How to Pick the Right Window Coverings

After building three homes, I feel like there should be a university course about window coverings! There are so many options in the market – shades, blinds, electric, curtains… and don’t even get me started on the type of drapery pleats! For now, since we’re still a ways from moving in, we’re focusing on just our blinds and shades options – curtain and drapes will be a blog post for another day.

Timing

Before we delve into how to pick the right window coverings, we need to talk about when to pick the right window coverings.

In both of our previous homes, we were so eager to have a move-in ready space that we immediately had our window coverings installed in the entire home. In our first, we installed the same coverings throughout the whole house. In our second, we had two types of shades – one throughout the whole main floor and another for the upper level.

Here’s what we learned from our previous homes – in both cases, we should have waited before investing in the window coverings. The reality is you won’t know what you need for your windows until you live in your space – you need time to know how you use your home, when and where the sun hits, the level of privacy that you actually need, etc. So, this time around, we’re only having shades installed in the bedrooms (babies gotta sleep!) and the rest we will do piece-by-piece as we work on each space.

Blinds, Shutters and Shades

An expert will tell you that there are lots of differences between blinds, shutters and shades. For the average person wanting to decide on window coverings for their own home, the main difference is the material used for each and how they are installed.

Blinds are usually made of wood, metal or composite. They provide a cleaner but harder look.

Shutters are the same as blinds in terms of “hardness” but they are installed differently. Blinds are installed at the top of or above the window recess and usually open from bottom to top. Shutters are attached to the window frame, making them sturdier but meaning that they can only be open to either side of the window.

Like blinds, shades are installed at the top of or above the window recess but they are fabric-based, so they project a softer feel to the window.

Things to Consider

Light and Privacy

The main reason we get window coverings (aside for the aesthetic feel) is to control the amount of light in a space and what people can see from the outside.

For a bedroom, it seems obvious that we will want blackout or, at the very least, room darkening. For a kitchen or dining room, a light filtering covering is usually best.

Blinds can be tilted up or down to let the sun in without needing to be opened from the bottom up. Shades, on the other hand, need to be rolled up for a true room brightening feel, regardless of the level of sheerness of the shade.

Budget

The size of the window plays a big roll on the price of the window covering; the bigger the window, the more expensive the covering. Also, if your windows are a special shape, you’ll need to factor in custom sizing/design which is, inevitably, more expensive.

If you’re planning on covering all of the windows at once, you may need to compromise a bit on quality to make the project affordable. (Hence, another reason why waiting to install the window coverings is a good way to go).

Cleaning

This factor is often overlooked but, having had different coverings in the past, it is something that needs to be considered!

Blinds and shutters hold a lot more dust and need to be cleaned often; but, they are easily cleaned with a dust brush or dry cloth. Depending on the texture of the fabric, dust is often hidden on shades but cleaning them is harder. A hand held vacuum does the job for regular cleaning but you may need to hire a professional for a thorough cleaning or for any accidents or spills (I’m imagining kids’ dirty hands on the shades)…

Preference / Feel

The last thing to consider is actually the driving force for our choice – the feel we want for our space. As of now, we know we want blackout fabric shades for our bedrooms – I like the softer look of them and the fact that light will not filter through (except for on the sides, of course). Since I don’t know how our living room, kitchen, dining room, etc. will feel until we’re in the house, I’m holding off on making any decision for those spaces.

Our Windows – Then & Now

House 1 – California Shutters Through-and-Through

California Shutters were really “in” when we built our first home in 2011. I thought they offered a timeless and rich look with a clean feel; so we installed them everywhere! We lived there for 5 years and I never got tired of them; they were even a selling point when we listed our home for sale. My only complaint was that they could only be opened (fully) towards the sides which meant I was limited in what furniture or decor I could place near the windows.

House 2 – Zebra and Honeycomb Throughout

I went for a softer feel in our second home in 2016. We did white zebra shades on the main floor and honeycomb shades (aka cellular shades) on the second floor. I loved the feel of the different materials but the shades didn’t all work for our space.

Our great room, for example, was south facing which meant that the sun hit hard there during the day and the shades did nothing to keep out the light and the heat. This sometimes made watching tv on a Saturday afternoon difficult and uncomfortable…

The honeycomb shades upstairs opened up and down and were cordless. The problem with those was that, over time and after frequent use, the shades wouldn’t stay up. So, for example, I would open the shades to mid-window but after a few minutes they would drop. This was likely a defect in our specific coverings but still something to consider when thinking of cordless options.

House 3 – To be determined…

Third time is a charm, right? Well, only time will tell since we’re reserving our selections until after move-in.

What we know for now is that we will be doing blackout fabric roller shades with a cord in each of our bedrooms. The cord will be mounted on the side of the window (for safety reasons with the kids) and we opted for a light grey in the boys’ bedrooms and a pearl white in the master bedroom.

We chose a more simple, white, basic option for the basement guest room – it still offers a custom feel but is more budget friendly.

My last suggestion when it comes to selecting window coverings is to not do it alone! Most companies offer free in-home consultation to discuss your specific needs. They are the experts in the industry and can advise you on things to consider when making your selections and, since it’s free, you have nothing to lose!

Custom Home: The Mistakes We Already Know We Made

The one aspect of building our home that has brought me both comfort and angst is the fact that I know mistakes will be made; they’re inevitable. My hope, in the end, is that the mistakes that we do make in the construction stage will lead to something even better once completed.

While there are certainly little design aspects that we wish we had planned out differently – such as ensuring that our front doors were centred in our foyer – we are choosing to make the best of the design that we have and not dwell on those little things. However, we already know of two “bigger” mistakes that we’ve made that we would definitely do differently if we were to build another house.

Pay Attention to Window Sizes

The first mistake we made was to not pay close attention to our window sizes. Before building, I would have thought that bigger is better when it comes to windows but, now that we have big windows throughout, I really wish I had been more intentional on window sizes. To be honest, when we approved our initial plans, the window locations were shown but not the specific sizes. We actually didn’t know what our window sizes were until after the plans had been submitted to the City for approval and, at that point, we didn’t want to make any changes out of fear that it would delay the approval and the start of the construction.

Even before we started designing our home, I always wanted a breakfast nook off of the kitchen with built-in seating. We actually carved out additional square footage in our plans to ensure we could have that nook. Unfortunately, the windows that were included in the plans for that space span almost the entire wall from top to bottom; meaning, there’s not enough wall space to build a bench. When I first realized this, I actually felt as though I had been punched in the gut… This was the one aspect of our design that we knew we wanted and I never even thought of checking to make sure the windows were at a proper height/size.

So now we’ve let go of the built-in bench design and will get a nice table and chairs instead. It was an expensive mistake to make (as we probably would not have added the extra square footage if we weren’t going to get a built-in nook) and a lesson that I would stress to anyone who is building – make sure your windows fit your vision for the space!

Discuss Your Plans for Your Unfinished Space

Another mistake we made was not sharing our plans for our unfinished space with our builder from the onset. In my mind, I always knew that we would allocate a portion of our unfinished basement to our future gym and pool room. Paolo and I discussed doing a rough-in for a future bathroom in that space so that, later on when we finished the space, we can add a powder room and avoid having our kids or guests walk across our whole basement space to use the other bathroom.

I didn’t share this plan with our architect at the initial design stage since it was something we intended doing a few years down the road. Well, when we knew our builder was working on plumbing and getting ready to pour the concrete in the basement, we reached out to ask that they add a rough-in for a future powder room. The response was a resounding no…

It turns out that when your house is on a septic system, like ours, the size of the system is determined by factoring, among other things, the number of bathrooms in the house. Once the septic size is chosen, it is included in the initial building permit application. If we really wanted to add the powder room, we would have had to have an engineer recalculate the size of the septic, potentially create new plans and submit a request to the City to amend our permits. All of this would come at a significant cost and delay to us. So what could have been a few hundred dollars for a rough-in, would now cost us a few thousand dollars. Needless to say we will not be adding a bathroom in the gym/pool room.

It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. Never assume you don’t need to discuss your intentions for an unfinished space. There are certain things done at the construction stage that could affect how you could use your space in the future. Another example is to let your builder know if you plan on installing a pool down the road – this may impact the size of your electrical panel, where your septic system is installed, how many trees are cleared during excavation, etc. If you know that you want to add or expand on a space in the future, it is really important to communicate those wishes with your builder from the onset.

I’m sure there will be many other things that we will wish we’d done differently once the house is actually finished and we are living in it but, for now, I feel as though it could have been much worse. The two “big” mistakes we’ve made have just meant that we needed to rethink our intentions for the space but they aren’t going to take away from the enjoyment of the home.

Custom Home: Month 10 – Windows, Doors and all…

Month 10 – aka February – started off really slow. The house actually sat idle for about two weeks due to a delay in our windows and doors. Around mid-month, the windows arrived and WOW! we love them! (The doors are still delayed but we won’t worry about that for now).

Windows and doors were the first selection we made for our house after finalizing the floorplans. Our builder includes black exterior windows in their quote but we chose to upgrade to black interior as well. The black interior is more expensive and, we are told, higher maintenance overall but it also adds a completely different look and feel to the house, which is what we are going for. The way we see it, windows should last several years (dare I say even a couple of decades), so might as well get the size, look and feel that you are going for because, once installed, they’re there to stay!

While the house may have sat idle, we did not. This month, we had a three hour meeting with a tile showroom consultant to narrow down our tile selections. Our builder has included a fairly generous tile budget in our purchase but we have to use his supplier – luckily, his supplier happens to be one the largest tile shops in the city, so we had plenty to choose from. We basically made our selections up to the maximum budget allowance and will then be getting any remainder tile ourselves (from outlet stores, Home Depot, Lowes, etc.). While we haven’t finalized any selections just yet (still waiting on the consultant to finalize the quote), here are some of the few that made the shortlist:

We also met with our stone supplier to discuss our various countertop selections. I think we’re going to end up playing it safe when it comes to countertops and just pick white and calacatta quartz countertops for the majority of the house. My only “daring choice” (if you can even call it that) is that I’m hoping for a leather-looking black-ish counter for the dry bar area in the great room – the only issue, however, is that I will need to pick something from the remnants that our supplier has because I don’t want to invest in purchasing an entire slab for just 6 feet of countertop, so my choices will be dependent on what is available at the time.

That pretty much sums up Month 10. Slowly decisions are being made and, with each month’s recap, we feel as though we are getting closer and closer to making this build our home!