Blind Ambition

Variety: The range of window fashions has been transformed to include motorized blinds and disposable shades.

April 06, 2003|By Susan L. Towers | Susan L. Towers,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

OLIVIA BRACEY and her family moved into their new home in Rosedale three years ago and were faced with covering the five-bedroom Colonial's 27 windows.

Not wanting the neighbors to see everything inside, the Braceys ordered about $1,000 in white Venetian blinds and waited for them to arrive.

"I was expecting to spend maybe $300," Bracey recalled. "I was very surprised at how much it was going to cost and at the [wider] choices available."

The window-covering business has grown with the real estate boom and as buyers of new homes demand more windows. The cost of covering a single window can range from $5 to more than $100 and buyers have myriad choices of materials (from wood and plastic to cloth and aluminum) and styles (from old-fashioned Venetian blinds made of wood to temporary stick-on shades).

"In all of the homes that we design, a big part of it is more windows," said Marilyn Payne, vice president of sales for Edgewood-based Bob Ward Homes.

Andersen Windows, one of the largest window manufacturers, said about 15 percent of a home's wall area is glass. Since the average size of a home has grown almost 10 percent in the past eight years, buyers have more windows to cover.

And since most real estate contracts stipulate that sellers leave the window treatments in their homes, many buyers must decide whether to preserve the past or move into the future.

"It used to be that spring and fall were the busy times but now it is steady all year," said Judy Mitchell, an owner of Mitchell's Venetian Blind & Shade Co., which has been in Baltimore since 1946 and cleans and repairs window treatments.

"The joke in the industry is that a lot of people wait until the last minute since they have so many other things on their minds. They often forget about the windows."

Record home sales during the past two years have transformed the window fashion industry. Manufacturers of blinds have introduced all kinds of products to the market.

Besides the familiar curtains and roller shades, some of the new and popular products are cellular shades available in various dimensions to add insulation, wooden plantation shutters that fold over the inside of a window, woven shades made of various products including yarn and rattan, vertical blinds made of aluminum and vinyl and motorized blinds that open and close by remote control.

There also is a disposable shade.

A California company called Redi Shade Inc. formed 12 years ago to market temporary blinds. The company makes a paper shade that sticks to the top of the window, working something like a Post-It note. Homeowners can cut the shades with scissors to make them fit each window. The shades, which have been known to last years, are found in most home-improvement stores and sell for about $5.

Janice Wohlert, Redi Shade's marketing manager and the wife of co-founder Kevin Wohlert, said the shade was created as a way to fill the gap between moving to an empty house and the time and cost of decorating windows and rooms.

She recalled how in 1991 her husband and a colleague were building homes in the same subdivision. As the families were ready to move in, they wanted a way to cover the windows quickly and cheaply until their custom-made coverings were ready.

"They realized there was nothing on the market," she said.

Among pricier window coverings are wood shutters, which experts said have become more popular and are expected to dominate sales this year. Prices can range from $58 to several hundred dollars depending on the size of the window.

Also available are cellular shades that have a honeycombed look, and vertical blinds that are a cross between sheer curtains and traditional verticals.

Several manufacturers have brought back the woven-wood blind, usually made from bamboo and hardly seen since the 1980s. And manufacturers have introduced several lines of new shutters, including those made of vinyl composites to resist moisture, said Tisha Buchanan, owner of Perfect Furnishings in Bethany Beach, Del.

The task for new homeowners can be daunting and costly.

Cheryl Graves moved into her new home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., last year and had 30 windows that needed covering. After learning the cost, Graves decided to focus on the downstairs windows first, leaving to a later date the children's upstairs bedrooms as well as some other rooms. Graves covered the large windows in the living room, dining room and master bedroom for more than $5,000.

Tips on blinds

"It's a major investment that you don't do every year," she said. "You don't want to just throw something up."

Use the Internet, telephone books and newspapers to shop around.

Budget your costs by deciding what rooms need to be covered first and which ones should look the nicest.

Use temporary blinds to cover windows in rooms you don't expect to use right away.

Ask builders to let you in before settlement to measure the windows. Some orders can take weeks before they arrive. Source: Interviews with experts on blinds

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