By: Virginia White

In ancient Roman times, the Romans hung fabrics over their windows to help keep the dust that was continually kicked up by all the horse, chariot and foot traffic from entering their homes.  Hence the term Roman Shades.  Venetians (blinds) may have originated in Persia as far back as 452AD and were brought to Europe via Venice sometime in the early 1700’s. Drapery’s date even further back. Originally these were made from hide, they were used to cover a doorway to keep the elements, such as cold and heat from entering. Shutters have a long history of covering windows, dating back 500 years or more, they were originally designed for the inside of a home.  Glass was expensive and usually only the wealthy could afford to have windows covered in glass.

Over time these terms have become synonymous and interchangeable with anything that covers a window. Today there are many types of window treatments.  They generally fall into 4 categories, blinds, shades, shutters and draperies.

Blinds typically are made of aluminum, wood or faux (pro-nounced foe) wood, composite material and fabric.  Blinds can be horizontal or vertical.  Many times these are referred to as venetians.  Horizontal blinds are slatted and have two sets of controls. A wand or cords on one side, allow the user to tilt the slats for light control while cords on the other side are used to lift the blind up in the window.  Blinds are best installed inside the window opening, left fully extended and by tilting the slats makes them perfect for controlling light, while still allowing some visibility. 

Shades have various configurations.  There are Roman Shades, Roller Shades, Cellular or Honeycomb Shades and Pleated Shades.  Roman shades have a long history and many styles to choose from.  They can be very streamlined or very decorative with trim and tassels.  Shades are usually made from fabrics but Roman shades can also be made from natural woven materials, such as grasses, reeds, bamboo, or hemp that can be woven together to form a ‘fabric.’  These natural or woven shades can be lined for extra privacy or light control and typically operate with a cord that raises or lowers the shade.   

Cellular and pleated shades are similar in that they are made from bonded fabrics that are stiffened and bonded together to form pleats or honeycomb style cells.  Pleated shades are usually made of one fabric and the operating cords can be viewed running through the pleats.  Cellular shades are made by bonding two or three fabrics and pleated together.  The cord controls on these shades are usually hidden in between the fabric and are not seen.  The control cord on both of these style shades is typically on the right side and is used to lower and raise the shade.  The style of the cellular shade is helpful in providing a barrier that reduces the transfer of heat and cold through the window. 

Roller Shades were developed in Scotland in the early 1700’s using light linen.  They were rolled around a wooden rod that was affixed in the window and the fabric was unfurled to rest the on the window sill when closed.  To secure the fabric, a cord was pulled, wrapped around the fabric and then secured using a cleat that was affixed to the wall.  These were called Scotch Holland Shades and were still manufactured using this technique until the 1980’s.  Spring rollers were introduced in the United States in the 1800’s and originally manufactured in New York.  Spring roller shades are still very popular today, and have multiple fabrics and colors to choose from.  They are controlled by easily pulling and then retracting so the fabric rolls up onto the rod.  Roller shades are streamlined, contemporary, and have many fabric choices.  They can also be mounted on an aluminum tube that can be affixed with a clutch and looped cord or chain that offers ease of operation and control by continual loop. 

Draperies have been used for centuries either in doorways, window openings, around beds and as room partitions.  They offer privacy, light control, temperature control and have become a decorative statement for any room.  Draperies are made from hundreds of thousands of different types of fabric and have hundreds of styles.  Drapes are suspended from rods mounted either on the wall with projections or from ceilings.  They can be traversing, (traveling), or stationary.  Draperies differ from blinds or shades in that they move side to side instead of up or down.  The fabric can be moved fully in only one direction or split and moved in either direction.  Traversing rods are typically used to move draperies by use of pull cords mounted either left or right or both for opening and closing the panels.  Lighter weight fabric drapes can be suspended on a fixed rod by rings or grommets and pulled either by hand or with long drapery wands.  Draperies can be simple panels, highly decorative fabrics, lined or unlined, and with a multitude of top treatments for adding height, interior interest, light and temperature control, and defining spaces.  They can be considered the outer cover of your window dressing.

Today, shutters are considered a “fixed” window covering.  Most shutters are left closed in the window, much like a door, and only the louvers are moved to control light. Shutters are usually made from wood and can be painted or stained.   There are composite or vinyl shutters available on the market today and basically operate like the wood ones. The louvers can be tilted by use of a tilt rod mounted to the front, the side or the back of the louvers. Shutters are usually mounted on frames and screwed into the casing around windows.  They have different louver sizes, ranging from 1 inch to 5 inches.  Large windows usually look better with larger louvers while small windows are best with smaller louvers.  Shutters are considered a home improvement and can add value to your home.

Many of the types of window treatments you see today have been in use for hundreds of years.  Even today the original engineering principles guide the different typed of window coverings.  New specialty versions have been introduced but the basics have remained the same.