My living accommodations in architecture school came with windows, but no window treatments. On a student budget, I did nothing, a solution which suited me just fine—the purist in me strongly believed that windows should be allowed to do their job of letting light in unfettered by the messiness of curtains or the clutter of Venetian blinds. And then one day a friend pointed out that while I may be comfortable exposing myself for the sake of architecture, those with a view into my room at night might not feel the same way. The owner of the local hardware store suggested roller blinds. I installed them myself—my first DIY—and have been committed to their simple effectiveness ever since. Read on to see why roller blinds have been my one and only window treatment everywhere I’ve lived.
What is a roller blind?
A roller blind is comprised of a rectangular swath of material (it can vary from attached to an aluminum tube and mounted between two brackets. A chain pulley system or a spring mechanism rolls the fabric up or down, depending on where you want it. Automated roller blinds are available, but in my opinion automation seems to unnecessarily complicate things. That said, hanging cords and loops present a bonafide hazard in house’s with young kids; read the New York Times’ report on the subject before selecting the right model for you.
Above: The Ikea Enje Roller Blind filters light and reduces glare on computers and televisions; it’s available in a variety of sizes. The Enje Roller Blind UK comes with a pulley cord and is priced at £14 to £22, while the Enje Roller Blind US comes cordless for increased child safety, $17.99 to $34.99.
Why are roller blinds my favorite window treatment?
I like the dimensions of my windows to be fully exposed, and in their open position, roller blinds disappear in a way that curtains, shutters, Venetian blinds, and Roman shades never do. And when I have to lower them, roller blinds have a visual consistency that allows them to become part of the architecture as opposed to an added layer of decoration (though, conversely, curtains can add a grandeur that shades lack. They can also keep out drafts).
Above: Simple roller blinds in a white setting become part of the architecture of a room. In a room with a series of same-sized windows, roller blinds lined up at the same height appeal to those of us who appreciate precision. Image via DBA Blinds.
How much light can roller blinds let in or block out?
Whatever your reasons for needing window shades, there are many fabric options from sheer to opaque to give you the degree of control you’re after. In our house in London, we wanted two extremes: we are inclined to let in as much light in as possible during the day, and yet when we sleep, we want to be able to black out all early morning light. We needed blinds on all our windows because on the street front we have a privacy issue and throughout there’s computer glare. For visual consistency, we chose the same sheer fabric for all our windows, and our solution in the bedrooms was to install a double roller blind with sheer fabric on one roller and a blackout shade on the other.
Above: Three double roller blinds are used to cover a wall of windows. During the day, the sheer blinds filter and diffuse the light coming in, while the blackout blinds keep the room dark at night. Image via Ati Shutters and Blinds.
Above: On a double roller blind, two rollers can accommodate two different fabrics, so you can have sheer and blackout options. Image via Sunlight.
What type of settings do roller blinds work well in?
In their simplicity, roller blinds have a neutral appearance and go with all styles of decor, from traditional to contemporary. They can be mounted a number of ways: in between the window frames (but beware that some light may leak in from the sides), in front of the window frames, or even from the ceiling. The mounting options, of course, depend on your existing conditions. When roller blinds are mounted between the frames, the windows stand out; if they’re mounted in front of the window frames, they typically mask the frames, and a ceiling mount can make a room feel taller.
Above: The roller blinds have been mounted to the underside of these traditional wooden window frames and the fabric, when rolled up, sits between the frames as a barely noticeable horizontal line. Image via Solid Frog.
Above: This modern setting has a roller blind that’s been mounted to roll down in front of the window and its frame. Image via Slijkhuis-Interieur.
Are roller blinds easy to clean?
It’s recommended that roller blinds be cleaned once a year, whereas curtains, because they harbor dust mites, require more frequent cleaning—three to four times a year depending on how prone your family is to allergies. Cleaning roller blinds is relatively straightforward and involves removing them from their brackets and rolling them out on the floor to towel them off with a mild cleaning solution. Curtains, on the other hand, need to be dismantled, washed, and pressed, or dry cleaned and then remounted. In my time-pressed schedule, maintaining roller blinds doesn’t fill me with dread the way cleaning curtains does, increasing the likelihood that it may happen.
Above: The process of cleaning each individual blade of a Venetian blind rules them out for me. Image via The Blinds Review.
How much do roller blinds cost and where can I get them?
Roller blinds come in a wide range of sizes and prices, from readymade versions you install yourself to designs that are made to measure. At Home Depot, a Bali Cut-to-Size White Light Filtering Vinyl Roller Shade costs 50 cents a square foot, while made-to-measure roller blinds from Levolor, The Shade Store, and Smith+Noble cost around $9 to $15 a square foot, depending on fabric and accessories. The Shade Store offers local certified installers who will come and measure and install at an additional cost; Margot tried this and was happy with the results. Well known brands like Levolor and Hunter Douglas can be ordered online or through window covering specialists in your area. In the Bay Area, Julie uses Burris Window Shades.
Roller Shade Recap
- Clean look that becomes part of the architecture
- Tend to be more cost-effective than curtains
- Easier to clean and maintain than other window treatments
- Roller blinds with cords present a safety hazard for households with young kids
- Shades aren’t as effective as curtains at keeping out draughts
- Roller blinds that are installed in between window frames allow light to seep in in the gap between the blind and the frame
- Not as formal or elegant as curtains
For more window treatment ideas, see Five Ways to Cover 50 Windows on a Budget. And learn The Secret Ingredient to Make Windows Shine Bright Like a Diamond. Contemplating a remodel? Have a look at all of our Remodeling 101 posts.