There's no shortage of choices in window shades! They run the gamut from no-frills, ready-made vinyl roller shades that sell for only a few dollars to handwoven, motorized Roman shades costing thousands of dollars. Although traditional shades that draw up or roll up in tidy or billowing folds are still very popular, high-tech styles continue to make inroads. These newer shades include types with an insulating honeycomb design, and ones made of sheers with fabric slats between that tilt like horizontal blinds.

Function is important in choosing a shade. Consider whether the shade is suitable for the window type and size. Decide whether you want filtered sun, a clear view, privacy, or room darkening, then test the fabric (ask for swatches) to see if it serves your purpose. For energy conservation, pick a shade that covers the entire window surface snugly with no gaps. If you need a shade that's wider than standard for that particular product and the supplier suggests overlapping or seaming, ask to see a sample before you purchase.

A shade should be neatly finished, with no frayed edges. If the shade is unlined, consider how it will look from the street. Be sure the operating mechanism works smoothly: the shade should remain level when you raise and lower it, and it should stay where you stop it. Various mechanisms include standard cords, continuous or looped cords, beaded chains, and battery-operated remote controls. For a shade positioned over a stairwell or other hard-to-reach area, a telescoping pole will allow you to hook onto the cord or onto a ring attached to the end of the cord and pull; automated operation is a costlier alternative.

Inquire about the warranty for a quality shade. Some professionally in-stalled shades are guaranteed to be free from defects for as long as you own them.

Pleated shades. Most draw up in 1-inch pleats, though larger and smaller sizes are also sold. Typically all-polyester, the shades come in many colors, textures, and fabric styles, including lace, antique satin, and faux marble. Some designs cater to kids.

Light options range from sheer to opaque. Some shades have two separate fabrics, one translucent and one opaque, with separate pull cords on the same shade so you can switch between the two. Other shades have a thin metallic backing to reflect damaging sunlight.

Attached to a metal headrail, pleated shades are usually pulled by a cord into a compact stack at the top of the window. For special situations, you can get shades that stack at the bottom or unfold from both the top and the bottom to meet in the middle. For side-by-side windows or sliding patio doors, more than one shade can be attached to the headrail and operated independently. Shades can also be custom-fitted to odd-shaped windows such as semicircles and angle-tops as well as skylights; for the latter, the shade runs on tracks and is crank-operated or motorized.

 

Cellular shades. These single-, double-, and triple-celled shades, with their honeycomb design, evolved from the plain pleated shade and are used in much the same way. Their main advantage is energy efficiency, since the pockets trap air. But don't expect a cellular shade to solve your energy problems if your window is drafty and you keep the shade raised or allow light gaps.

Pleat sizes range from 3⁄8 to 2 inches, and color and texture options are constantly increasing. Light choices range from sheer to opaque. Like plain pleated shades, some cellular ones have a dual-light option, switching from a translucent to an opaque material on the same shade. Also like pleateds, you can get ones that stack at the bottom or meet in the middle. Some cellular shades that stack at the top are cordless: you just push up or pull down on the bottom bar to move the shade.

In addition to being used in standard windows, cellular shades are often custom-fitted to angle-top, arched, and other odd-shaped windows. They can also be used in the same way as pleated shades in skylights. Though cellular shades are almost always set horizontally, they can be positioned vertically, as they sometimes are on sliding glass doors.

Roller shades. Used alone or in conjunction with other window treatments that are sheer or don't cover the entire window, roller shades provide privacy and block light when pulled down, but they are unobtrusive when rolled up.
If you want a reverse roll (the shade pulls down from the front of the roller), you must specify it. A reverse roll hides the roller and allows an inside-mount shade to sit flush with the window casing.

The operating mechanism is either a standard spring roller or a bead chain, which stops the shade in any position. A bead chain keeps the shade cleaner since you touch only the chain and not the fabric. The chain also makes it easy to raise and lower heavy or hard-to-reach shades.

Custom roller shades are usually made from cotton, linen, or other tightly woven fabrics. Much of their appeal rests in the choice of a decorative hem and shade pull.

Most stock shades are vinyl. Several companies offer inexpensive shades that you can easily size yourself to fit a window. Just slide the adjustable roller to your window's width, strip off excess shade material (tear along scoring in the vinyl), and press the material to the roller. Some brands are plain white, while others offer some choice in color and pattern.

 

Soft fabric shades. This category includes diverse shade styles. One type is the stagecoach, a custom shade that you roll up by hand and secure with ties. More common are ones that draw up with the aid of cords strung through rings on the back of the shade. With some, the pull cord locks the shade at the desired height; with others, you stop the shade by winding the cord around a cleat. These familiar kinds include Roman shades, which draw up into neat horizontal folds; Austrian shades (scalloped folds); and balloon and cloud shades (billows).

Many suppliers offer variations of these classic shade types―for example, shades with deep overlapping folds, with a single scallop at the bottom instead of several, or with a flat top and a poufed bottom.

Fabric shades from the companies that make pleated and cellular shades are another possibility. They work like Roman shades, with folds available in several sizes. Be aware that the headrail into which the shade disappears may be bulky and protrude from the window frame.

Woven shades. These shades consist of strips of wood (matchstick shades have very thin strips), natural fibers, reeds, or grasses. You can usually order an optional lining as well as a fabric edging.

Most shades in this category are Roman shades, though some roll up with a cord-and-pulley system.

Many of the Roman types require lots of stacking space, so be sure that there's enough room and that the stacked shade can clear the window glass.

When buying woven woods, look for straight-grained, smoothly cut strips; wood that was kiln-dried is warp resistant.

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