My accommodations in architecture school came with windows but no window treatments. Living on a student budget, I did nothing, a solution that suited me just fine—the purist in me strongly believed that windows should be allowed to do their job of letting light in unfettered by the messiness of curtains or the clutter of Venetian blinds. And then one day a friend pointed out that while I may be comfortable exposing myself for the sake of architecture, those with a view into my room at night might not feel the same way. The owner of the local hardware store suggested roller blinds. I installed them myself—my first DIY—and have been committed to their simple effectiveness ever since. Read on to see why roller blinds have been my one and only window treatment everywhere I've lived.
What is a roller blind?
A roller blind is a rectangular swath of material attached to a wooden dowel or metal tube, and mounted between two brackets. A chain pulley system or a spring mechanism rolls the fabric up and down. Automated roller blinds are available, but automation seems to unnecessarily complicate things. That said, hanging cords and loops present a bona fide hazard in house's with young kids; read this New York Times report on the subject before selecting the right model for you.
Above: The Ikea Enje Roller Blind filters light and reduces glare on computers and televisions; it's available in a variety of sizes. The Enje Roller Blind UK comes with a pulley cord and is priced at £14 to £22, while the Enje Roller Blind US comes cordless for increased child safety, $17.99 to $34.99.
Why are roller blinds my favorite window treatment?
I like for the dimensions of my windows to be fully exposed, and in their open position, roller blinds disappear in a way that curtains, shutters, Venetian blinds, and Roman shades never do. And when I have to lower them, roller blinds have a visual consistency that allows them to become part of the architecture as opposed to an added layer of decoration. Though, conversely, curtains can add a grandeur that shades lack, and they can keep out drafts.
Above: Simple roller blinds in a white setting become part of the architecture. In a room with a series of same-size windows, roller blinds lined up at the same height appeal to those of us who appreciate precision. Image via DBA Blinds.
How much light can roller blinds let in or block out?
There are scores of roller blind fabric options, from sheer to opaque, to provide the degree of control you're after. In our house in London, we wanted two extremes: to let in as much light in as possible during the day but to black out all early morning light. We needed blinds on all our windows because on the street front we have a privacy issue, and throughout the windows cause computer glare. For visual consistency, we chose the same sheer fabric for all windows, and our solution in the bedrooms was to install a double roller blind with sheer fabric on one roller and a blackout shade on the other.
Above: Double roller blinds are used to cover a wall of windows: During the day, sheer blinds filter and diffuse the light coming in, while blackout blinds keep the room dark at night. Image via Ati Shutters and Blinds.
Above: On a double roller blind, two rollers can accommodate two different fabrics, allowing sheer and blackout options. Image via Sunlight.
What type of settings do roller blinds work well in?
In their simplicity, roller blinds have a neutral appearance and go with all styles of decor, from traditional to contemporary. They can be mounted a number of ways: in between the window frames (but beware that some light may leak in from the sides), in front of the window frames, or even from the ceiling. The mounting options, of course, depend on your existing conditions. When roller blinds are mounted between the frames, the windows stand out; if they're mounted in front of the window frames, they typically mask the frames; and a ceiling mount can make a room feel taller.
Above: The roller blinds have been mounted to the underside of these traditional wooden window frames; when rolled up, the shades form a barely noticeable horizontal line. Image via Solid Frog.
Above: This modern setting has a roller blind that's been mounted to roll down and fully cover the window and its frame. Image via Slijkhuis-Interieur.
Do roller blinds require upkeep?
It's recommended that roller blinds be cleaned once a year (curtains, because they harbor dust mites, require more frequent cleaning—three to four times a year depending on how prone your family is to allergies). Cleaning roller blinds is relatively straightforward: Remove them from their brackets, roll them out on the floor, and towel them off with a mild cleaning solution. Curtains, on the other hand, need to be dismantled, washed, and pressed—or dry-cleaned—and then remounted. In my time-pressed schedule, maintaining roller blinds doesn't fill me with nearly dread that cleaning curtains does, increasing the likelihood that it may happen.
Above: The process of cleaning each individual blade of a Venetian blind rules them out for me. Image via The Blinds Review.
How much do roller blinds cost and where can I get them?
Roller blinds come in a wide range of sizes and prices, from ready-made versions you install yourself to designs that are made to measure. At Home Depot, a Bali Cut-to-Size White Light Filtering Vinyl Roller Shade costs 50 cents a square foot, while made-to-measure roller blinds from Levolor, The Shade Store, and Smith & Noble cost around $9 to $15 a square foot, depending on fabric and accessories. The Shade Store offers trained installers who will come to your house to measure and later hang your shades at an additional cost—Margot tried this and was happy with the results. Well-known brands such as Levolor and Hunter Douglas may be ordered online or through window covering specialists in your area. In the Bay Area, Julie uses Burris Window Shades.
Roller Shade Recap
- A clean look that becomes part of the architecture.
- More cost-effective than curtains.
- Easier to clean and maintain than other window treatments.
- Roller blinds with cords present a safety hazard for young kids.
- Not as effective as curtains at keeping out drafts.
- When installed between window frames, a bit of light seeps in through the tiny gap between the blind and the frame.
- Less formal or elegant than curtains.
For more window treatment ideas, see Five Ways to Cover 50 Windows on a Budget. And, on Gardenista, learn The Secret Ingredient to Make Windows Shine Bright Like a Diamond. Contemplating a remodel? Have a look at all of our Remodeling 101 posts.
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on March 6, 2014, as part of our Velvet Underground issue.