The Truth About Blackout Window Treatments

Blackout Window Treatments

The request for blackout window treatments always makes me a little nervous. Window treatments in general are  a love hate relationship for me. I love them because they really help set the tone for a space. I hate them because they are the most misunderstood item in a project. Even though I repeat myself like a broken record throughout the process, I still get a lot of questions when window treatments are installed. Especially when the client wants “black out”. The first problem with the blackout concept is that every client has in mind the image of Kate Winslet in “The Holiday” plunging the bedroom in total blackness with the touch of a button. The second problem is that it is extremely difficult to get a true blackout without spending a scandalous amount of money.  Finally, “blackout” is best achieved when window treatments are layered. Let me break it all down for you…  Here are the reasons why blackout doesn’t always mean complete darkness.

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Your Windows Aren’t Perfect

It’s not a slight against your windows, it’s just how construction works. Even when every thing is perfectly planned and measured, lumber and building supplies are not perfect and as houses “settle” those imperfections become pronounced. the difference in measurement between the top of your window and the bottom of your window could be as much as 1/2″. How does this affect your window treatment? When it comes to treatments mounted inside the frame of the window, such as roller shades, Roman shades, and blinds, the more variation between the top and bottom measurements, the bigger the gap will be between the shade and the frame of the window. This is because we need to use the smallest measurement less 1/4″ so the entire blind will fit inside the frame. Naturally, the bigger the gap the more light will be able to come into the room. So, even if you use a light blocking 100% opaque fabric, you will still get some light in the room.

blackout window treatments
Although you hope everything in your home is perfectly measured, walls and windows are not plumb.

Your Window Treatments Aren’t Layered

If you just hang drapes or just roller shades there will be gaps around the edges of the treatment. Therefore, using a “blackout” treatment will only darken the room, not make the room completely dark. If you want complete darkness, you will need to layer your treatments. What do I mean by this? You will need functional drapes with a heavy liner, roller shades made of a 100% opaque fabric, AND a top treatment, like a cornice or a valence. Using all three of these treatments in combination will eliminate light coming out of the top, bottom, and sides of the window. The result will be complete or near complete darkness.  This is a beautiful, rich look that can work in both traditional and contemporary homes.  However, it can be very costly to create this look. If you’re investing in custom treatments, you could spend thousands of dollars on just one window.

blackout window treatments
Note how these drapes are attached directly to the ceiling. This helps control some of the light that comes into the room.

You Don’t Have Tracks

Using a shades with side tracks or that is recessed into the frame of the window is the only way to have a single treatment that creates complete darkness. This is the type of treatment you see in the movie “The Holiday” and they are almost always remote controlled. As you can imagine, this is not an inexpensive option. While you will only require one treatment per window to get this look, each window will need access to electricity, which must be planned in advance so that the electrical work doesn’t show. The installation is more labor intensive and costly.

blackout drapes
The way that these drapes are recessed into the ceiling plus the blackout fabric allow them to block more light.

Will this help you when you make your next window treatment purchase? Let us know in the comments below! If you love what you see here, you’re going to love being on our mailing list! Download your copy of the “Good, Better, Best” workbook. You will learn how to create a realistic budget for your next decorating project and you will have access to the latest and greatest on all things interior design and decorating!

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