Shades are probably the most difficult type of window treatment to define. They can work in a contemporary room just as easily as a traditional one. They also come in all shapes and sizes, which might explain why so many people confuse shades with blinds.

Let’s take a look into what shades are, as well as what the options you have available for your own home.


What Shades Are and How They Work

First things first, we have to address what a shade is. Many people confuse window shades with blinds, but these two window treatment types are very different. Shades are not blinds. A blind has the ability to gradually filter out light by adjusting the angle of the slats or vanes. It is considered a hard window treatment. Because a blind doesn’t need to be raised to filter out the light, it allows you to maintain privacy.

A shade, on the other hand, can only filter light out by raising or lowering it. By doing this, some privacy will be lost. A shade is considered a soft window treatment. Although, the materials in shades can vary from natural 100% cotton fabric to PVC coated polyester or fiberglass.

Some shades have alternating strips that let some light through in between, which is probably where the confusion between shades and blind comes from. But, the primary mechanism on a shade is still to raise or lower it to filter out the light.


Available Shade Styles

First, we’ll take a look at some of the different shade styles that are currently available on the market.


Roller Shades

Roller shades are simple, flat shades that roll up into a tube on top of the window. Be mindful that roller shades tend to allow the light in through the side gaps when inside-mounted (this is called the halo). Consider mounting it outside of the window or framing it with fabric valances and draperies to eliminate this problem.

Again, because roller shades are so simple, they may not be the best option aesthetically. The headrail tube on top will stick out like a sore thumb, along with the rest of the hardware. Cover it with a fabric valance or a wood valance, or have the tube covered in the same fabric as the rest of the shade instead of the unappealing plastic that’s typically used.

This is called a fabric-covered cassette. Roller shades are also often marketed as solar shades. The materials used for these shades are made in varying levels of opaqueness to accommodate how much privacy and infrared glare reflection is needed. In simplified terms, this shade is essentially a screen on your window that can be rolled up.


Privacy Shades

Privacy shades are able to provide privacy without taking away from the natural sunlight coming through the window. The materials used for privacy shades are usually light-weight, and many would be categorized as semi-sheer. Because the sunlight coming through emphasizes every feature of the fabric is also isn’t uncommon to choose textured materials that mimic grasscloth or another unique weave.


Blackout Shades

When a thick, vinyl-like material is used for a shade, it becomes a blackout shade. The simple styles like roller shades are made just from a single layer of blackout lining. Fabric shades like Roman shades have blackout lining attached to the back of the shade, behind the face fabric. Be careful with blackout shades. Many linings are marketed as blackout lining but just aren’t thick enough.

Think about those vinyl tablecloths that are used on patio tables in the summer. Blackout lining should remind you of those and oftentimes is even thicker than that. Even though blackout lining itself is thick, it should be smooth to the touch and pliable. Also, using a flimsy, light-weight face fabric can oftentimes defeat the purpose of having blackout lining.


Day/Night (Privacy/Blackout) Shades

Some shades are made by combining two shades into one. Part of the shade is made as a standard shade with materials that let you have some privacy. This part is light-weight and filters out some of the sunlight. The other part of the shade is made with thicker blackout materials.

By pulling on the tab on the shade, you can adjust how much of the window the privacy part of the shade and how much the blackout part of the shade will cover.


Cellular Shades

Cellular shades are also known as honeycomb shades, thanks to their honeycomb-shaped (hexagonal) shape when viewed from the side. There’s a good reason why this odd shape works – the space inside these small “honeycombs” traps air and acts as a thermal buffer. In other words, it traps the heat or cold coming from the outside.

The room is kept cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Although, keep in mind that cellular shades are made from thin, paperlike material to begin with. If you want to go beyond the basics of standard light-filtering or amplify the thermal blocking feature of this style, consider a double cell shade instead of the standard single cell shade.

This just means that the material on the shade has been doubled up from the inside so that it can trap more heat or cold. Many of those shades will have something known as Mylar lining on the inside, which not only acts a blackout insulator but also reduces the glare coming from the sun.

Mylar linings aren’t for cellular shades only – it’s a popular choice on many of the other styles on this list. so make sure to ask for it if this is a feature you want to have.


Pleated Shades

Pleated shades have horizontal kinks that stack up like an accordion when the shade is raised. The cellular shade discussed above is a type of pleated shade. It’s best to consider the size of the window when selecting how large the pleats will be on your shade. You’ll want to consider scale.

A narrow window or French door will do best with smaller pleats, while large picture windows need shades with oversized pleats to have a bigger aesthetic impact.


Silhouette, Luminette, and Pirouette Shades

Originally brought onto the market by Hunter Douglas, these shades are partially sheer shades that are something of a hybrid between shades and blinds. These window treatments are considered shades because they’re made of fabric and can still be raised or lowered. It does have vanes that can be tilted as needed just like a blind does.

The base cloth of the shade is a sheer material, so even when the vanes are tilted to bring the maximum amount of light in, the sheer fabric in the back will still provide some privacy. The Silhouette is the original product that Hunter Douglas sells. The Luminette is simply a vertical version, so it can be opened to the left or right side of a window just like drapery panels would.

The Pirouette is similar to the Silhouette, but it has softer, more rounded vanes.


Roman Shades

A Roman shade creates soft folds at the bottom as it’s raised. The Roman shade can be made from different types of materials like fabric or woven wood, for example. There are many styles of Roman shades, which are defined based on how the shade looks when it’s in its lowered position.

The flat Roman shade is the most common style. You may often hear it being referred to as a classic Roman shade, too. This style is constructed as a flat, rectangular piece. Since the shade is made from a continuous piece of material, it’s a great option if you’d like a prominent fabric pattern to be centered and displayed.

The following pictures are all examples of the flat Roman shade style.


Flat Roman Shades (Made From Fabric)




Flat Fabric Shades (Made from Woven Wood)



Other Roman Shade Styles

Besides flat Roman shades, there are quite a few other styles available. Let’s take a look to see just what all the possibilities are for your home.


Knife Pleat and Slatted Roman Shades

Toile Bedroom Shade




These shades have dowels that are sewn into the shade across the entire width. This is why the shade appears to have horizontal lines when viewed from the front. The shade is still flat, however. When the slats are sewn to protrude to the face side of the shade (instead of being tucked away towards the back), this style becomes a slatted Roman shade.


Hobbled Roman Shades

Also known as the waterfall or teardrop shade, the hobbled shade is made with excess fabric, which is then used to form folds while the shade is in its relaxed position. In other words, the shade has soft folds even before you lift it up.


Relaxed Roman Shades


The relaxed Roman is made with excess fabric at the bottom, which drapes to form the signature curved shape at the bottom. There will be some added weight to this shade, so keep in mind that the shade will naturally pull towards the center, creating a larger halo around the sides of the window.

This style is best when left alone as much as possible. No matter how sophisticated the cord system is, this style will still require that you adjust the folds at the bottom manually each time after raising or lowering it. Once you get the hang of it and “train” the fabric, it’s only barely a minute of extra work, though.


Balloon Shades

Silk Balloon Valance



Green Silk Balloon Shade Balloon shades are considered the ultimate in luxury when it comes to window treatments because they require so much fabric to achieve the signature volume of this style of window treatment. The balloon shade is also another shade that requires proper patience and care. You’ll need to readjust the folds each time you raise or lower it.

Silks are a very popular fabric choice for a balloon valance, especially if you’re trying to achieve that scrunchy, cloud shade look. Keep in mind, however, that silk fabrics also require a layer of interlining in addition to lining to protect them from the sun.


Butterfly and London Shades

When a single festoon is anchored by tails on each side, the shade can be a butterfly or London shade. The difference is subtle and is only based on how long the tails are. A butterfly shade has small, stubby tails. A London shade has slightly longer tails that fan out. The mauve shades shown above are London shades.


Butterly shades in pink and brown underneath sheer curtains.


Shirred London shade hung under a pair of double wide linen draperies.


Austrian Shades

Speaking of shirred shades, that brings me to Austrian shades. These shades have that old-fashioned, Victorian look that belongs in mansions. Because it can be a bit difficult to work with shirring tape, this style is best with sheer or light-weight fabrics.


Roman Shade Embellishments

There are endless ways that Roman shades can be embellished. Here are a few ideas to inspire you.


Banded edges are usually sewn as part of the Roman shade and are a way to outline a shade and add a contrasting color. There is no rule on how wide banding needs to be. It could only be an inch or two wide, or it could take up a major portion of the overall fabric on a shade.


A wood cornice, or wood valance, is a popular way to top off a shade. This is a great idea especially for the simple shades that have plastic headrails like roller shades. This Roman shade was also embellished using tassel trim in gold at the bottom hem.


A lace tape (or any other border) can be attached on top of the shade.


Sometimes, grosgrain tape is used and inset a few inches from the edge of the shade. Some ribbons are sewn to create a Greek key design, which is very popular nowadays. The style above is actually a faux Roman shade, which you can shop here.


A simple way to top off a shade is by using short valances that are built into the shade.


Not all Roman shades need to have a straight bottom. Consider a scalloped hem, like this pointed hem that was finished off in red cording.


Here’s another shade with a scalloped hem, which was replicated on the custom valance above.


Shade Mechanisms and Other Considerations

Now that you’ve seen some styles of shades, it’s time to consider the mechanism behind how your shades will function. Here are a few things you may wish to consider…


Manual Systems

Shades have traditionally been operated by using a cord and pulley system in the back. With fabric shades, the workroom attaches small rings along rows in the back of the shade, then loops a cord through them. With the other shades, this corded system is hidden but is very similar. You may also come across this mechanism in the form of a beaded chain.

Either way, the idea is the same. By pulling on the cord, the folds on the shade stack up or roll up as the shade is raised. As you can imagine, this can pose a danger if the shade is within a child’s reach. This is why cordless shades have become popular. These shades have a small tab at the bottom center of the shade, allowing you to just slightly pull on the shade to raise or lower it. Some cordless shades also have a wand on the side that lets you do the same.


Motorized Systems

Motorized shades are also becoming more and more popular nowadays, although you should expect a sizeable upcharge for this feature. Motorization is best for extra long windows where a traditional corded pulley system or wand wouldn’t work well. The system can be hard-wired or battery-powered. Motorized shades can be operated with the click of a button, but they can also have a sun sensor built in for smart home integration.

There are many products that have been adapted to work with Amazon Alexa, like the Hunter Douglas PowerView line of products. Lutron is also leading the way with smart shades. Many of their products are made to work with not just Amazon Alexa, but also Nest, Google Smart Home, and Apple HomeKit. Somfy also offers many comparable smart shade options.

Keep in mind that this technology is still in its infancy. It may get a bit complicated if you’re trying to equip your shade with IFTTT functions.


Bottom-Up Top-Down Shades

Even though it isn’t exactly the best name to come up with for a product, this style does literally do what its name implies. These shades can be pulled up from the bottom as a normal shade would be, but they can also be pulled up from the top. It’s a popular style for those who want privacy in tight-knit neighborhoods.

Pull the shade down to shoulder-height to let just enough light in without exposing what’s going on inside your home from a busy street.


Shades For Child Safety

The problem with standard shades is two-fold when it comes to child safety. First, the fact that the cords are loose and flowing freely creates enough room in between the cords for a child’s head to get stuck and cause a strangulation hazard. Second, as the shade is raised, the longer the cord gets. We’ve all seen this – cords that are almost touching the floor and are within reach of unassuming toddlers crawling about the room.

There are a few solutions to minimize this risk, however. First, you can opt for retractable cords. The cord pulls back into the headrail even after the shade is raised. That way, the cord stays at a consistent position instead of starting to dangle close to the floor. Second, you can simply go with a cordless shade. Pull it up by its tab in the center or by a wand on the side, or by motorization.

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