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What's the Difference Between Window Blinds & Window Shades?

opening cordless wood blinds

Bare windows are great for taking in the view, and...not much else. Most of us want the option to cover our windows when needed: for privacy, light control, energy savings, and style. The most common types of window coverings are window blinds and window shades. And they're popular for a reason! Both work with most window sizes and architectural styles. But which one is best for your home?

Let's dive into some of the key differences and why you might choose window blinds vs. window shades.

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1. 2" Value Faux Wood Blinds: Coconut C630

Why Choose Window Blinds?

Blinds are hard window coverings, with slats made of metal, wood, vinyl, or composite. They are affordable, durable, and practical. Maintenance is easy: you simply wipe off the slats with a duster or cloth. Blinds also offer more light control options than window shades. You can tilt the slats and adjust them so that juuuust the right amount of light comes in.

Faux wood and composite blinds are moisture resistant, making them perfect for kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms. And if you have a uniquely shaped window that needs covering, window blinds can cover that, too. 

Another great benefit of window blinds is their classic beauty. Window treatments are a big purchase, and you want yours to stand the test of time. Window blinds are a great choice that won't box you into a certain style. If you still want to add some color and flair, you can always layer drapes over the blinds.

There's one more major reason why you might choose window blinds: they are super affordable! Prices vary based on the material you choose, but overall horizontal blinds are the one of the most budget-friendly options for window coverings.

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2. 2" Wood Blinds with Cordless Lift/Wand Tilt: Sugar White 1840 with 7½" Noble Cornice and Keystone; Drapery with Back Tabs

Customizing Your Blinds

So you've decided on window blinds...great choice! But you still have some decisions left to make.

1. Material: Horizontal blinds come in aluminum or textured vinyl. They are the least expensive materials, giving you classic charm on a dime. Real wood blinds are the most beautiful and authentic. Made of North American hardwood, they act as a natural insulator for greater energy efficiency. They're higher priced, but still economical. And right between, faux wood and composite blinds are designed to look like real wood, but made of materials that can stand up to high moisture and humidity.

2. Slat size: Bali Aluminum Blinds are available in ½", 1", and 2" slats. Vinyl blinds come in 2" slats. For faux wood and composite blinds, you can choose between 2" and 2½" slats. And for real wood blinds, your slat options are 1", 2", or 2⅜". I really like the thicker slats, 2" and above. They're elegant and have a similar look to shutters, at a cost that's attainable for any homeowner's budget.

3. Color: All of the materials above come in multiple colors to fit with your interior design goals. I recommend ordering swatches of your favorites to make sure they will fit with the room as a whole. You can order five swatches for free, and I always take full advantage of that number.

Personally, I like white window blinds for their versatility and timelessness. But horizontal blinds also come in colors ranging from pale to vibrant. The wood and faux wood blinds come in a variety of wood tones and grains.

Tip: Don't feel like you have to use the same color throughout your entire house. Light colors are cheerful and bright in a kitchen or living room, while dark colors create a thoughtful atmosphere in a study or den.

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3. 2" Wood Blinds with Cordless Lift/Wand Tilt: Sandcastle 1943 with 3½" Premium Traditional Valance

My Top 3 Choices:

1. Faux Wood Blinds in Coconut - We are choosing these for our kitchen windows! Although I love real wood blinds, I knew we needed something that could resist moisture for above the kitchen sink.

2. Wood Blinds in Sugar White - Classic white wood blinds that pop against colorful walls.

3. Wood Blinds in Sandcastle - A medium tone wood that adds warmth and natural character (make sure to order swatches to coordinate with your trim).

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Why Choose Window Shades?

Window shades are soft window coverings. Instead of slats, they are composed of one continuous panel of fabric. Since they are made of fabric, there is a much wider range of colors and patterns to choose from.

There are many types of window shades to suit your specific design style. Roller shades are a straight piece of fabric that pulls down from a valance tube. They're streamlined and simple, with clean lines that work well in modern spaces. Roman shades are more sophisticated and luxe, cascading down in folds of fabric.

Cellular shades add the most energy efficiency to your home, with pleated honeycomb cells that trap air and provide insulation. Natural shades bring sustainable style into your home, using renewable materials like bamboo, sisal, grass, and jute. And layered shades combine alternating stripes of sheer and solid fabric for greater light control.

While window shades don't have slats to adjust, you can select the opacity of the fabric or liner to fit your needs. In the living room, a light-filtering fabric will allow natural light to come through even when the shade is pulled shut. This is perfect if you need privacy but still want maximum light.

In a bedroom, nursery, or media room, where your goal is minimizing light, you can opt for a blackout fabric to turn the room into a dark and quiet sanctuary. Window shades are better than blinds at blocking light and providing privacy. They're a bit more expensive, but they're also more energy efficient, which can pay off in the long run.

One thing to consider is that window shades may be harder to clean and maintain than window blinds. You can spot clean them with a soft cloth, mild detergent, and warm water, but you won't be able to run them through the washing machine like you would with other fabrics. For this reason, even though shades are my favorite type of window treatment, I keep them to the living room and bedrooms, where my kids aren't eating food or running around with paint-covered hands. For rooms like kitchens, craft rooms, and bathrooms, I play it safe with blinds.

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1. Classic Roman Shades in Fenton, Glow

Customizing Your Shades

Leaning towards window shades? Fantastic! Before you're ready to buy, there are a few more decisions to make.

1. Mounting style: You have two options here, inside mount or outside mount. I like the streamlined, built-in look of mounting shades inside the window frame. This is especially preferable if you have pretty window trim you want to show off. But outside mount is better if you need the room to be completely dark. Since the fabric overlaps the window trim, there aren't any gaps for light to peek through.

2. Fabric: Bali Shades come in a huge selection of beautiful fabrics in all different colors, light opacities, textures, and patterns. You can filter down the options by light control (ranging from sheer to blackout), or by the color family. I like neutrals for a major purchase like window shades. But if you're bolder than I am, check out all the rich, dramatic, on-trend colors, too. No matter what you're considering, I recommend ordering swatches of your five favorite options. Photos are no substitute for seeing and touching a fabric in person!

3. Lift control: You have several options for how to lift your window shades. But for those of us with young kids or pets, there are really only two options: cordless or motorized lift. Both eliminate dangling cords, giving you great peace of mind, ease of use, and a streamlined look. Cordless lift is operated by hand. Motorized lift is controlled by the included remote or by integrating with your smart home system. Motorized lift is preferable for large or hard-to-reach windows.

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2. Classic Roman Shade in Hoehne II, Soft Gray

My Top 3 Choices:

1. Classic Roman shade in Fenton, Glow - this is what we have in our living room. It has a lovely slubby texture, and allows lots of light to filter through even when closed.

2. Classic Roman shade in Hoehne II, Soft Gray - This is what we have in our nursery. It's beautiful and practical! I love that the blackout fabric makes it easy to darken the room for daytime naps.

3. Cellular shade in Cosmopolitan, White Lace - We have these on the sidelites in our entryway. They're small windows, so I didn't want a bunch of fabric stacked at the top. The cellular shades are clean-lined and low profile, and I feel good knowing that they're energy efficient, too.

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3. Cellular Shade in Cosmopolitan, White Lace