How to Pick the Right Window Treatments

Choosing the right blinds or shades for your home can be dauntingWhether you're looking for privacy, style, or both, it can be a daunting task to choose window treatments. Should you head to a specialty blind store, your local home center, or shop online? How formal should you go, or how sheer? And how come your stylish neighbors always seem to get it right? Carolyn Forté, Home Appliances & Textiles Director in the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, puts you on the right track.

"Windows are a great focal point in a room and blinds and shades should be both decorative and functional. Thankfully, we've come a long way from the days of hiding them behind basic mini blinds. Now you can dress up a room in hundreds of ways without making a major investment," says Forté.

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Here's what to consider before you buy to keep from getting blindsided.

First Things First

  • Light and privacy: How much do you want and need? Decide whether you want your room bright and airy or more "buttoned up" and cozy. Is your goal to block out light for snug sleep in the bedroom or hang a sheer fabric in your kitchen that lets the sun shine in over your farmhouse sink? Are the windows you're covering near the front door or facing the sunny side of the house? All of these factors will influence the styles and fabrics you choose.
  • Your budget: Are you outfitting just one window or the entire house? You may consider spending more on certain windows and scaling back on others. Window treatments are priced by size, so expect larger treatments to cost more. Custom sizes and specialty fabrics, patterns, and features also add to the cost.
  • How much time and effort you're willing to spend cleaning: Standard blinds can be cleaned at home, but are magnets for dust and need frequent attention. Shades in textured fabrics and weaves hide soil better and are best cared for with either vacuuming or professional cleaning.
  • Your decorating style: Is it formal or casual, comfortable or chic? Bold colors can be fun or dramatic. Subtle hues are perfect for a room decorated in neutral, earthy colors. Do you prefer corded styles or sleeker, streamlined cordless ones?
  • Safety Do you have young children in your household and a need for streamlined cordless blinds and shades?

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Blinds or Shades?

Are blinds or shades better for your home?Blinds are best if you want tiltable slats that can be adjusted to let the sun shine in (or not). They offer a handsome, clean-looking custom fit and plenty of privacy. Prices for blinds generally climb in this order: vinyl, aluminum, faux wood (or textured vinyl) and wood. Here's what to know about some types.

Wood blinds come in light and dark hues and polished or painted finishes - our GH line ranges from white Country Cottage to rich Peruvian Walnut - and they're perfect for offices and dens. They're not the best choice for kitchens or baths, where moisture could do damage (choose polymer or faux wood instead), or for bedrooms or living rooms where you want a softer, more romantic effect.

Insulating blinds help conserve energy and filter or block light, so they work hard for your money. Our GH branded selection of insulating blinds come in 15 colors, from Natural Linen to Sage.

When choosing blinds, keep in mind:

  • Wider horizontal slats create the illusion of bigger windows and more space in apartments and small rooms. Slats in the GH line range from 1 inch to 2 3/8 inches.
  • Vertical blinds work for windows that are wider than they are tall. They're an ideal pick for picture windows with a sweeping view or across sliding glass doors.

Upside: You don't have to put blinds at half-mast to let in light, as you do the with shades - the full length of the window pane can always be covered for a finished look, even when slats are open. Handy for bathrooms and bedrooms because you can leave blinds down for privacy but adjust as needed for light.

Downside: Blinds generally require more of a commitment to keep clean, because the slats attract dust and grime.

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Shades are the answer if you're looking for tremendous versatility and style. They provide more ways to create different looks and moods using texture, pattern, and fabric weight. Our Good Housekeeping line includes everything from sheer horizontal to energy-saving cellular to blackout roller shades and more, in either traditional bottom up or with top down designs for more light-entering options. Some standouts:

  • Woven wood (such as bamboo) offers full, natural-looking coverage. It works well in garden rooms and breakfast nooks, where you often need to filter out the sun to read the newspaper or see your iPad screen.
  • Tight weaves like twill or microsuede offer optimal privacy because they're opaque. These work well in bedrooms and bathrooms-and don't forget the guest room.
  • Roman shades have soft, wide pleats that fold flat when raised by a cord. These are lovely for the dining room, living room and family room. Balloon, where the fabric is gathered into billowy poufs-make a high-style statement and are a dressy touch for formal living rooms or sitting rooms.
  • Honeycomb, aka cell or cellular, are designed with horizontal rows of air pockets (like the tight, neat rows in a bee's honeycomb) which work to keep heat in during winter and out during the summer. These energy savers are a favorite for all around the house.
  • Blackout, with a room-darkening fabric, block out up to 100 percent of light (they cost more than conventional styles) are ideal for bedrooms, home theaters, and media rooms.
  • Solar are made from a sheer weave that offers protection from harmful UV rays but don't completely block your view. They are a good option for sunrooms, kids' rooms, dining areas, and light-drenched offices.

Upside: Shades are a versatile way to easily refresh any room and can lend a warmer, softer look than blinds.

Downside: To keep them fresh and clean, you'll need to hand-wash vinyl shades. Fabric shades (especially if they're a light color) should be vacuumed with a hand tool regularly and either spot-cleaned or sent out for professional cleaning.

Related: 7 DIY Painting Tips

Be mindful of safety features Safety Features

"There's an important push to get manufacturers to make blinds and shades safer, since the cords are hazardous for small children," says Carolyn Forté of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. First line of defense: Don't use corded window treatments or leave cords dangling within reach of curious little hands. Good Housekeeping's new branded line of blinds and shades was carefully designed with an eye on child safety. "We've included cordless options, and special safety mechanisms for continuous loop and traditional pull-cord styles," says Forté. "These products also carry our Good Housekeeping Seal." GH engineers and textiles experts reviewed the line, and if any style becomes defective within two years of purchase, the product will be repaired or replaced, or your purchase price will be refunded. Visit goodhousekeepingblindsandshades.com to window-shop.

How to Measure

Knowing the sizes of the windows you want to cover will help you choose more wisely. "You should measure exactly where you want the blind or shade to be," says Forté. So if an inside-mount blind will stop at the frame, so should your measuring tape. For outside-mounted styles, include the window frame in your measurements. When ordering online, consider calling the site's customer service representative to confirm that you have measured correctly. We also like this helpful how-to-measure guide from blindschalet.com.

What type of window treatments do you like most? Let me know in the comments!

-by Alice Hurley

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