Basic Types of Window Shades

Roller curtains showing a farmland


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Unless you live in a remote area, you need some sort of window treatment to provide bedroom privacy at night and block out the early morning sun. Plus, window coverings are an easy way to add some style to a room. There are several kinds of window treatments, but the most basic is a shade. Available in several different styles, many different materials, and a nearly endless range of colors and patterns, there’s a shade to suit every bedroom decorating theme from casual to formal, rustic to contemporary.

Don't make the common mistake of confusing shades with blinds; window shades are solid lengths of fabric that pull up and down with a cord or lifting mechanism. Blinds are rigid window coverings with slats that rotate open or closed to let in (or block out) light.

Along with the expected functions of blocking out light and providing privacy, window shades are an easy way to add a shot of color, texture, and pattern to your room without taking up any foot space, and without breaking your budget. You can easily hang them yourself. You can jazz up a plain shade with numerous DIY techniques. And if your windows are a reasonably standard size, you can buy shades right off the shelf, which cuts out the expense and time required for custom-made curtains. You can add even more style by topping your window treatments with a valence or window swag.

Here are four of the most common types of window shades.

  • 01 of 04

    Roller Shades

    Roller blinds in a bedroom interior

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    Roller shades are the simplest type of shade used on windows; and plain, white plastic ones can be purchased inexpensively at any home improvement center. Roller shades fit inside the window casement and operate with a pulley-type system that rolls the shade up and down with a snap of the wrist or the pull of a cord.

    Shades that are more expensive often have a lift mechanism requiring no cord, however. Along with plastic, there are roller shades made from a wide range of stylish materials, including bamboo, burlap, and a huge selection of fabrics. There are lots of ways to further accessorize these versatile window treatments, such as tassels, trim, and painted designs.

  • 02 of 04

    Tie-Up Shades

    Tie-up window shade

    The tie-up shade, also known as the stagecoach-style, is basically fabric hanging flat from a rod or mounting board. Instead of using a roller or cords, however, you simply lift the shades by hand to the desired height and then tie them open with attached ribbons or ties. This gives the window treatment a graceful drape along the bottom.

    This also means that adjusting the shade requires rolling or unrolling it while tying or untying the ribbons every time. That can be inconvenient, so many people use tie-up shades as a decorative touch over an easier-to-handle roller shade or mini-blind.

    These are easy DIY window treatments for anyone reasonably handy with a sewing machine, and there’s a world of fabric colors and designs available. Tie-up shades are especially great for showing off a large-scale pattern since so much of the fabric is visible.

    Tie-up shades work well in many decorating styles, especially glamorous, formal, or traditional looks.

  • 03 of 04

    Roman Shades

    Roman shades in a bedroom

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    Resembling something of a hybrid between balloon shades and roller shades, Roman shades hang down flat when they are closed, but pull up into deep, horizontal pleats when lifted with the attached cord. To achieve the crisp pleats, Roman shades are normally made of heavy fabric, although bamboo is another popular option. As long as you choose a complementary fabric, these stylish window treatments will work with any decorating style. You’ll find them in a huge range of colors and patterns.

  • 04 of 04

    Balloon Shades

    A balloon shades window treatment

    Balloon shades have cords running through rings on the back of the shade. When pulled open, the shade’s fabric gathers into cascades of billowy poufs, giving the window treatment a romantic, formal, and somewhat old-fashioned appearance. You’ll find balloon shades made from the sheerest of fabrics all the way up lined, heavy material that blocks out all light. Typically, however, balloon shades are made from sheer or silky fabrics that drape gracefully and easily.

    This isn’t the window treatment for every decorating style, but depending on the fabric chosen, works well with themes as diverse as cottage, Tuscan, French country, Hollywood glamour, or traditional looks. Be careful, though—balloon shades look very dated in the wrong room or if made from decades-back colors or patterns.