Third of three articles

You need window treatments in your new house, and you need a lot of them. Assuming your house has about 2,400 square feet -- a mid-size, mid-priced house in most markets -- you have 20 to 25 windows and possibly more.

Covering them with something really classy, such as lightly stained maple blinds to match your maple floors or simple pleated drapes in fabrics that complement your upholstered furniture, would look terrific. But even with the frequent sales and discounts window-treatment vendors offer, both of these options would cost much more than you probably want to spend.

A more realistic strategy to get the privacy and light control that you need, while keeping the bottom line where you want it, is to get simple but serviceable "hard treatments," which are shades or blinds.

Be prepared for a stiff learning curve. Even limiting yourself to simple, serviceable solutions leaves a lot of ground to cover. For example, you may think you want a simple 1-inch aluminum blind, but do you want a 6- or 8-gauge one? A blackout feature to block out daylight? Metallic, brushed, hammered or a leather-like soft suede finish? And which color -- there are more than 100 available.

If your household includes rambunctious children and frisky dogs, durability is important. Silver Spring-based interior designer Deborah Wiener says she spends a fair amount of time with clients just outlining all the choices.

"Many people start out thinking they need drapes, which they find confusing because there are so many different types of pleats and styles. And they're afraid to commit to a color or fabric because they haven't picked out all their other furnishings yet. I tell them, 'Go slow, start with blinds or shades that give sun control and privacy, and deal with the drapes later.' I usually recommend a simple, good-quality, white fabric roller shade, with a side cord mechanism so you don't see the clips on the side. It's inexpensive, it's simple, and it looks good."

Several months or several years down the line, when your wallet recovers from the biggest purchase of your life, you can embellish the shades or blinds with drapes, advises Dexter, Mich.-based window-treatment specialist John Simonds. Because the drapes will be purely decorative at this point, you won't need nearly as much fabric, and this will dramatically reduce their cost. (If you check the drapes in furnished models, you will find that most are purely decorative and not sufficient to cover the window).

When you're still getting settled in your new house, though, consider more upscale hard treatments for the space where you will be spending the most time: the eat-in kitchen and family room. You may resist going beyond the minimum, especially when you're likely to be strapped for cash. But as Ted Barron of Ypsilanti, Mich., who has been in the window-treatment business for 25 years, points out, "Windows have more impact on a room than most people realize. They spend a lot of time choosing flooring and furniture, but when you enter a room, most people look straight ahead and the first thing they see is the windows."

Choosing window treatments for the eat-in kitchen and family room can be a challenge because three distinctly different activities -- cooking, eating and lounging -- occur there. Each calls for something different, but one that meshes with the other two.

You won't have to do anything for the window over the kitchen sink if sun control is not an issue. But if you're squinting with morning or evening sunlight, you need to do something, and it needs to be easy to clean. You'd be surprised at where food splatters and grease specks can end up, Simonds said. He recommends a faux-wood blind.

The eating area is often next to a sliding glass door that opens onto an outdoor area. Adults, children and pets going in and out can bang against whatever you put there for privacy or sun control, so the solution must be durable as well as functional. A faux-wood blind would work well, but one wide enough to cover the entire slider could be heavy to raise, especially for small adults and children.

Instead, Wiener recommends a one-inch aluminum blind. She usually specifies the Hunter Douglas "soft suede finish" because "it's good-looking, a low price point and difficult to damage."

"It's easy to raise and lower if a sliding glass door will be used a lot to go in and out, and it's easy to keep clean," she said.

A vertical blind with fiberglass or vinyl slats that can be pulled to one side would also work, but in houses with kids and animals, a vertical blind next to a sliding door will start to show wear as kids, chairs, pets and a vacuum cleaner bang into it, Wiener said.

If you have French doors that open onto the outside area, selecting a window treatment is easier because you won't have to raise it every time you want to go outside. You can simply attach a blind or shade to the back of each door. But it must be durable, because kids, pets and chairs can still bang against it, and easy to clean, because the doors are next to an eating area.

The windows in the family room are less likely to get damaged or dirty, so durability and cleanability are less of an issue.

For sun control, Wiener often suggests a softer look with a fabric blind called a "silhouette." It has 2- or 3-inch fabric slats suspended between two pieces of sheer fabric. When you look through the blind, the sheer fabric filters the light, creating an effect similar to an impressionist painting. If the view outside is your neighbor's garage door or his air-conditioning compressor, this Monet treatment would definitely be a plus. (Silhouette is a Hunter Douglas trademark name, but designers routinely call all fabric blinds "silhouettes.")

Another window treatment for the family-room area that Wiener uses when sun control is not an issue is woven wood shades, which are made with matchstick-thin pieces of wood, bamboo, reeds and grasses. "This type of shade," she said, "has great textures that go with everything. It's unusual, it usually costs less than a silhouette, and I think that natural materials create a room that is more serene and more relaxing."

You may have assumed that there was one window in your house that didn't need anything: the large one over the front door in your two-story foyer. But in many houses, heat and sun pour though this big window and make the foyer feel like a "cook box," said Lee Ryden, a window-treatment expert and former window manufacturer based in White Lake, Mich.

Amazingly, he added, when this happens, the homeowners can be reluctant to do anything because observers on the outside "won't see our $5,000 chandelier."

If you're going to spend that much on a light fixture, he advises buying a house that faces north. Even then, you may still want a window treatment for the big window to get privacy at night. From the street, family members in their robe or pajamas can often be seen walking in the second-floor hallway behind the window, he said.

Katherine Salant can be contacted at salantques@aol.com

{copy} 2002, Katherine Salant

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