A Beginner’s Guide to Window Treatments

Imagine a window that is just glass. Pretty naked, right? But humans have an innate need to decorate things. And so they invented window treatments.

What exactly is a window treatment? Granted, it’s a bit of a decorator’s language that isn’t used much outside of interior design circles. But even if you don’t know the term, you probably know examples – blinds, blinds, curtains or shutters.

It’s a varied list, and there are also endless variations within each category. Often the options can seem overwhelming. So here’s a beginner’s guide: an overview of the different types of window treatments, what they do, and what to consider when deciding what will work in your home.

Types of window treatments

Technically, a window treatment is any decorative or functional item that you hang, secure, or place on or around your window. Decorating and design professionals generally divide window treatments into two types: hard and soft, depending on the material they are made of.

Harsh Window Treatments

Bill Oxford/Getty Images

As the name suggests, rigid window treatments – aka “window furniture” – are made of durable materials. In the beginning there was wood; these days, there are also vinyl, synthetic, and even metal options.

The two basic styles of rigid window treatments are:

  • Blinds, a series of hard slats or louvers (usually horizontal, but sometimes vertical) connected by cords or a “ribbon” of fabric that allow them to tilt – i.e. to open up or down close – to varying degrees. Additionally, the blinds themselves can be raised or lowered.
  • Shutters, essentially a pair of slatted doors which are fitted into the window frame with hinges which allow them to be opened and closed; in some elaborate cases, they come in several sections, which fold up and stack flush with the wall, like an accordion.

Soft Window Treatments

An airy room with a flowing curtain

Soft window treatments are made of fabric; so if hard treatments are furniture for the window, they could be considered clothing for the window. They also fall into two main styles:

  • Curtains or drapes are panels of fabric, hung from a rod, that run the full length of the window – or, in the case of cafe curtains – the top or bottom half of it. People often use the terms interchangeably, but technically curtains are heavier and thicker than curtains and are lined. The two, however, usually come in pairs and sweep horizontally across the window.
  • shades are made from one long piece of material and either wrap around rollers or fold like an accordion. They work similarly to blinds, raising or lowering to expose the window.

You sometimes see blinds classified as hard window treatments, due to the substance they are made of. or for example, cellular shades are composed of three-dimensional geometric cellular air pockets made from insulated synthetic materials. Then there are shades made from woven woods like bamboo or grasses (an ancient technique in Asia, though relatively new in the West). Technological advancements have blurred the lines between hard and soft.

Decorative Window Treatments

The main types of window treatments are intended to cover or expose the glass. But some styles stay in place above the window and are purely decorative (although they often serve to hide hardware).

  • Valances are garlands of fabric suspended around the top and top sides of a window frame.
  • Cornices are hollow box-like structures that are mounted on top of the window frame.

Again, due to the materials they are made of, valances are classified as “soft” treatments and cornices as “hard”, although both can work with blinds, shades, draperies and curtains.

What’s new in window treatments?

Window treatments have been around almost as long as windows themselves – there is evidence that the Egyptians were using curtains around 3100 BC. Slatted blinds have been around since the 18th century.

This does not mean that there have not been innovations, in particular:

Treatment Features
Honeycomb / Cellular Shades made from multiple layers of insulating material, with an open air pocket between them; from the side they look like a row of hexagonal cells or a honeycomb. Very energy efficient, they block light, heat and UV rays.
Solar blinds made of a coated material that blocks light. They also reduce glare, protect against harmful UV rays and prevent fading from the sun.
Wireless blinds and shades drop the ropes; instead, they are raised and lowered up or down to the touch.
Smart shades and blinds motorized and controllable remotely, via an app or home Wi-Fi. Their AI and sensors allow them to operate on a schedule or in response to changes in weather, temperature or movement.

Which window treatments cost the most?

The cost of window treatments varies greatly depending on style, technology, material and whether they are standard or custom. Here is a breakdown of the average costs of basic window treatment types. (All prices are courtesy of HomeAdvisor).

Blinds

Blinds are generally the most affordable. The average cost to purchase and install blinds is between $210 and $1,250 per set.

shades

Blinds are a little more expensive than blinds, but they are still a good option for those on a budget. The average cost of blinds is $200 to $4,800 per window.

Shutters

Shutters have a wide range: as low as $100 or as high as $8,600 per window. Installation takes longer, so labor costs are higher.

Curtains/Draperies

Curtains are the most expensive type of window treatment, as they often have to be custom measured and fitted. The average cost of curtains ranges from $250 to $1,500 per panel, plus up to $350 per rod.

How to Choose the Right Window Treatment

Obviously, the options are endless. Here are some of the most popular considerations for window treatments.

Budget

Different treatments have different prices (see above). In general, personalized or bespoke treatments will cost significantly more than standard or off-the-shelf treatments.

Specifically, you’ll want to consider any additional hardware or materials that might be needed for processing. For example, if you need to build a track for your curtains, there will be a cost associated with that.

Plus, if you want automated or smart windows, you’ll pay a premium – up to double or triple the cost of the conventional manual variety.

Feature

Window treatments serve three main purposes: to provide privacy, to keep light out, and to add warmth by preventing heat from escaping your home. Blinds and shutters offer the most light control options, as their louvers can be adjusted (unlike curtains and blinds, which don’t open or close). If energy efficiency is important, consider paying more upfront for cell or solar treatments.

Style

Since each type of window treatment has endless varieties, generalizations are tricky. Overall, though, shades and shades tend to have a sleeker, cleaner look – more fitted, some feel, with open layouts and minimalist modern decor. On the other hand, curtains and hangings have a softening effect; when drawn, they tend to make a room look smaller, cozier – and somewhat fussy and old-fashioned in some eyes. That said, there are sheer, gauzy curtains that look quite contemporary, and poofy patterned shades that look quite traditional.

As for shutters, they tend to give off a rustic or historic vibe. But different woods and finishes can make a big difference, and overall they provide a unique, custom look.

You don’t have to choose between hard and soft treatments either. It is not uncommon for a window to have both blinds and curtains, for example.

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