written by:
photos by:
April 24, 2009
Originally published in Time for a Change?
Shed Some Light

There’s no reason to treat your modern window with an outdated fashion. These shade designs will augment, not obstruct, your sensibilities.

Interior designer Katherine North sheds some light on window shades.
Interior designer Katherine North sheds some light on window shades.
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Interior designer Katherine North sheds some light on window shades.
Interior designer Katherine North sheds some light on window shades.

It seems we have all but forgotten that voyeurism was once considered deviant. Forget deviant, it’s hard to imagine a time when The Real World was a novel concept. We’ve made a national pastime out of creating new inane scenarios within which to compromise one another’s personal lives. But while television offers a plethora of “reality,” there’s still nothing better than the real thing. It’s fitting, then, that the semi-sheer roller shade has become a popular choice for many modern homes. This negligee of a window covering affords a daytime exterior view and a nighttime interior view that not only makes snooping more viable, but also blocks UV rays, reduces heat gain/loss, and cuts down on solar glare. While this may be ideal for creating a temperate interior environment, the shades’ PVC-riddled coating isn’t necessarily good for ours. Pleated cellular shades (also known as honeycomb shades) provide a similar, albeit more con-servative, light-filtering effect, but are fashioned from a nontoxic fabric whose cell structure offers superior energy-efficiency. Both shade types have enough customization options to rival a Starbucks latte, but wading through these choices can be daunting—especially when the differences between the products aren’t easily discernible.

To help us dissect this vast and variegated species, Dwell enlisted Katherine North, principal designer at Northbrook Design in San Francisco. Having worked as an interior designer for ten years, North understands when it’s best to use a 5 percent over a 10 percent opacity (the degree of openness in the mesh) and in which color. “Like a screen on a window,” she explains, “the darker the shade color, the clearer [the outside view] is”—and the easier it is to see inside at night. Lighter colors are aes-thetically desirable and better for temperature regulation and solar deflection, but create debilitating glare on television and computer screens.

North explains that choosing a reverse roll (rolls off the front) over a standard roll (rolls off the back) can be as simple as matching your window type. “If your window is double-hung or has protruding levers, you’d want a reverse roll, so the shade will have enough space to clear the window.” Most manufacturers offer an optional cassette, a metal or fabric-covered fascia that attaches to conceal the fabric roll. This feature, coupled with an inside mount, makes for a “cleaner look and less light leakage, and the standard continuous loop pulls are safer for kids.” Many manufacturers offer similar products, but it’s the simple variances in cloth and hard-ware that make a difference. North critiques each with a keen eye and a diplomatic tongue, a skill undoubtedly refined by years of gently suggesting sound design choices for decorating neophytes.

Note to our readers: The prices provided here are estimates. Each manufacturer sells through a number of distributors, whose prices will likely vary. We recommend shopping around before you buy.

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