls. "People are wanting to have all this light coming in and wanting these great views." But planning is key. If you're building a new home, she says, plan window treatments during the construction phase. Many consumers "just throw blinds up because they don't know what else to do. That's a mistake."
But even if you're just redecorating your current home, you need to give window treatments some thought. "They're not just there for show. When it comes to window coverings, they want to think about privacy, light control or are they trying to preserve a view," Hardee says. "There's a lot of function out there in window coverings and a lot of options people never had before. So it doesn't have to be cookie cutter."
Exciting time for windows
The category of window coverings and treatments includes a growing variety of shutters, blinds, curtains, draperies, valances and shades. Over the years, it's become increasingly diverse in terms of styles, materials and fabrics. One of the biggest trends is the use of layered treatments, Knott says. "For many years, consumers just put up either draperies or a blind or a shade. Now they are doing both and adding trims and top treatments as well. It provides a unique, more personal look and adds more interest to the entire window."
"And the technology has grown to encompass specialty shades now for specialty shapes," Hardee adds. "You see homes with all of these architectural windows and two-story windows. You need to think about how you are going to open and close that shade.
"Now we have to have motorization to accommodate those windows ... and it's not so much a trend, as it is necessary now," she says. Technology is also allowing some manufacturers to produce products such as lift systems that allow consumers to raise a heavy wood blind easily or technically "smart" fabrics that help eliminate odors and prevent bacterial growth, Knott says. "That's still new. ... The future is exciting for our industry. There's more color available than ever. Some manufacturers offer custom colors for some products like shutters or wood blinds, so the consumer can match their painted walls or trims," he says. "Having said that, the best-selling color remains the white family."
As far as hard products go, wood remains king, Knott says. "Wood blinds and shutters are very popular because of their insulating value and the rich look they provide. Plus they can work with almost all decorating styles. In textiles, silks have been popular for several years and continue to be strong. However, polyesters are coming back with a new look - made to imitate silk, wool and other natural fibers and usually at a good price."
Window coverings and treatments comprise an area of home decor where people can get it really right or really wrong, Hardee says. "They will not budget for window coverings and they don't tend to approach it with as much thought and consideration as they do when they're building a home or when they're looking for the perfect home."